Hockey fans are about to get incredibly spoiled. The coming week and half will not only boast the NHL’s Western and Eastern Conference final series, it will also feature the Mastercard Memorial Cup.
The tournament is a yearly meeting of the best the Canadian Hockey League has to offer. This year it features the resilient Oshawa Generals from the OHL, the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL and a duo of teams from the QMJHL including the host Remparts and the Rimouski Oceanic.
Each of these teams boast a wealth of talented, young players who are primed to put it all on the line in an attempt to become a Memorial Cup champion. This article will detail one player from each club to keep a close eye on.
Kelowna Rockets: Leon Draisaitl
The top squad in the Western Hockey League, the Kelowna Rockets seemingly have it all. Their defence core is anchored by the talented Madison Bowey and Josh Morrissey, while in the forward ranks they have the always dangerous Nick Merkley, who is eligible for the upcoming draft.
Despite all that, the crown jewel of the Rockets is the former third overall pick of the Edmonton Oilers, Leon Draisaitl. He is a dynamic offensive presence that spent solid time with the Oilers this season before getting sent back to junior. Upon his return, he put up 53 points in 32 games for the Rockets and has been a force ever since. He was also named WHL playoff MVP for his performance which included 10 goals and 28 points in 19 games.
Rimouski Oceanic: Frederik Gauthier
Another spot of good news for the Toronto Maple Leafs and their fans, Gauthier has been absolutely dominant in these 2015 playoffs. Gauthier has been excellent in his own zone and on face-offs, which is his strength. Unlike previous years however, he has also shown more of a scoring touch and has become a go to option on the team’s power-play.
The former first-rounder appears to finally be coming into his own, and Rimouski couldn’t be happier. They need Gauthier to take over games and so far, that has what he has done. The big man is a can’t miss prospect on a strong Oceanic team.
Quebec Remparts: Anthony Duclair
Anthony Duclair has had quite the year. He was part of the Canadian World Junior squad that finally brought the gold medal drought to an end this past winter. He also spent 18 games with the New York Rangers, where he honestly didn’t look out of place among the men of the NHL.
Sent back down to help the Remparts, Duclair’s season took an unexpected turn when he became one of the centrepieces of a big time NHL deal. Along with other players and picks, his rights were traded to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for defenseman Keith Yandle.
Duclair is big, strong and skilled. The Canadian Junior hero has excellent offensive instincts that allow him to make the most of his chances in the offensive zone. He has blinding acceleration, a wicked shot and is a creative and electric playmaker.
Oshawa Generals: Cole Cassels
If you didn’t know Cole Cassels from his 81 point season in the OHL this year, you might be forgiven. He truly made a name for himself in this year’s playoffs where he was tasked to do something no player or team had been able to do before. That task was shutting down Connor McDavid.
Not only did Cassels handle the task, he excelled at it. The third round pick of the Vancouver Canucks was a smothering force that eventually allowed the Generals to overcome the Erie Otters and reach the Memorial Cup.
The son of former NHLer Andrew Cassels, Cole has the speed and skill to be a top offensive player. He plays a dependable game at both ends of the ice, and often plays a chippy and on edge style.
The Memorial Cup is truly remarkable hockey. There are very few tournaments that are able to effectively showcase the immense talent from three different leagues all across the country. It’s guaranteed to be an exciting tournament that will clearly show the skill of junior players today.