You already know the Portland Winterhawks' Seth Jones and Halifax Mooseheads' duo of Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin are ranked 1-2-3 among North American prospects by NHL Central Scouting, and that they are all bound for the Memorial Cup.
Drouin and MacKinnon's friend in the goalie fraternity, Zach Fucale, is the top-rated netminder. Jones' teammate, centre Nic Petan, is a possible sleeper after tying for the Western Hockey League regular-season scoring title. Among the London Knights, centre Bo Horvat is coming off being the Ontario Hockey League's playoff MVP while fellow first-round possibility Max Domi was the club's leading point-getter in both the regular season and playoffs. On and on it goes: London's 6-foot-5 Russian defenceman Nikita Zadorov is a beast; Portland's second-line right wing Oliver Bjorkstrand should also hear his name sooner rather than later at the draft at June 30.
With three players whom — conservatively guesstimating — could all go in the top five of the draft and another four potential first-rounders, the Memorial Cup has probably never offered such a bevy of draft-year talent since the NHL adopted an 18-year-old draft in 1981. Time will tell who each player pans out at the next level. A scour of year-by-year draft results show it's been a good long while since there were so many players projected to be drafted so highly following the tournament. In fact, one has to really go back to the early 1980s, when the U.S. was only beginning to become a factor in the first round and taking Europeans that early was off the radar. Here's a look at some tournaments which were laden with high picks.
(Please keep in mind, this only accounts for players who had not come up for the draft at the time of the tournament.)
2011 — Would you believe a certain Toronto Star columnist wrote that the tournament in Mississauga, in the wake of Taylor Hall leading the Windsor Spitfires to back-to-back victories, lacked star power? All the best prospects must have belonged to a team from the Maritimes. Five of the top 35 picks played, including tourney MVP Jonathan Huberdeau (No. 3 overall to the Florida Panthers) and his Saint John Sea Dogs teammates Nathan Beaulieu (No. 17 to the Montreal Canadiens), Zack Phillips (No. 28 to the Minnesota Wild) and Tomas Jurco (No. 35 to the Detroit Red Wings). Mississauga defenceman Stuart Percy was also taken No. 25 by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
It's only been two years, so it's too early to judge that group's impact in the NHL. Huberdeau is a Calder Trophy finalist this season, while Beaulieu got in some NHL games this winter with the Habs.
2009 — Take your pick from either year when Windsor made its run. In 2009, the victorious Spitfires went on to have five players drafted, four of whom have broken into the NHL, starting with defenceman Ryan Ellis, who went No. 11 to the Nashville Predators. The 17-year-old Hall was a season away from being the No. 1 overall pick of the Edmonton Oilers in 2010. Austin Watson, a rookie whose draft year was also 2010, also had a six-game call-up to Nashville this season.
Four other underagers from that tournament are now in The Show: Drummondville defenceman Dmitri Kulikov (No. 14 to the Panthers), centre Sean Couturier (No. 8 to the Philadelphia Flyers in 2011), Rimouski Océanic centre Jordan Caron (No. 25 to the Boston Bruins) and Kelowna Rockets defenceman Tyson Barrie (No. 64 to the Colorado Avalanche).
2003 — The tournament from a decade ago gets the not for quality more than quantity. Mike Richards, who helped the Kitchener Rangers win the Memorial Cup, went No. 24 overall to the Los Angeles Kings amid a deep draft year. The Kelowna Rockets, who finished third, boasted a sophomore defenceman named Shea Weber, who was still on the board when Nashville nabbed him at No. 49 overall.
1995 — Hindsight being 20/20, this one is complicated to set up. Bryan Berard and Wade Redden, the defenceman who were selected 1-2 in the '95 draft (and then traded for one another), were in the tournament with the Detroit Jr. Red Wings and the Brandon Wheat Kings.
The tournament itself, though, was all about the Kamloops Blazers completing a run where they won both the WHL and the Memorial Cup three times in four seasons. Shane Doan and Jarome Iginla were youngsters on that Blazers team and went on to be drafted No. 7 and No. 11 overall by Winnipeg and Dallas before going on to greater fame in different NHL markets. Doan's had a Hall of Very Good career, while Iginla is headed to the Hall of Fame.
The runner-up Jr. Red Wings and the Wheat Kings each had six players drafted following that tournament.
1981 through '84, take your pick — Amateur scouting was obviously much different 30 years ago. So it makes sense there was a run of Memorial Cups in the early part of the '80s were a who's-who of future greats.
In 1984 at Kitchener, Mario Lemieux led the Laval Voisins into the tournament. That would be an enough-said, although one should mention that Gary Roberts was part of the Ottawa 67's winning effort before going No. 12 to the Calgary Flames. Two other long-time NHLers, Shawn Burr and Doug Shedden, were also part of the '84 tournament before becoming top-10 picks that summer.
Nineteen eighty-three? Wearing No. 21 for Portland, Cam Neely helped the Winter Hawks become the first U.S. team and non-league champion to win, then was drafted No. 9 overall by the Vancouver Canucks. He was not even the highest-drafted future Hall of Famer playing that spring, since the Verdun Juniors' Pat LaFontaine was the No. 3 pick by the New York Islanders.
(That's right, Neely only took No. 8 with the Bruins. Ty Rattie seems to have a done a half-decent job distinguishing that single digit in Portland.)
Five first-round selections in 1982 were also fresh off playing in the Memorial Cup. That draft class included Scott Stevens, who helped the OHL Rangers win their first Memorial Cup before the Washington Capitals took him No. 5 overall with the intention of letting him level some NHL Rangers.
In '81, Dale Hawerchuk led the Cornwall Royals to victory before going on to be the original Winnipeg Jets' No. 1 overall pick and fashioning a Hall of Fame career. Doug Gilmour was also in his 17-year-old season for the Royals, although he was not taken until the following summer. Cornwall's competition included the Victoria Cougars with Grant Fuhr (No. 8 to the Oilers) in goal and Kitchener with Al MacInnis (No. 15 to the Flames) on the blueline.
How different was the hockey world back then? Well, consider that Gilmour and Hawerchuk were Ontario boys playing for the QMJHL team and MacInnis was a Nova Scotian playing in Ontario. It would be reversed nowadays. That was, as alluded to up top, a different era, years before Teemu Selanne and Mats Sundin broke the draft's glass ceiling for Europeans. Having to revisit it for comparison purposes, though, shows how much potential is descending on Saskatoon this week. That's not meant to put Hall of Fame expectations on a teenager. Just let it play out.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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