Top 10 Prospects to Watch at the Memorial Cup
The Memorial Cup is the biggest show in Canadian Junior hockey. The four best teams in the country meet for a slammer of a hockey bonspiel. Usually, these tournaments are a practice field for many of the great hockey legends of the future; it's the first time a lot of these players get to play on a grand stage and it's been a great tournament for introducing great players to the hockey masses.
Crosby, Iginla, Lindros, MacInnis, Hall, Stevens, Benn, Niedermayer, Giroux, Subban, Webber, Gilmour, Hawerchuck, Luongo, Mackinnon, Perry and a whole host of other players, whose first names don't need to be said because they are instantly recognizeable, all played in the Memorial Cup prior to their beginning excellent NHL careers.
Who from 2018s class of stars is going to join the ranks of legendary player?
Here is MJ Independent's Top 10 Biggest Prospects at the Memorial Cup.
- Robert Thomas - Hamilton Bulldogs
The Hamilton Bulldogs have only been a club for three seasons now and they've already won an OHL championship. The smartest move the club ever made was dealing for Robert Thomas at the trade deadline this year. The 18 year old was on fire, putting up 32 points in 21 games and really proving, without question, to be the team's top scoring threat.
Keep in mind, this was a Hamilton squad that was destined, all season long, to be a role player to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, who were stacked to the rafters with top-tier talent and nearly unbeatable all season long. Come playoff time, Hamilton steamed through every ounce of competition they faced and didn't once look like an underdog in the championship series. They beat the Greyhounds decisively in six games to win the championship and much of that success was thanks to the play of Robert Thomas.
Look for that scoring to continue in the Memorial Cup.
Thomas was a member of the Team Canada club that won gold at the IIHF under 20 World Championships.
Thomas was drafted by the St. Louis Blues in 2017, with the 20th pick over all. As with much of Hamilton's talent, He could be back next season, as well.
2. Noah Dobson - Acadie-Bathurst Titan
From Summerside, PEI, Dobson is only 18 and is yet to be drafted. He's a towering 6'3 Defenceman who may do well to sock on some weight in the offseason. He fronted Acadie's solid defence with a +33 and came up huge in playoffs, adding 13 points to the 69 he scored in the regular season. He can score, he's got a blistering slapshot, he can move the puck, he can defend, he's got size and he plays extremely well under pressure. He's been compared to Alex Pietrangelo.
Dobson is everything a team needs in a top line Defenceman, so I figure it's only a matter of time before you see him fronting a duo in the bigs.
Acadie-Bathurst was a consistently solid team, all year long, they then manhandled the rest of the QMJHL in the playoffs, including the top-ranked Blainville-Boisbriand Armada.
Expect him to get drafted in 2018; as one of the top ten selections.
3. Arthur Kaliyev - Hamilton Bulldogs
Taking Kaliyev this high up on the list might be a big risk. The Staten Island, NY native is still only sixteen years old and has yet to be truly tested as a top line producer; but his ceiling is nearly limitless. His stardom really comes down to how much he wants it; because the talent is there. He's 6'2, deceptively quick and seems content on either the left or the right wing. He put up 48 points in his debut season and became an everyday skater and contributer at an age where most players aren't even considered. for the team
He is still a few years away from cracking the majors, but barring a tragedy we should most definitely see him there.
4. Sam Steel - Regina Pats
Had Sam Steel played in 2017-18 like he did the season previous, he might be at the top of this list. But the reality is that he kind backpedaled. He had 131 points two seasons ago, led the league in scoring, won the WHL Player of the Year Award and solidified himself as a top-tier prospect. But in 2018 he only put up 80. 80 points is pretty impressive, but a 51 point difference between seasons is a scary drop off. However, Steel has shown he has the skills to be a front line scorer on a top tier team and he DID play extremely well at the World Juniors, scoring nine points in seven games.
He was drafted 30th overall in 2016, by the Anaheim Ducks.
If Steel doesn't make the Ducks opening day roster, look for him to get the call up shortly after. Don't be surprised if he becomes a regular fixture and does for Anaheim what Brayden Point did for Tampa.
5. Aleksi Heponiemi - Swift Current Broncos
Heponiemi is an assist machine who flourished playing on the WHL's most consistently dominant scoring line (alongside Glenn Gawdin and Tyler Steenbergen). He had 58 assists in 2016-17 and then 90 more this season. In the playoffs he had another 25 in 26 games. The only thing that could turn into a negative for Heponiemi is his size. He doesn't even weigh 150lbs.
The Finn earned the Second Star of the Year Award, the King of the Road Award and the Eastern Conference's Most Sportsmanlike Player Award too, so it likely doesn't hurt having him in the change room.
He played for team Finland in the World Juniors and is still young enough to play a second time. He was drafted by the Florida Panthers, but is still probably a year or two away from the NHL.
6. Evan Fitzpatrick - Acadie-Bathurst Titan
Acadie-Bathurst's goalie led the team to its first QMJHL championship since their inaugural season, when Roberto Luongo did it back in 98-99. So the kid's in good company. From St. John's, NFLD, Fitzpatrick comes in at a whopping 6'3, 202 lbs. He started the season in Sherbrooke but was sent to Acadie at the trade deadline. That's where his talent really came through. His .925 save percentage and 2.10 Goals Against Average was pivotal in charging them through team after team in the playoffs.
He was drafted by the St. Blues in 2016 and really caught the team's eye with his performance in the QMJHL playoffs, where he started all 18 games, only losing 4 of them; and most particularly in the championship series against Blainville-Boisbriand, where he shut the door on the toughest team in the league. Fitzpatrick certainly has no problems playing under pressure and should have no problem making the NHL.
7. Glenn Gawdin - Swift Current Broncos
Forget about being labelled a future star, Glenn Gawdin is one right now. He's the best thing to happen to Swift Current hockey since Joe Sakic. They love him there. Gawdin spent five full seasons in green and white, an integral player in each one. But he truly became the heart and soul of the team's lineup during his last season. During the regular season, he put up 129 points in 67 games, then another 32 in 24 during the playoffs, earning the playoff MVP Award. When his linemates (Heponiemi and Tyler Steenbergen) were lighting it up on the world stage, at the World Juniors, Gawdin upped the pace of his scoring and guided his team to victories as if nobody was even missing.
In 2015, he was drafted in the 4th round by St. Louis, but they never signed him. That was before the 2017-2018 season and that was their loss; the Calgary Flames have since picked him up and he is likely to start next season in the AHL, on the fast-track to the Saddledome.
8. Matthew Strome - Hamilton Bulldogs
Matthew Strome is a hulking bruiser of a left-winger; he's 6'4 and 205lbs and only 19 years young. This was his third season as a Bulldog and he has scored 38, 62 and 68 points, respectively. Good numbers, but not outstanding. The Philadelphia Flyers drafted him in the fourth round of the 2017 draft. Strome has two brothers who already play in the NHL, Ryan and Dylan, so he's got the pedigree and support to follow suit. It's often said that he is the weakest skater of the three Strome boys; but he is definitely the biggest body of the bunch. He's got the type of build and he plays the game strong enough that he should be able to find steady work- but maybe it's a stretch to say he will be a star, he'd have to make some serious changes to his stride but don't doubt you will see him around the league.
9. Josh Mahura - Regina Pats
The Pats Defenceman could be reuniting with Sam Steel in Anaheim this season; only it seems more likely he will trail a year or two behind. Anaheim is pretty solid in the backend. It's a roster that won't be easy to find work on. Mahura split time between Red Deer and Regina in 2016-17, where he became a defendable d man who could move the puck around and find work on the power play. He was dynamite in the Pats' playoff run that year too.
He kept that pace active into this season, where he became, undoubtedly, the team's star defender. He had 69 points in 60 games and often played his best against the leagues toughest competition. He even flirted with the Team Canada Juniors a few times, but was ultimately left home. After the Memorial Cup, The 20 year old will start the season with the AHL's San Diego Gulls; where he will begin his ascent to the Montreal Canadians starting roster.
10. Tyler Steenbergen - Swift Current Broncos
Steenbergen was temporarily a household name in Canada. While playing for Team Canada at the World Juniors, he scored the tournament winning goal, to put Canada ahead of Sweden. They went on to win gold and Steenbergen's glorious mug was on the cover of every newspaper in the country. Well, Steenbergen's not just a one-hit wonder. He's even got a cheeseburger named after him in Swift Current. He improved on his 90 point 2016-17 season by putting up 102 in 2017-18. He also had a phenomenal playoff run, scoring 27 points in 26 games.
The Arizona Coyotes drafted him in 2017.
Don't be surprised if you see him skating their sooner rather than later, as the Coyotes are short on offensive talent and Steenbergen clearly has it.
The tournament consists of the four teams included above and begins on Friday May 18th