5 Draft Risers From Memorial Cup

With the Memorial Cup wrapping up on the weekend, that marked the official end of the scouting season.

The Canadian Hockey League’s championship tournament was the final showcase for draft-eligible prospects. At least on the ice, with physical testing to take place later this week at the draft combine in Buffalo, along with the mental grind of team interviews. Then, the focus shifts to draft day, June 26 in Sunrise, Fla.

2015 Memorial Cup LogoOnly four teams qualify for the Memorial Cup — Western, Ontario and Quebec junior league champions, plus the host squad — but it offers one final opportunity for draft-eligible players on those rosters to leave a lasting impression. A minimum of three games, or a maximum of six, to further influence their draft ranking — for better or worse.

The tournament is heavily scouted, but by this point in the calendar, most staffs have their lists essentially finalized. The Memorial Cup isn’t viewed under the same microscope as the World Junior Championship or the CHL Top Prospects Game, but it is still a big stage for these prospects to potentially shine. A strong showing in the Memorial Cup bodes well because it will be fresh in the minds of teams leading up to the draft.

Here are five prospects who could become draft risers based on their performances at the Memorial Cup:

Anthony Cirelli (F, Oshawa Generals)

Tournament Stats: 4 GP, 2 G, 1 A, 3 PTS

Playoff Stats: 16 GP, 1 G, 5 A, 6 PTS

Regular-Season Stats: 68 GP, 13 G, 23 A, 36 PTS

Central Scouting Final Ranking: 67th among North American skaters

Cirelli certainly fits the bill as a riser. The skinny 17-year-old wasn’t even on the radar to start the season, having made the jump from midget hockey after getting passed over in the OHL draft. By mid-season, he debuted on Central Scouting’s list at No. 88 and climbed 21 more spots by early April.

Cirelli wasn’t overly productive in the OHL playoffs or the round-robin portion of the Memorial Cup, but he saved his best for last by scoring both Oshawa goals in the championship game — including the overtime winner. The latter was a right-place, right-time rebound, but he previously netted the equalizer with a top-corner snipe off the rush that had to open some eyes.

Nick Merkley (F, Kelowna Rockets)

Tournament Stats: 5 GP, 3 G, 2 A, 5 PTS

Playoff Stats: 19 GP, 5 G, 22 A, 27 PTS

Regular-Season Stats: 72 GP, 20 G, 70 A, 90 PTS

Central Scouting Final Ranking: 23rd among N.A. skaters

Merkley actually fell 10 spots from 13th on Central Scouting’s mid-season list. He didn’t stand out in the Top Prospects Game and his production tailed off slightly after leading the WHL in scoring at the holiday break. His critics knock everything from his size to his perceived lack of finishing ability, but he enjoyed a strong finishing kick that could rocket him back into the top half of the first round and possibly even the top 10. Merkley’s vision and passing ability are elite and he “hunts pucks” as effectively as anybody in the WHL with a feisty edge to his game that has drawn favourable comparisons to Boston’s Patrice Bergeron.

Merkley had consecutive three-point games against Brandon in the WHL championship series — which Kelowna swept — then matched that output in a blowout of Rimouski at the Memorial Cup. He scored twice in that 7-3 win, including a skate-to-stick move that might go down as the goal of the tournament.

Stephen Desrocher (D, Oshawa Generals)

Tournament Stats: 4 GP, 2 G, 1 A, 3 PTS

Playoff Stats: 16 GP, 3 G, 4 A, 7 PTS

Regular-Season Stats: 66 GP, 10 G, 13 A, 23 PTS

Central Scouting Final Ranking: 145th among N.A. skaters

Desrocher was No. 181 on the mid-season list, so — like his teammate, Cirelli — he’s been trending upward thanks to Oshawa’s success. But his ranking is still much lower than his projected draft position, with some believing Desrocher could even sneak into the second round. When you consider he’s a smooth skater at 6-foot-4 with some offensive upside, it makes sense that several teams would be willing to pick him sooner than later.

Desrocher showed off his shot with two goals in the Memorial Cup tournament, including a highlight-reel overtime winner against the host Quebec Remparts. That definitely made onlookers take notice and perhaps put a star next his name for further evaluation.

Dmytro Timashov (F, Quebec Remparts)

Tournament Stats: 5 GP, 3 G, 1 A, 4 PTS

Playoff Stats: 22 GP, 3 G, 15 A, 18 PTS

Regular-Season Stats: 66 GP, 19 G, 71 A, 90 PTS

Central Scouting Final Ranking: 92nd among N.A. skaters

Timashov dropped from 58th in the mid-season rankings and is now a real wild-card as to where he could be selected on draft weekend. Born in the Ukraine but developed in Sweden, Timashov is the exact same size as Merkley — 5-foot-10, 187 pounds — and matched his offensive totals in what was his first season in North America.

At the Memorial Cup, Timashov seemed like a pretty similar player to Merkley and you could see shades of Sergei Samsonov in his style, but there are obviously some areas of concern that have kept him further down the lists. He scored two in a row in that 5-4 OT loss to Oshawa, which was his best effort of the tournament.

Joe Gatenby (D, Kelowna Rockets)

Tournament Stats: 5 GP, 0 G, 1 A, 1 PTS

Playoff Stats: 19 GP, 0 G, 1 A, 1 PTS

Regular-Season Stats: 65 GP, 2 G, 13 A, 15 PTS

Central Scouting Final Ranking: 174th among N.A. skaters

Gatenby inexplicably fell 40 spots from 134th in the mid-season rankings despite his role growing exponentially with Kelowna as the campaign progressed. By the end, he was a bona fide top-four defender in the WHL, logging big minutes in key situations. For example, against Portland in the third round, when captain Madison Bowey was sent off for delay of game in the last minute of regulation with Kelowna clinging to a one-goal lead, Gatenby was out there alongside over-ager Cole Martin to (successfully) kill off that penalty. It was one of the biggest moments of Kelowna’s playoff run and Gatenby got the job done.

Gatenby reminds some of former Rockets blue-liner Josh Gorges who went undrafted but has turned into a consummate professional. Gatenby is definitely cut from that same cloth and was named the hardest-working player in the entire WHL this season. With Kelowna being the factory it is for NHL defencemen — Shea Weber, Duncan Keith, Tyson Barrie, Tyler Myers, the list goes on — it wouldn’t be shocking to see a team take a chance on Gatenby in the middle rounds. He didn’t do anything overly noteworthy — or video worthy — at the Memorial Cup, but he was steady throughout and likely improved his chances of getting picked.


Honourable Mentions

Mitch Vande Sompel (D/F, Oshawa Generals)

Tournament Stats: 4 GP, 0 G, 2 A, 2 PTS

Playoff Stats: 16 GP, 3 G, 9 A, 12 PTS

Regular-Season Stats: 58 GP, 12 G, 51 A, 63 PTS

Central Scouting Final Ranking: 34th among N.A. skaters

Vande Sompel was No. 33 on the mid-season list and has held strong in that late-second to early-third round range for much of the season, but just being part of a Memorial Cup-champion team probably bumps him up a bit. He knows how to win now and that’s a valuable commodity. Teams want winners, so Vande Sompel could certainly climb the draft board as a result.

Vande Sompel is also intriguing in that he’s a swingman — of the Brent Burns/Dustin Byfuglien ilk, albeit significantly smaller than them — and it’s not known whether he’ll play defence or forward upon turning pro. He played both positions this season and that versatility will only help his cause at the draft.

Vladimir Tkachev (F, Quebec Remparts)

Tournament Stats: 5 GP, 0 G, 3 A, 3 PTS

Playoff Stats: 21 GP, 6 G, 10 A, 16 PTS

Regular-Season Stats: 46 GP, 16 G, 33 A, 49 PTS

Central Scouting Final Ranking: 159th among N.A. skaters

Tkachev was No. 121 on the mid-season list and is another wild-card as a re-entry for this draft. The reality is he’s tiny — not small, tiny, like 150 pounds soaking wet tiny — but he’s also extremely skilled with excellent creativity. Tkachev went undrafted last year due largely to a small sample size in North America, only suiting up for 26 late-season games after coming over from Russia. He earned an invite to Edmonton Oilers training camp this past fall and stole the show, signing a contract that was ultimately rejected by the NHL because he was still draft-eligible this year.

Tkachev shone again at the Memorial Cup, often appearing to be Quebec’s most dangerous player in the offensive zone, but he’s more of an enigma than the next Tyler Johnson. The Oilers liked him under Craig MacTavish, but will Peter Chiarelli share that sentiment enough to pick him? Or will another team swoop in to snatch up Tkachev? Time will tell.

Larry Fisher is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryFisher_KDC.