Who to watch at this year’s Memorial Cup tournament

The Memorial Cup will be hosted by the Saint John Sea Dogs. (Adrian Wyld/AP)

With the Edmonton Oil Kings’ victory over Seattle in the Western Hockey League’s Ed Chynoweth Cup final, the need for scouts to attend next week’s Memorial Cup dwindled. While there are a number of re-entry players for the 2021 NHL draft, the four rosters assembled are older, more experienced players who’ve gone through the draft once or twice already. Hamilton defenceman Jorian Donovan, rated 81st by NHL Central scouting, and Shawinigan defenceman Angus Booth (92nd) are the only two participants rated inside the top 100 for the 2022 NHL draft.   

Having said that, an older tournament should make for a better tournament. There’s plenty of intrigue with hosts Saint John having been off since Round 1. The Sea Dogs will open the tournament with their first game since May 12th, and they will do so with a new head coach in Gardiner MacDougall.   

It’s great to see Shawinigan representing the QMJHL, as league champion for the first time in the history of the league’s oldest franchise. General manager Martin Mondou was the mastermind when the ‘Cats won the Cup as hosts on home ice in 2012, and he’s assembled another uber talented group that can light up the scoresheet. Head Coach Daniel Renaud has been around the league and has Memorial Cup experience as an assistant.  

Then you have Hamilton, a quick re-build from having competed in the 100th edition of the Memorial Cup in Regina in 2018. GM Steve Staios has a different looking team that’s more skilled on the back-end, and three lines of scoring depth up front.   

As for Edmonton, no team comes in with more high-end NHL prospects, featuring four first-round NHL picks, and four others selected in the latter stages of the draft. The Oil Kings have been in this spot previously, having competed against Shawinigan in 2012 and appearing once again, winning the Cup in London in 2014. Culture remains a key component to the franchise’s success that has gone through general managers Bob Green, Randy Hansch and now Kirt Hill over this decade-long run. Hansch’s footprints are all over this roster with Hill having put the finishing touches onto the roster for well-tenured head coach and former NHLer Brad Lauer.   

If you happen to be keeping an eye on the 2022 Memorial Cup, which begins Monday, here’s a quick guide of who to watch for each team: 

Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL Champions) 

Kaiden Guhle (MTL, 16th overall, 2020) The Montreal Canadiens’ first-round pick drew a king’s ransom in a trade from Prince Albert, but he’s been worth every piece of the six-piece return. Big, burly and nasty, Guhle is also effective on both special teams and can log a boatload of minutes. Most importantly, Guhle has Memorial Cup experience having played with Prince Albert in the 2019 Cup.   

Jake Neighbours (STL, 26th overall, 2020) A perfect marriage of will and skill, Neighbours already has an NHL goal on his résumé. A November return from the NHL helped GM Kirt Hill initiate his plan to add to an already talented group to get the Kings over the hump. The no-doubt captain of the Kings, Neighbours is a shift disturber who is equally adept at scoring as he his getting under the skin of his opponents.   

Dylan Guenther (ARI, ninth overall, 2021) A true sniper, Guenther put up 45 goals in the regular season and followed that up with 13 more in just 16 post-season games. His 296 shots on goal ranked third in the WHL, and are the second most of any player headed into Saint John (the Sea Dogs’s Dufour has 312). Guenther is a smooth skater who is adept at scoring from all over the ice. He’s an effective player off the rush who possesses sneaky vision. His ability to produce 5v5 is amongst the best of anyone in the Cup, with 72% of his points were scored at even strength or better.

Sebastian Cossa (DET, 15th overall, 2021) Size matters and at six-foot-six and 215 pounds, Cossa comes into the tournament as the biggest goalie on any team. His regular-season numbers (33-9-2-1, 2.28 GAA, .913SV%) were all amongst the top five in their respective categories. Having said that, the idea that he could’ve been even better was floated by some around the league. Even in the playoffs there were some forgettable moments. In true Andrei Vasilevskiy fashion, Cossa won all three of his games after a playoff loss. At his best, he has game-stealing potential, more so than any other netminder in the tournament.  

Shawinigan (QMJHL Champions) 

Mavrik Bourque (DAL, 30th overall, 2020) Limited to just 31 regular-season games, Bourque put up 68 points. As a team, Shawinigan operated at over 31% efficiency on the power play during the regular season, thanks in large part to the creativity and nifty playmaking of Bourque, where he managed 32 of his 68 points. Bourque scored five of Shawinigan’s 18 goals against Charlottetown in the league final.   

Xavier Bourgault (EDM, 22nd overall, 2021) Another true sniper, Bourgault possesses great deception in his shot. He’s worked well to round out his game, but if the ‘Cats have a chance of winning, Bourgault will have to score. Bourgault accounted for five game-winning  goals in Shawinigan’s 14 playoff wins, three of which came in overtime. All told, Bourgault was at his best with nine points in the five-game series win against Charlottetown to capture the President’s Cup.   

Pierrick Dubé (undrafted) Had a goal in each of the elimination games, including the game winner in each of the last three series the ‘Cats played. That run included the clincher against Charlottetown in overtime. The 21-year-old right winger tied a career high with 19 regular-season goals, but had 12 in the playoffs.   

Charles-Antoine Lavallée (undrafted)/Antoine Coulombe(undrafted) Similar to the last time Shawinigan was in the Cup, the ‘Cats come into the tournament with a two-headed monster in goal. Charles-Antoine Lavallée played more of the playoff minutes, but less in the regular season, although he lead the league with a 2.40 GAA. Antoine Coulombe was steady all season long, playing over 2,200 regular-season minutes with a .907% and a 2.73. Coulombe started the final game against Charlottetown, but was pulled in the second period only to have Lavallée come in to stop all 14 shots he faced to lead the ‘Cats to their first ever QMJHL title. 

Saint John Sea Dogs (Hosts

Gardiner MacDougall Never has a head coach been hired just to coach the Memorial Cup.  After a first-round exit at the hands of Rimouski, GM Trevor Georgie relieved Gordie Dwyer of his duties, heading down the road to Fredericton to hire the legendary USports coach.  MacDougall has an abundance of experience coaching and winning short tournaments and single-elimination events with the University of New Brunswick. However, coaching older players in USports is a lot different than handling the youth of a major-junior team. If he can fully implement his style and get buy-in from the group, the Dogs won’t just bark, they’ll bite.   

William Dufour (NYI, fifth round, 152nd overall, 2020) Highly touted coming into the QMJHL, Dufour, now with his fourth team, has finally figured out how he must play to be successful. His 56-goal campaign helped him earn league MVP honours, as the Michel- Brière Trophy winner. That number is the most any player in the tournament scored during the regular season. At six-foot-three, 204 pounds, Dufour is at his best playing a physical game and making space for himself and linemates. The New York Islanders’ prospect has just nine games of playoff experience.   

Jérémie Poirier (CAL, third round, 72nd overall, 2020) Was brilliant in the first half of the season but tailed off, and yet still finished with 16 goals and 57 points, and a career-best +30. At his best, Poirier is an elite skater with the hands to match. He gets up the ice effortlessly and is always a threat on the rush. Poirier possesses a bomb of a shot that should keep penalty killers honest. A much more well-rounded player than the wild horse that entered the league four years ago, Poirier has some bite to his game, but his key asset is using his offensive skills to create from the back-end.  

Josh Lawrence (undrafted) The small centre put up 101 regular-season points, but after he and Dufour, there’s a significant gap to the next highest scorer (Ryan Francis with 65 points). A driver of play with a great motor, Lawrence is a known commodity to the new coach and should feel as comfortable with MacDougall behind the bench as any of the number of coaches he’s had in Saint John. With a number of good centres in the tournament, Lawrence will need to maintain or improve on his league-leading 62.1 faceoff win percentage. A -5 playoff performance with just one assist will also have to be removed from the memory bank to get back to regular season form.  

Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL Champions

Mason McTavish (ANA, third overall, 2021) As an encore to the wild ride he took last season, playing overseas, winning gold at the U18 and scoring his first NHL goal, the Anaheim prospect comes into the tournament as the CHL’s most NHL-ready player. Enjoy the ride, he’ll be surfing in Anaheim next season.  

Avery Hayes (undrafted) His hat trick in a 6-1 Game 7 win over Windsor to capture the OHL title gave him 14 playoff goals and 34 points in just 16 post-season games. Hayes had 41 tucks in the regular season, has been passed over twice in the NHL draft, and comes into the tournament on a three-game heater.  

Logan Morrison (undrafted) A first-round OHL pick, Morrison has come into his own as a key point producer. His 100-point season is more than his first two seasons in the league combined (79), but in 46 fewer games. A right-shot centre, Morrison had at least one point in every Bulldogs playoff game, and multi-point efforts in 14 of 19. His 17 goals are the most of any playoff producer in the Memorial Cup tournament.   

Nathan Staios (undrafted) The son of GM Steve, Staios had no fear of nepotism as he lead all OHL defenders with 66 points in 59 regular season games. Staios is especially effective on the power play where he put up 32 of his points.   

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