The MasterCard Memorial Cup is the grandest stage in junior hockey where many players made memorable performances throughout the years. Here are four profiles of players to watch in the 2009 MasterCard Memorial Cup tournament from Rimouski, Que.
Tyler Myers – Kelowna Rockets
Houston, Tx. isn’t known as a hockey hot-bed but that’s just where Kelowna Rockets defenceman Tyler Myers got his start. Myers fell in love with the sport after his father brought him to see the American Hockey League’s Houston Aeros a decade ago. He purchased equipment the day after watching his first hockey game and never looked back.
His family later moved to the Calgary, Alta. suburb of DeWinton where Myers, then aged 10, began playing more competitively. Myers was drafted 19th overall by the Kelowna Rockets in the 2005 Western Hockey League Bantam Draft, the year after the franchise won their only Memorial Cup title.
The most surprising element of Myers’ game isn’t in how uncharacteristically big he is at six-foot-eight but how well he’s able to skate given his size. Myers is very shifty and able to maintain position with the quickest forwards in the league due to his skating ability and long wingspan.
Myers was one of two Rockets drafted in the first round in last year’s National Hockey League draft. Luke Schenn was taken ahead of him at No. 5 while Myers was scooped up by the Buffalo Sabres with the 12th overall pick. The Sabres signed Myers to a contract following the conclusion of the WHL finals where he was named the Most Valuable Player of the playoffs.
As strong as his skating is, Myers is also a very talented two-way defender. He has a cannon of a slapshot that is both hard and accurate. He scored some big goals for the Rockets in the playoffs while he was also able to neutralize the opposing team’s top forwards. Vancouver Giants forward Evander Kane, a lottery pick for this summer’s draft, was contained very well by Myers in the Western Conference finals. His long reach enables him to knock the puck away from forwards and start the rush up ice.
Myers has learned to use his size quite well. He has the ability to rush end-to-end with the puck on his stick and has the finishing skills of a forward near the net. He is very strong at using his body to shield the puck from the opposition which helps him rush the puck up ice.
A member of Canada’s gold-medal winning world junior team, Myers might be playing his last few games as a Rocket as his play in the playoffs indicates he’s ready to make the jump to the NHL. His play in the Memorial Cup will be integral for his team if they’re able to win their second title as the CHL’s top team.
Ryan Ellis – Windsor Spitfires
Chances are the Windsor Spitfires might not be playing for the Memorial Cup had Ryan Ellis not fallen to their pick in the second round of the 2007 Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection. The biggest knock against Ellis has always been his size at five-foot-10 and 173 pounds.
While the criticism over his size remains, his ability to handle himself at that size is less of a question. Ellis is one of the most talented defencemen in the Canadian Hockey League and would be a top three pick if the OHL re-did their 2007 draft.
The other knock on Ellis has been his defensive play. Team Canada chose to bring Ellis along to the Under-20 World Junior Championship in Ottawa, Ont. this year but was hesitant in using him in even strength situations. While Canada may not have been comfortable playing him in those situations, the Windsor Spitfires have not hesitated.
Ellis was named the OHL’s defenceman of the year this season while he was also a finalist for the league’s scholastic player of the year award, which he won as a rookie. His ability to prove his critics wrong continues as many have questioned where he will be taken in this summer’s NHL draft. If he were a few inches taller, Ellis would contend for a spot in the top three but chances are he won’t slip past the midway mark of the first round.
Ellis is a strong skater with speed and quickness. He likes leading the rush but is most potent as a power-play quarterback. Ellis has one of the most feared slapshots in junior hockey with a quick release and accurate shot. His teammates set him up to unleash his wicked slapshot on the power-play. His dynamic vision of the offensive zone allows him to find his teammates and feed them passes through near impossible seams. Ellis made a beautiful assist on Ben Shutron’s game-tying goal late in the third period in Game 3 of their series against the London Knights.
While small in stature, Ellis enjoys dishing out checks as he will step up and catch a forward with his head down just as he did on Matt Kang in the championship final series. He packs quite a punch for a player his size which makes him a tough player to play against. He will be instrumental in leading the Spitfires’ offence, particularly on the power-play and will be key to Windsor’s success.
Yannick Riendeau – Drummondville Voltigeurs
No one ever questioned Yannick Riendeau had talent. The diminutive pivot was the first round pick of the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, ninth overall, in the 2004 Québec Major Junior Hockey League draft. Riendeau enjoyed four successful seasons in Rouyn-Noranda but was never able to win the league championship. The Huskies had gone to the final last season where they were beat handily, in five games, to the Gatineau Olympiques.
Gatineau’s offence last year was led by Claude Giroux who was nearly unstoppable in the playoffs. Giroux tallied 51 points in 19 games, an impressive feat which Riendeau saw first-hand.
Two years ago Riendeau’s playoffs were cut short with a shoulder and appendix injury. Last season, Riendeau and his Huskies were picked by many as the favourites to win the league championship. The Huskies won the first 12 games of the playoffs, sweeping all three of their first round opponents before losing to Giroux’s Olympiques in the final.
This year’s playoffs were eerily similar for Riendeau. Drummondville won the first 12 games of the playoffs before meeting their match in the league final against the Shawinigan Cataractes. The difference was that Riendeau wasn’t watching a dynamic offensive performance this year – he was providing it.
Riendeau scored 29 goals and 23 assists in 19 games, one point more than Giroux had totaled in the same amount of games last year. The Voltigeurs’ sniper scored 15 game-winning goals this season, three shy of tying the record set by Pat LaFontaine. Riendeau scored another four decisive goals in the playoffs, including the championship-clinching goal over Shawinigan in Game 7.
The Boston Bruins signed Riendeau to an entry-level contract in April after he had been passed over through two National Hockey League drafts.
As his stats would indicate, Riendeau is a natural goal-scorer with exceptional vision offensively. He often sets up down low on the power-play where his teammates like sending cross-crease passes to him. His natural finishing skills made him his team’s go-to sniper and he very rarely disappoints in close. Although he’s a bit small, the overage forward is shifty and quick. When the Drummondville offence gets going in the Memorial Cup, Riendeau will likely be at the forefront.
Keven Veilleux – Rimouski Oceanic
The Rimouski Océanic power-forward might just be one of the most frustrating players in junior hockey. Keven Veilleux has undeniable skill but has had difficulties putting it all together at times. Veilleux began his career with the Victoriaville Tigres where he quickly became a player the scouts followed.
Scouts liked his blend of size and skill and Veilleux showed great promise but not every night. Veilleux may be one of the most skilled players for his size but was either unwilling or unable to perform at a high level on a consistent basis. He looked good at the Canadian Hockey League/National Hockey League Home Hardware Top Prospects Game in 2007 and parlayed that season into a second round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Unfortunately, Veilleux has had a lot of difficulty learning English which might stunt his development at the next level. The Tigres traded him last season to Rimouski in a multi-player trade which featured Maxime Tanguay, younger brother of Alex Tanguay, headlining the package going back to Victoriaville.
Veilleux acquitted himself well in Rimouski since his trade and helped his team to a first-round playoff upset over the Baie-Comeau Drakkar in last year’s playoffs. He became one of the players the Océanic pinned their hopes on this season but an injury early on forced him to miss considerable time this season.
Once Veilleux returned from injury, his inconsistent play resumed before his head coach, Clément Jodoin, challenged him in March. Jodoin told his star forward if he didn’t start producing, he would be watching from the bench. The conversation sparked Veilleux who was on a tear to finish the regular season and his hot play carried over to the playoffs.
Veilleux often raises his level of play in high-profile games, an aspect that will serve his team well in the Memorial Cup. He likes the spotlight and has the ability to control a game offensively, which his team will need him to do in the tournament for them to be successful. Veilleux has a sniper’s touch and is at his best when he’s fighting through checks and playing with a chip on his shoulder. Rimouski’s hopes for a Memorial Cup will depend on whether he can regain his late-season form.