2014/15 Premier League Predictions

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From the exciting title chase that went down to the final day of the series (well technically I guess), to the dramatic slide of Manchester United, the 2013/14 Premier League campaign certainly made up for the sub-par season that happened a year earlier.

So why am I not super pumped up at the moment for the 2014/15 campaign? I mean, you have a lot of new managers coming in, big name players leaving the Premier League as other top talent arrive, and another very tight title race seemingly on the horizion.

To be honest, it doesn’t feel like we’ve had a real off-season this year, especially since we just had an amazing World Cup that concluded only a month ago. It’s as if I just went to an all-night rave party and then with little to no sleep, I’m being flung right into another one.

But your not here for that are you? You’re here to see how wrong I am going to be once again with my annual Premier League predictions. Well, without anymore delays, let’s begin.

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1) Manchester City

When Manchester City won the Premier League title in 2012, I was confident that they wouldn’t repeat as champions because of the fact that they hardly did anything in the transfer market. This time around, I expect them to be in the driver’s seat to win their third crown in the last four seasons. 

Now granted, they didn’t make the flashy signings like some of the other teams that will battle for the title, but the additions of Bacary Sagna from Arsenal, the Porto duo of Fernando and Eliaquim Mangala, and Malaga goalkeeper Willy Caballero should mesh nicely with players such as Yaya Toure, Vincent Kompany, and Sergio Aguero.

However, I’m convinced that the six-month loan of Frank Lampard from sister club New York City FC will only end in tears. 

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2) Chelsea

In almost all of the posts that I have seen regarding this year’s Premier League campaign, Chelsea seems to be the hot pick to win it all, and for good reason.

Even though players like Ashley Cole, David Luiz, and Frank Lampard have all moved on, Jose Mourinho has a bunch of shiny new toys in his arsenal with Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa, and Filipe Luis all coming from Spain. Plus, he has two top-class goalies now as Thibault Courtois returns from his loan spell at Atletico Madrid to join Petr Cech.

Despite having a crazy strong midfield with Fabregas, Eden Hazard, and Oscar leading the way, I am slightly concerned about the strikers. Yes, Costa was a dominant force for Atletico Madrid last year on their way to the La Liga title. But if he goes down, the attacking core consists of a returning (and older) Didier Drogba and the ghost of Fernando Torres.

Andre Schurrle might be able to help if an injury situation happens, but the selling of Romelu Lukaku to Everton might prove to be something that The Special One may regret if the title chase comes down to total goals.

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3) Arsenal

With the long trophy drought coming to an end following their FA Cup victory over Hull City in May, Arsenal’s main focus now is to win the Premier League for the first time since 2004.

After for leading the way for most of last season before dropping out of the title fight, things look pretty good for  the Gunners heading into this year with Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil, Theo Walcott, and Jack Wilshere all part of a strong attack. Sure, the defence might not look that great, but who needs that when you have a great looking midfield and striking force.

Arsenal’s attack has been strengthed even more by signing Alexis Sanchez from Barcelona during the World Cup, which might make them even scarier. If everyone remains healthy, and they don’t get blown out 6-0 by Chelsea once again, this might be the squad that wins the title when everything wraps up in May. 

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4) Manchester United

After the total train wreck they had last year, why am I expecting Manchester United to return to the Champions League mix this time around? Well there’s a couple of reasons.

One is the fact that new manager Louis Van Gaal is kind of a mad-man (I mean, he substituted his goalkeeper before a penalty shootout at the World Cup this year for the Netherlands), so he may provide the kick in the butt this club needs. The biggest factor for me though is the fact the Red Devils don’t have to play in Europe this season, which should be a big help for them.

However, they still need to bring some guys in to replace the likes of Ryan Giggs, Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra (oh and cult hero Bebe). They made two big deals already with the signings of Luke Shaw from Southampton and Ander Herrera of Athletic Bilbao, but if they aren’t able to strength the squad before the transfer deadline, there might be some issues yet again.

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5) Liverpool

They were two points away from winning their first top flight title since 1990. They are heading back to the Champions League for the first time in five seasons, and they have brought in a bunch of new singings.

So why am I not expecting Liverpool to be in the top four this time around? Well, it’s because Luis Suarez has moved to Barcelona.

Following his latest biting incident at the World Cup, it was time for Liverpool to sever ties with the striker. But you can’t replace a world class player with his goal scoring skill over night.

Like Tottenham Hotspur when they sold Gareth Bale a year ago, Liverpool have brought in a ton of new players, with Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren all coming from Southampton. But like Spurs a year ago, I expect it wil take a while for everyone to gel, and it might mean that they miss out on the Champions League again.

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6) Tottenham Hotspur

After buying what seemed like 300 players before Gareth Bale (swooooon) went to Real Madrid last year, Tottenham’s been rather quiet thus far in this transfer window, as they have only brought in Michel Vorm and Ben Davies from Swansea City, Sporting CP’s Eric Dier, and DeAndre Yedlin of the Seattle Sounders (although he won’t arrive until January). 

Former Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino will be a nice change from the interesting Tim Sherwood experiment from the second half of last year, and those players that came into the team last year should be settled in now. However, I’m not sure that Spurs will have enough to get into the top four as the other teams have gotten stronger.

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7) Everton

No one major has left the team that finished in fifth place in the Premier League in May, plus they now have the full-time services of striker Romelu Lukaku of Chelsea after buying him for a club record transfer fee of 28 million pounds.

Although they might be without the services of midfield Ross Barkley for two months following a knee injury, Everton should be the sleeper team in the Champions League mix yet again. However, I’m not convinced that they can have a second strong campaign under Roberto Martinez that will get them into the top four, but I might be totally wrong in that assumption.

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8) Newcastle United

The second half of last season was a massive train wreck for Newcastle, but things should be a bit better this time around, provided manager Alan Pardew doesn’t do anything silly on the touchline.

I’m really excited to see what Siem De Jong can do in the Premier League after starring for Ajax, along with fellow midfielder Remy Cabella of Montpellier. They probably won’t be in that top six fight, but this side may end up being the best of the rest.

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9) Swansea City

Provided that Wilfried Bony isn’t sold during the season, the lone Welsh club in the Premier League should finish in the top half of the league table.

Granted, Michu has moved to Napoli on loan, and I’m not sure how Lukasz Fabianski will do in goal compared to the departing Michel Vorm. However, they have brought back Gylfi Sigurdsson from Tottenham Hotspur and nabbed Columbia international Jefferson Montero, which should make for a very strong midfield presence.

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10) Sunderland

I’ll admit it, I’m a huge fan of manager Gus Poyet. Not only did he bring Sunderland out of the depth of relegation last season, but he nearly brought Brighton & Hove Albion up into the Premier League during his time there.

With Jack Rodwell now in from Manchester City, and a off-season that was quite stable compared to last year, I think Sunderland should be safely in the mid table this year. The one question mark for me though is with their strikers, as I fear they may end up relying to much on Connor Wickham replicating his late season form. 

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11) Queens Park Rangers

Thanks to Bobby Zamora’s late goal against Derby County in the Championship Playoff, the team with a higher payroll than Atletico Madrid is back in the Premier League. This time around though, things should go much better than it did in QPR’s previous go-around in the top flight.

Overall, I think this squad’s rather solid, although there might be some question marks around their forward core of Charlie Austin, Loic Remy, and Zamora. I like everything else on the roster though, as the Rio Ferdinand signing might not be bad for the short term to help things out at the back. 

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12) Hull City

This may be a little bit too high for last year’s FA Cup runners-up, especially since they have to deal with playing in the Europa League. However, I feel like the Tigers should avoid having to deal with the relegation fight.

The squad’s been strengthened with Jake Livermore, Tom Ince, and Robert Snodgrass all coming in, and they look to be in pretty good shape when compared to the squads below them. They might not excite you, but they should be solid. 

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13) Stoke City

What I wrote about Hull City you could also say for Stoke, who certainly won’t get your heart racing but be solidly in the mix for a mid-table result and may pull off a shock upset or two.

While I’m not expecting a lot from this squad, they do have one of the most interesting newcomers to the league this year in Bojan Krkic of Spain. The 23-year-old has played for Barcelona, Roma, AC Milan, and Ajax over the last few seasons, and if he can ever find the form that made him so highly touted when he first started, this might be the biggest coup by a team in quite some time.

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14) West Ham United

Despite what some of the supporters have wanted, Big Sam Allardyce is still the manager of West Ham United, who are again starting off the season without the service of striker Andy Carroll because of injury.

They have brought in Mauro Zarate and Enner Valencia to help with that issue, but I still don’t think this will be a squad that is going to be scoring a ton of goals. They should survive, but I wouldn’t be shocked if there’s a managerial change at the midway point of the season. 

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15) Aston Villa

Remember when Christian Benteke had a hat-trick for Aston Villa in their 6-1 win over Sunderland in April of last year, or when the club stunned Arsenal at the start of the 2013/14 season and it seemed like things were on the upswing? That seems like halcyon days compared to what’s currently happening at Villa Park.

For starters, owner Randy Lerner is still trying to sell the club after putting it up for sale in May, and manager Paul Lambert is the leading candidate for the sack race even though that has technically already been won (more on that in a minute). 

Roy Keane’s seemingly waiting in the wings to take over if Lambert slips up, Benteke’s out still with an achilles injury, and Joe Cole has shown up for some reason. The signing of Columbia international Carlos Sanchez Moreno isn’t bad, but it seems like this club is just treading water in a quest to fight off the drop.

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16) Southampton

After an eighth place finish last season, Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino left for Tottenham Hotspur, and the club lost Rickie Lambert (Liverpool), Luke Shaw (Manchester United), Adam Lallana (Liverpool), Dejan Lovren (Liverpool), and Calum Chambers (Arsenal) in the span of a month.

So what’s left for new gaffer Ronald Koeman? Well he did sign goalkeeper Fraser Forster away from Celtic, and guys like Morgan Schneiderlin and Jay Rodriguez are all still around, so he has that going for him. But with so many players leaving, a sudden drop for Southampton seems likely.

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17) Crystal Palace

The season hasn’t even started yet and we’ve had our first managerial change, as Tony Pulis took his ball and went home on Thursday, apparently because of the fact that he was unable to bring in any of his summer transfer targets.

With Keith Millen filling in as the manager until a new one is hired (former Cardiff City boss Malky Mackay and one-time Celtic manager Neil Lennon are the front-runners as write this) the big question for me remains the overall look of the squad itself. It looks more like a Championship side to me, but if they get the right hire, they should be able to survive by the skin of their teeth.

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18) West Brom Albion

Alan Irvine moves from the Everton youth set-up to become the new manager for the team that finished 17th a year ago, but I’m not sure that he will be able to prevent this side from going down.

They did bring Joleon Lescott from Manchester City, and they have broken their transfer record to sign striker Brown Ideye from Dynamo Kyiv to try and get the goals they couldn’t last year, but I just feel like this might be the season where West Brom’s run finally runs out. Crystal Palace might seem more likely to be relegated, but I just have a hunch on this one that will probably turn out wrong. 

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19) Leicester City

The Foxes cruised to the Championship title last season and are back in the Premier League for the first time in ten years, but I don’t believe that their stay will last very long.

They did get Matthew Upson as a nice veteran pickup, and Peter Schmiechel’s son Kasper is the starting netminder, but I’m having a hard team believing that a striking attack led by David Nugent will be the difference in this team surviving relegation. With that said, midfielder Anthony Knockaert is highly touted, so it will be cool to see what he can do at this level.

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20) Burnley

Canadian David Edgar was released by the club after last season, so they are going down automatically because of that. 

Seriously though, while manager Sean Dyche’s work is being highly praised after the club’s surprise run to a runner-up finish in the Championship, I don’t think they’ve done enough to ensure they don’t go straight back down. They do have two young strikers in Sam Vokes and Danny Ings who can score goals, but they might end up getting snatched up by another club in January if Burnley’s struggling.

Anyways, that does it for this preview of another new Premier League season. If it’s anything like last year’s, we should be in for another fun ride.


A Look Back At The 2009 NHL Draft

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So we have finally reached a point in the annual NHL draft recaps where I can actually remember what happened in the lead-up to the draft itself, as it around 2009 where I started to keep more of an eye on Junior and College Hockey. The complete nerding-out is still a couple more years away, so stay tuned for that one in about 24 months.

Back in 2009, I remember TSN trying to convince me that John Tavares was under severe competition in being the first overall pick, which I dismissed immediately as network hype. I still believe that to be the case five years afterwards, but how did the rest of the non Jun Tavarez picks pan out? Well let’s find out.

Anaheim Ducks

Rnd. No. Team Player Name Pos. NHL Games Played Career Stats Current Status
1 15 Guelph Storm Peter Holland C 68 10-7-17 Toronto Marlies
 1 26 US NTDP Kyle Palmieri RW 141 29-31-60 Anaheim Ducks
 2 37 Brampton Battalion Mat Clark D 2 0-0-0 Norfolk Admirals
 3 76 Magnitogorsk Jr. Igor Bobkov G 0 N/A Utah Grizzlies
 4 106 Jyp Jr. Sami Vatanen D 56 8-15-23 Anaheim Ducks
 5 136 Tri-City Storm Radoslav Illo C 0 N/A Bemidji State Beavers
 6 166 Oshawa Generals Scott Valentine D 0 N/A Milwaukee Admirals

Despite having the presence of Igor Bobkov, this isn’t quite a stelar draft. Though I expect Palmieri to get some more chances with Teemu now calling it a day. I’m still crying over that.

Atlanta Thrashers

Rnd. No. Team Player Name Pos. NHL Games Played Career Stats Current Status
 1 4 Vancouver Giants Evander Kane C 324 99-101-200 Winnipeg Jets
 2 34 Frolunda HC Carl Klingberg LW 10 1-0-1 St. John’s Ice Caps
 2 45 US NTDP Jeremy Morin LW 39 8-8-16 Rockford Ice Hogs
 4 117 Saginaw Spirit Edward Pasquale G 0 N/A St. John’s Ice Caps
 4 120 Guelph Storm Ben Chiarot D 1 0-0-0 St. John’s Ice Caps
 5 125 Saginaw Spirit Cody Sol D 0 N/A Ontario Reign
 6 155 Kamloops Blazers Jimmy Bubnick C 0 N/A Unknown (Saskatchewan Huskies in 12/13)
 7 185 Spokane Chiefs Levko Koper LW 0 N/A Alberta Golden Bears
 7 203 Waterloo Black Hawks Jordan Samuels-Thomas LW 0 N/A Quinnipiac Bobcats

Provided that Kane isn’t run out of town by Gary Lawless, this has been a pretty good draft for the Jets franchise. Okay maybe not with the late picks, but who doesn’t love some CIS studs.

Boston Bruins

Rnd. No. Team Player Name Pos. NHL Games Played Career Stats Current Status
1 25 Rimouski Oceanic Jordan Caron RW 123 12-16-28 Boston Bruins
 3 86 Prince Albert Raiders Ryan Button D 0 N/A Idaho Steelheads
 4 112 Windsor Spitfires Lane MacDermid LW 21 2-2-4 Abbotsford Heat
 6 176 Kitchener Rangers Tyler Randell RW 0 N/A Providence Bruins
 7 206 Nepean Raiders Ben Sexton C 0 N/A Clarkson Golden Knights

I completely forgot that Lane MacDermid played in Windsor. Caron’s finally getting a chance to play on a more regular basis for the Bruins, which may prove to be the saving grace for this draft class.

Buffalo Sabres

Rnd. No. Team Player Name Pos. NHL Games Played Career Stats Current Status
 1 13 Peterborough Petes Zach Kassian RW 156 25-25-50 Vancouver Canucks
 3 66 Kootenay Ice Brayden McNabb D 37 1-7-8 Manchester Monarchs
 4 104 Sudbury Wolves Marcus Foligno LW 135 18-32-50 Buffalo Sabres
 5 134 Malden Catholic High School Mark Adams D 0 N/A Providence Friars
 6 164 Miami Redhawks Connor Knapp G 2 0-0-1 (3.12) Greenville Road Warriors
 7 194 Shawinigan Cataractes Maxime Legault RW 0 N/A Gwinnett Gladiators

Kassian turned into Cody Hodgson and McNabb was dealt for Hudson Fasching in some hot prospect swapping action, so it will be interesting to see how those deals play out in the long-term. The Foligno pick though is pretty good for a fourth rounder.

Calgary Flames

Rnd. No. Team Player Name Pos. NHL Games Played Career Stats Current Status
 1 23 Skelleftea Tim Erixon D 51 0-7-7 Springfield Falcons
 3 74 Chilliwack Bruins Ryan Howse LW 0 N/A Stockton Thunder
 4 111 Farjestads Henrik Bjorklund RW 0 N/A Bofors
 5 141 Surrey Eagles Spencer Bennett LW 0 N/A Bakersfield Condors
 6 171 TPS Joni Ortio G 9 4-4-0 (2.51) Abbotsford Heat
 7 201 Saskatoon Blades Gaelan Patterson C 0 N/A Idaho Steelheads

Poor Tim Erixon. Ortio may prove to be the one redeeming factor of this draft class, mainly because he’s a Finnish goalie.

Carolina Hurricanes

Rnd. No. Team Player Name Pos. NHL Games Played Career Stats Current Status
 1 27 Shawinigan Cataractes Philippe Paradis LW 0 N/A Syracuse Crunch
 2 51 New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs Brian Dumoulin D 6 0-1-1 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
 3 88 Skelleftea Mattias Lindstrom LW 0 N/A San Antonio Rampage
 5 131 Guelph Storm Matt Kennedy RW 0 N/A Unknown (Fort Wayne Komets in 12/13)
 6 178 Kalpa Rasmus Rissanen D 0 N/A Charlotte Checkers
 7 208 Red Deer Rebels Tommi Kivisto D 0 N/A Ilves

Well here’s our clubhouse leader for the worst draft class. Dumoulin was dealt to Pittsburgh for Jordan Staal in the 2012 draft, where shockingly, Ray Shero used the draft pick he gained to grab another bloody defender. More on Shero later.

Chicago Blackhawks

Rnd. No. Team Player Name Pos. NHL Games Played Career Stats Current Status
 1 28 Camrose Kodiaks Dylan Olsen D 72 3-10-13 Florida Panthers
 2 59 Georgetown Raiders Brandon Pirri C 56 13-14-27 Florida Panthers
 3 89 Totino Grace High School Daniel Delisle LW 0 N/A Idaho Steelheads
 4 119 Everett Silvertips Byron Froese C 0 N/A Cincinnati Cyclones
 5 149 Djurgardens Marcus Kruger C 206 21-46-67 Chicago Blackhawks
 6 177 Cumberland Grads David Pacan RW 0 N/A Kalamazoo Wings
 7 195 Cedar Rapids Roughriders Paul Phillips D 0 N/A Colorado Eagles
 7 209 Toledo Walleye David Gilbert C 0 N/A Toledo Walleye

David Pacan got drafted? Kruger was a bloody steal in the fifth round, while both Olsen and Pirri look to be getting the ice time in Florida that they probably weren’t going to get in Chicago. All in all, a pretty good day at the office despite a few missed picks.

Colorado Avalanche

Rnd. No. Team Player Name Pos. NHL Games Played Career Stats Current Status
 1 3 Brampton Battalion Matt Duchene C 337 105-158-263 Colorado Avalanche
 2 33 Erie Otters Ryan O’Reilly C 345 73-118-191 Colorado Avalanche
 2 49 Saskatoon Blades Stefan Elliott D 58 6-12-18 Lake Erie Monsters
 3 64 Kelowna Rockets Tyson Barrie D 106 15-36-51 Colorado Avalanche
 5 124 Boston Terriers Kieran Millan G 0 N/A Denver Cutthroats
 6 154 US NTDP Brandon Maxwell G 0 N/A Rogle
 7 184 Nobles High School Gus Young D 0 N/A Yale Bulldogs

The best draft class so far by a country mile. Sure O’Reilly might not be around Colorado for much longer given the contract mess, but when you get a top line player in Duchene with the third overall pick, you can’t be too upset if other guys don’t pan out or leave early.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Rnd. No. Team Player Name Pos. NHL Games Played Career Stats Current Status
 1 21 Chicago Steel John Moore  D 173 7-22-29 New York Rangers
 2 56 US NTDP Kevin Lynch C 0 N/A Evansville Icemen
 4 94 Moncton Wildcats David Savard D 105 7-18-25 Columbus Blue Jackets
 5 137 Exeter High School Thomas Larkin D 0 N/A Evansville Icemen
 6 167 Malmo Anton Blomqvist D 0 N/A Malmo
 7 197 Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors Kyle Neuber RW 0 N/A Guelph Gryphons

Fun fact, in his one CIS season so far, Neuber has put up a better single-year point total than he had during his entire OHL tenure. Moore’s now part of the Rangers back-line after being part of the Gaborik deal, but Savard has prevented this from being a total mess for Columbus.

Dallas Stars

Rnd. No. Team Player Name Pos. NHL Games Played Career Stats Current Status
 1 8 Brandon Wheat Kings Scott Glennie C 1 0-0-0 Texas Stars
 2 38 Des Moines Buccaneers Alex Chiasson RW 86 19-23-42 Dallas Stars
 3 69 St. Michael’s Buzzers Reilly Smith RW 122 23-37-60 Boston Bruins
 5 129 Edmonton Oil Kings Tomas Vincour RW 88 7-9-16 AK Bars Kazan
 6 159 Penticton Vees Curtis McKenzie LW 0 N/A Texas Stars

That Scott Glennie pick is looking worse and worse by the day. Other than that though, this is a pretty decent draft for only five picks, especially if McKenzie can build upon a great year in the AHL.

Detroit Red Wings

Rnd. No. Team Player Name Pos. NHL Games Played Career Stats Current Status
 2 32 Red Deer Rebels Landon Ferraro C 4 0-0-0 Grand Rapids Griffins
 2 60 Zvolen HKM Tomas Tatar LW 100 24-23-47 Detroit Red Wings
 3  75 Victoriaville Tigres Andrej Nestrasil RW 0 N/A Grand Rapids Griffins
 3 90 Rimouski Oceanic Gleason Fournier D 0 N/A Grand Rapids Griffins
 5 150 Green Bay Gamblers Nick Jensen D 0 N/A Grand Rapids Griffins
 6 180 Kelowna Rockets Mitch Callahan RW 1 0-0-0 Grand Rapids Griffins
 7 210 HV71 Adam Almquist D 2 1-0-1 Grand Rapids Griffins

Okay, this isn’t quite a vintage Red Wings draft, at this point at least. With that said, the Tatar pick is a really good one for a selection at the very end of the second round.

Edmonton Oilers

Rnd. No. Team Player Name Pos. NHL Games Played Career Stats Current Status
 1 10 Timra IK Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson LW 218 32-38-70 St. Louis Blues
 2 40 Timra IK Anton Lander C 94 2-6-8 Oklahoma City Barons
 3 71 Minnetonka High School Troy Hesketh D 0 N/A Unknown (Hamline Pipers in 11/12)
 3 82 Everett Silvertips Cameron Abney RW 0 N/A Orlando Solar Bears
 4 99 Vernon Vipers Kyle Bigos D 0 N/A Ontario Reign
 4 101 Ilves Toni Rajala LW 0 N/A HV71
 5 133 Cape Breton Screaming Eagles Olivier Roy G 0 N/A Alaska Aces

Paajarvi ended up being the forgotten middle child of the three big picks by the Oilers at this point, as he was lumped in between Eberle and Hall. Lander may get a full-time shot at some point, but that Troy Hesketh pick is sure a hot mess.

Florida Panthers

Rnd. No. Team Player Name Pos. NHL Games Played Career Stats Current Status
 1 14 Drummondville Voltigeurs Dmitri Kulikov D 313 24-75-99 Florida Panthers
 2 44 US NTDP Drew Shore C 67 8-12-20 San Antonio Rampage
 3 67 Fargo Force Josh Birkholz RW 0 N/A Cincinnati Cyclones
 4 107 Owen Sound Attack Garrett Wilson LW 3 0-0-0 San Antonio Rampage
 5 135 Okotoks Oilers Corban Knight C 7 1-0-1 Abbotsford Heat
 5 138 South Kent School Wade Megan C 0 N/A San Antonio Rampage
 6 165 Windsor Spitfires Scott Timmins C 24 1-0-1 Albany Devils

It’s not often that a 14th overall pick ends up sticking in the show right away, but Kulikov has done just that. Drew Shore looks alright as well, so for a Panthers team that has had some tough times in the draft in the past, this may prove to be one of their better classes.

Los Angeles Kings

Rnd. No. Team Player Name Pos. NHL Games Played Career Stats Current Status
1 5 Brandon Wheat Kings Brayden Schenn C 192 40-47-87 Philadelphia Flyers
 2 35 Barrie Colts Kyle Clifford LW 276 22-26-48 Los Angeles Kings
 3 84 Rouyn-Noranda Huskies Nicolas Deslauriers LW 17 1-0-1 Rochester Americans
 4 95 Montreal Juniors Jean-Francois Berube G 0 N/A Manchester Monarchs
 4 96 Medicine Hat Tigers Linden Vey RW 18 0-5-5 Manchester Monarchs
 5 126 Owen Sound Attack David Kolomatis D 0 N/A Hershey Bears
 6 156 Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors Michael Pelech C 0 N/A Utah Grizzlies
 6 179 Calgary Hitmen Brandon Kozun RW 0 N/A Toronto Marlies
 7 186 Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds Jordan Nolan C 134 10-10-20 Los Angeles Kings
 7 198 Wenatchee Wild Nic Dowd C 0 N/A St. Cloud State Huskies

In a total shocker, the Kings had another awesome draft. Okay Schenn’s gone, but you have a seventh rounder who has played key minutes over the last couple of years in Nolan, a college stud in Dowd, a super pest in Clifford, and yet another strong scorer in Vey. No wonder this team’s the new benchmark in the NHL.

Minnesota Wild

Rnd. No. Team Player Name Pos. NHL Games Played Career Stats Current Status
 1 16 Eden Prairie High School Nick Leddy D 258 20-73-93 Chicago Blackhawks
 3 77 Plymouth Whalers Matt Hackett G 21 4-13-1 (2.82) Rochester Americans
 4 103 Calgary Hitmen Kris Foucault LW 1 0-0-0 Iowa Wild
 4 116 Shattuck St. Mary’s Alexander Fallstrom RW 0 N/A Providence Bruins
 6 161 Red Deer Rebels Darcy Kuemper G 32 13-10-4 (2.37) Minnesota Wild
 6 163 Blues Jere Sallinen LW 0 N/A HPK
 7 182 Shattuck St. Mary’s Erik Haula LW 46 6-9-15 Minnesota Wild
 7 193 Dallas Stars Midget AAA Anthony Hamburg C 0 N/A RIT Tigers

In hindsight, dealing away Nick Leddy for Cam Barker might not have been the best move for the Wild. With that said, Haula and Kuemper have both been great late round selections, and they were able to trade Hackett to bring the Population of Pominville.

Montreal Canadians

Rnd. No. Team Player Name Pos. NHL Games Played Career Stats Current Status
 1 18 Omaha Lancers Louis LeBlanc C 50 5-5-10 Hamilton Bulldogs
 3 65 Blues Joonas Nattinen C 1 0-0-0 Hamilton Bulldogs
 3 79 Hotchkiss School Mac Bennett D 0 N/A Michigan Wolverines
 4 109 Dynamo Moscow Alexander Avtsin RW 0 N/A HK Lipetsk
 5 139 Drummondville Voltigeurs Gabriel Dumont C 15 1-2-3 Hamilton Bulldogs
 6 169 Kingston Voyageurs Dustin Walsh C 0 N/A Unknown (Dartmouth Big Green in 12/13)
 7 199 Indiana Ice Mike Cichy C 0 N/A Western Michigan Broncos
 7 211 Karpat Petteri Simila G 0 N/A Blues

While the crowd in Montreal was thrilled when Louis LeBlanc was taken, the Habs brass are probably praying that he steps up soon, because the rest of the draft class sure hasn’t, save Dumont.

Nashville Predators

Rnd. No. Team Player Name Pos. NHL Games Played Career Stats Current Status
1 11 Windsor Spitfires Ryan Ellis D 144 11-33-44 Nashville Predators
 2 41 Edina High School Zach Budish RW 0 N/A Milwaukee Admirals
 2 42 Shawinigan Cataractes Charles-Olivier Roussel D 0 N/A Milwaukee Admirals
 3 70 Guelph Storm Taylor Beck RW 23 3-4-7 Milwaukee Admirals
 3 72 Guelph Storm Michael Latta C 17 1-3-4 Hershey Bears
 4 98 Waterloo Black Hawks Craig Smith C 195 42-58-100 Nashville Predators
 4 102 Mora IK Mattias Ekholm D 65 1-8-9 Nashville Predators
 4 110 Fargo Force Nick Oliver C 0 N/A St. Cloud State Huskies
 5 132 Baie-Comeau Drakkar Gabriel Bourque LW 151 27-34-61 Nashville Predators
 7 192 Westside Warriors Cam Reid C 0 N/A Denver Cutthroats

A challenger to the Kings appears, especially with the Smith and Bourque picks. Though to be fair, I’ve loved Ryan Ellis since he played in Windsor, so I’m a tad bit biased.

New Jersey Devils

Rnd. No. Team Player Name Pos. NHL Games Played Career Stats Current Status
 1 20 Djurgardens Jacob Josefson C 118 7-18-25 New Jersey Devils
 2 54 Chicoutimi Sagueneens Eric Gelinas D 61 7-22-29 New Jersey Devils
 3 73 Djurgardens Alexander Urbom D 34 3-1-4 Albany Devils
 4 114 Sioux City Musketeers Seth Helgeson D 0 N/A Albany Devils
 5 144 Okotoks Oilers Derek Rodwell LW 0 N/A North Dakota
 6 174 Shawinigan Cataractes Ashton Bernard LW 0 N/A Unknown (Riviere-du-Loup in 11/12)
 7 204 Cowichan Valley Capitals Curtis Gedig D 0 N/A Ohio State Buckeyes

Your prototypical Devils draft, neither amazing nor horrible. Just there.

New York Islanders

Rnd. No. Team Player Name Pos. NHL Games Played Career Stats Current Status
 1 1 London Knights John Tavares C 350 136-179-315 New York Islanders
 1 12 Oshawa Generals Calvin De Haan D 52 3-13-16 New York Islanders
 2 31 Blues Mikko Koskinen G 4 2-1-0 (4.33) Novosibirsk Sibir
 3 62 Lulea Anders Nilsson G 23 9-9-2 (3.05) Bridgeport Sound Tigers
 4 92 Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors Casey Cizikas C 140 12-23-50 New York Islanders
 5 122 Lokomotiv Yaroslavl Anton Klementyev D 1 0-0-0 Sokol Krasnoyarsk
 6 152 Edina High School Anders Lee C 24 10-6-16 New York Islanders

That Tavares guy is pretty good, and this Isles draft was actually pretty solid. Sure, both goalies are now in the KHL full-time, but Cizikas was a good fourth rounder, and Lee might be a steal after  his time with Notre Dame and a stellar late season stint.

New York Rangers

Rnd. No. Team Player Name Pos. NHL Games Played Career Stats Current Status
 1 19 Andover High School Chris Kreider C 89 19-21-40 New York Rangers
 2 47 Kingston Frontenacs Ethan Werek C 0 N/A Portland Pirates
 3 80 US NTDP Ryan Bourque C 0 N/A Hartford Wolf Pack
 5 127 Ceske Budejovice Roman Horak C 84 6-13-19 Oklahoma City Barons
 5 140 Owen Sound Attack Scott Stajcer G 0 N/A Hartford Wolf Pack
 6 170 Sudbury Wolves Daniel Maggio D 0 N/A Lake Erie Monsters
 7 200 Mechel Mikhail Pashnin D 0 N/A Lokomotiv Yraoslavl

Krieder seems set to be a top forward for the Rangers, and Bourque should eventually get a full-time shot. It’s a shame Werek hasn’t panned out yet though.

Ottawa Senators

Rnd. No. Team Player Name Pos. NHL Games Played Career Stats Current Status
 1 9 Spokane Chiefs Jared Cowen D 158 12-21-33 Ottawa Senators
 2 39 Brynas Jakob Silfverberg LW 100 20-22-42 Anaheim Ducks
 2 46 Frolunda Robin Lehner G 61 21-24-10 (2.82) Ottawa Senators
 4 100 Miami Redhawks Chris Wideman D 0 N/A Binghamton Senators
 5 130 Drummondville Voltigeurs Mike Hoffman C 29 3-3-6 Binghamton Senators
 5 146 Cedar Rapids Rough Riders Jeff Costello LW 0 N/A Notre Dame Fighting Irish
 6 160 Ottawa 67’s Corey Cowick LW 0 N/A Binghamton Senators
 7 190 Avon Old Farms Brad Peltz LW 0 N/A Unknown (Trenton Titans in 12/13)
 7 191 Lincoln Stars Michael Sdao D 0 N/A Binghamton Senators

Hound Power alumni FTW. With Wideman and Hoffman both having strong AHL campaigns, this draft class looks to be a stellar one for the Sens, even though they had trade away Silfverberg in order to get Bobby Ryan.

Philadelphia Flyers

Rnd. No. Team Player Name Pos. NHL Games Played Career Stats Current Status
 3 81 Saskatoon Blades Adam Morrison G 0 N/A South Carolina Stingrays
 3 87 Brynas Simon Bertilsson D 0 N/A Brynas
 5 142 Moncton Wildcats Nicola Riopel G 0 N/A Frederikshavn
 6 153 Shawinigan Cataractes Dave Labrecque C 0 N/A Briancon
 6 172 Windsor Spitfires Eric Wellwood LW 31 5-5-10 Retired (Leg Injury in 2013)
 7 196 St. Cloud State Huskies Oliver Lauridsen D 15 2-1-3 Adirondack Phantoms

Welp, since Wellwood had to retire, it’s up a to a late seventh round pick to save this draft class. I don’t think I like Philly’s chances.

Phoenix Coyotes

Rnd. No. Team Player Name Pos. NHL Games Played Career Stats Current Status
 1 6 Leksands Oliver Ekman-Larsson D 258 32-79-111 Phoenix Coyotes
 2 36 US NTDP Chris Brown C 17 1-1-2 Hershey Bears
 3 91 Fargo Force Mike Lee G 0 N/A Portland Pirates
 4 97 Saginaw Spirit Jordan Szwarz RW 26 3-0-3 Portland Pirates
 4 105 Red Deer Rebels Justin Weller D 0 N/A Gwinnett Gladiators
 6 157 Kelowna Rockets Evan Bloodoff LW 0 N/A Florida Everblades

Ekman-Larsson’s a stud on the blueline, and easily makes this draft a success. I’m hoping Mike Lee gets healthy at some point though, as he was a pretty decent goalie for St. Cloud State before Ryan Faragher took over.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Rnd. No. Team Player Name Pos. NHL Games Played Career Stats Current Status
 1 30 Saint John Sea Dogs Simon Despres D 85 3-13-16 Pittsburgh Penguins
 2 61 Chicago Steel Philip Samuelsson D 5 0-0-0 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
 3 63 Little Falls High School Ben Hanowski RW 16 1-2-3 Abbotsford Heat
 4 121 Shawinigan Cataractes Nick Petersen RW 0 N/A Schwennigen Wild Wings
 5 123 Delbarton High School Alex Velischek D 0 N/A Arizona Sundogs
 5 151 Belleville Bulls Andy Bathgate LW 0 N/A Konigsborner
 6 181 Oskarshamn Viktor Ekbom D 0 N/A Orebro

Hey look, the Penguins drafted two defenders and dealt Hanowski for a rental player. Yippie! Though to be fair, I expect Despres will finally get a long look here before to long with the Penguins.

San Jose Sharks

Rnd. No. Team Player Name Pos. NHL Games Played Career Stats Current Status
 2 43 US NTDP William Wrenn D 0 N/A Texas Stars
 2 57 Kingston Frontenacs Taylor Doherty D 0 N/A Worcester Sharks
 5 146 London Knights Philip Varone C 9 1-1-2 Rochester Americans
 7 189 Prince George Cougars Marek Viedensky C 0 N/A Worcester Sharks
 7 207 Berlin Polar Bears Dominik Bielke D 0 N/A EHC Munich

This doesn’t look good at the moment, but I expect the 800 foot tall Doherty will finally get a chance to be in the Sharks before too long. I mean, how long can you let a guy as tall as he is hang around in the minors before he gets the KHL bug.

St. Louis Blues

Rnd. No. Team Player Name Pos. NHL Games Played Career Stats Current Status
 1 17 Skelleftea David Rundblad D 55 1-8-9 Chicago Blackhawks
 2 48 Portland Winterhawks Brett Ponich D 0 N/A Kalamazoo Wings
 3 78 Tolyatti Lada Sergei Andronov LW 0 N/A Chicago Wolves
 4 108 Kamloops Blazers Tyler Shattock RW 0 N/A Chicago Wolves
 6 168 Erie Otters David Shields D 0 N/A Chicago Wolves
 7 202 Duluth East High School Maxwell Tardy C 0 N/A Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs

So what if Rundblad didn’t work out, the Blues have an exciting collection of AHLers in the system. What do you mean that’s not good?

Tampa Bay Lightning

Rnd. No. Team Player Name Pos. NHL Games Played Career Stats Current Status
 1 2 Modo Victor Hedman D 333 29-115-144 Tampa Bay Lightning
 1 29 Lethbridge Hurricanes Carter Ashton RW 47 0-3-3 Toronto Maple Leafs
 2 52 Trinec Ocelari Richard Panik RW 75 8-14-22 Tampa Bay Lightning
 4 93 Barrie Colts Alex Hutchings LW 0 N/A Rochester Americans
 5 148 Oshawa Generals Michael Zador G 0 N/A Unknown (Owen Sound Attack in 10/11)
 6 162 Erie Otters Jaroslav Janus G 0 N/A Slovan Bratislava
 7 183 Shattuck St. Mary’s Kirill Gotovets D 0 N/A Cornell Big Red

I said this in a previous OHL draft recap, but how has Zador fallen off the face of the earth? Hedman started a bit slow, but had an awesome 13/14 season that proved his high draft pick. That Panik pick looks pretty solid as well.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Rnd. No. Team Player Name Pos. NHL Games Played Career Stats Current Status
 1 7 London Knights Nazem Kadri C 177 46-67-113 Toronto Maple Leafs
 2 50 US NTDP Kenny Ryan RW 0 N/A Toronto Marlies
 2 58 Windsor Spitfires Jesse Blacker D 0 N/A Norfolk Admirals
 3 68 Plymouth Whalers Jamie Devane LW 2 0-0-0 Toronto Marlies
 5 128 Philadelphia Jr. Flyers Eric Knodel D 0 N/A New Hampshire Wildcats
 6 158 US NTDP Jerry D’Amigo LW 22 1-2-3 Toronto Marlies
 7 188 Peterborough Petes Barron Smith D 0 N/A Alberta Golden Bears

This is the first Burke draft, which led to the greatest exchange in NHL Draft history. With Kadri seemingly on the block now, this class looks a bit worse off if he’s gone, with D’Amigo the one somewhat impactful talent left in the system. On a side note, Burke seriously selected Barron Smith?

Vancouver Canucks

Rnd. No. Team Player Name Pos. NHL Games Played Career Stats Current Status
 1 22 Minnesota Golden Gophers Jordan Schroeder C 56 6-9-15 Vancouver Canucks
 2 53 Brynas Anton Rodin RW 0 N/A Brynas
 3 83 Western Michigan Broncos Kevin Connauton D 36 1-7-8 Dallas Stars
 4 113 Nepean Raiders Jeremy Price D 0 N/A South Carolina Stingrays
 5 143 Frolunda Peter Andersson D 0 N/A Utica Comets
 6 173 Merrimack Warriors Joe Cannata G 0 N/A Utica Comets
 7 187 Saint John Sea Dogs Steven Anthony LW 0 N/A St. Charles Chill

I knew that Schroeder was one of the top American players in World Junior history, but I forgot how good his freshman season was with the Golden Gophers prior to being drafted.  At this point, it’s up to him to save the draft class for the Canucks, especially since Connauton was dealt for rent-a-player Derek Roy.

Washington Capitals

Rnd. No. Team Player Name Pos. NHL Games Played Career Stats Current Status
 1 24 Farjestad Marcus Johansson C 263 41-98-139 Washington Capitals
 2 55 Novokuznetsk Metallurg Dmitri Orlov D 119 6-25-31 Washington Capitals
 3 85 Swift Current Broncos Cody Eakin C 159 27-40-67 Dallas Stars
 4 115 Waterloo Black Hawks Patrick Wey D 9 0-3-3 Hershey Bears
 5 145 Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors Brett Flemming D 0 N/A Reading Royals
 6 175 Regina Pats Garrett Mitchell D 0 N/A Hershey Bears
 7 205 PEI Rocket Benjamin Casavant LW 0 N/A Trois-Rivieres Vikings

And to finish things off, we have a pretty decent crop of players for the Capitals. Though how Casavant didn’t catch on with anyone after some pretty good junior numbers is beyond me.


Stray Thoughts on the Memorial Cup Final

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Back in March, Rachel Homan and the rest of her team from Ottawa were basically handed their first Women’s World Curling Championship before they even played the championship game, which they ended up losing to Switzerland’s Binia Feltscher.

That scenario played out yet again in the 2014 Memorial Cup championship game in London on Sunday, as the heavily favoured Guelph Storm were upset by the Edmonton Oil Kings by a score of 6-3, which brought a unfortunate end to the best season in franchise history.

Like what happened to Team Homan in Saint John, the Storm played their worst game at the wrong time. Okay, it wasn’t a horrible performance or anything like that, but an okay showing in the title contest wasn’t going to cut it, especially in comparison to how they played in the round-robin.

Since the game ended, I’ve been trying to figure out when the last time a stunner like this happened in the final. Okay, Shawinigan’s win in 2012 was probably the last shocker, but that was more along the lines of crazy their run was. When it comes to a team losing after getting a bye to the finals with a perfect round-robin record, the last team to have that happen to them was the 1992 Soo Greyhounds, when they lost 5-4 to the Kamloops Blazers on Zac Boyer’s game-winning goal with 14 seconds left.

(I may have just thrown my computer across the room after typing that sentence, but that’s another story for another day. I mean, I was only four when that game happened. Thank goodness the hometown team won it all a year later in the Memorial Gardens.)

As I mentioned earlier though, while the ending sucked, this was an incredible ride for Guelph this year. They had the top team in the regular season, easily shoved London and Erie aside in the playoffs, won its first league title in over a decade, and were one win away from going down as one of the best squads in OHL history.

The loss on Sunday’s going to sting for awhile for Storm fans, but I think as the summer rolls on, they can hold their heads up high after a magical last few months.

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Meanwhile, the Edmonton Oil Kings completed a wild season of their own with the franchise’s first Memorial Cup, and the first for the city of Edmonton since the original Oil Kings team (who are now the Portland Winterhawks) won it all in 1966.

Sunday’s performance was easily the best of the tournament for the WHL champions, as all of the top offensive weapons came out to play. The most impressive showing though came from forward Henrik Samuelsson, who had two goals and three assists to match Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin’s five-point outings in last year’s championship game.

The Memorial Cup triumph wraps up an impressive three-year run for the Oil Kings, which saw them reach three league finals and win the WHL championship on two occasions. With guys like Samuelsson, Mitch Moroz, Reid Petryk, Cody Corbett, and Griffin Reinhart all moving on after this season, this was probably the last chance to win it all before their championship window was slammed shut.

With the memory of former teammate Kristians Pelss (who tragically drowned last summer) spurring them on all year long, the Oil Kings worked through a number of obstacles on its way to the top of the mountain. Whether it was their fight for the Eastern Conference title with the Calgary Hitmen, the seven-game battle in the WHL finals with the Winterhawks, or it’s triple-overtime contest with Val-d’Or in the Memorial Cup semi, this team took on every challenge head-on and earned the Memorial Cup trophy.

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I can’t finish up talking about the Oil Kings without mention this year’s tournament MVP, Latvia’s own Edgars Kulda. The younger brother of Arturs had a coming out party during the tournament, as he had seven points in five games and was the best player for Edmonton all week long. He should hopefully be rewarded for his efforts by being selected in June’s NHL Draft, which will no doubt be Kulda Approved.

And with that, another crazy year of junior hockey is in the record books. From the chaos in Lethbridge, the tragic passing of Saginaw’s Terry Trafford, and the wild Game 7 in the QMJHL Finals, the amount of emotions that everyone felt during the 2013/14 season was something I won’t forget, and will hopefully not have to go through ever again.

When it comes down to it, junior hockey has always been a way of escape and a ton of fun for me, so I truly wish that the biggest talking points next season will be what happens on the ice and with the games that are taking place. It’s going to be a long hot summer until everything gets rolling once again, and I can’t wait until everyone gets back on the ice for the 2014/15 campaign.


Stray Thoughts on the Memorial Cup Semi-Final

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It’s a shame that the Edmonton Oil Kings and the Val-d’Or Foreurs will not have any more contests against each other at the 2014 Memorial Cup in London, because this was a matchup that was worthy of a third and deciding game.

After Val-d’Or won in double overtime on Tuesday in the round-robin, the two sides outdid themselves in the semi-finals on Friday, as their 4-3 triple overtime battle was the longest game in Memorial Cup history.

When I finally got to watch the game later that night (apparently I have to cover sports involving teams in Airdrie in order to make a living or something), I was amazed about how similar the second meeting between the two teams were when compared to the first one.

Just like on Tuesday, Edmonton had a two-goal lead and dominated Val-d’Or in the second period, only to see the Foreurs come back and score a late goal. In fact, Nicolas Aube-Kubel could have ended the game in double overtime, but it was a great tip-in by Curtis Lazar in third extra frame to give the win to the WHL champions.

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That brought an end to Val-d’Or’s time at the Memorial Cup, which quite frankly, went a lot better than I expected. This was more than likely a case of not seeing a ton of QMJHL games during the course of the season, but I truly thought that this team wouldn’t make the playoffs when compared to what Guelph, London, and Edmonton had to offer.

Other than their blowout loss to Guelph, Val-d’Or was solid all week long. Goaltender Antoine Bibeau kept his team in the fight on a number of occasions with his timely saves, defender Guillaume Gelinas tied up the semi-final while playing on one leg after a knee-on-knee hit with Chad Baumann of the Storm earlier in the week, and numerous forwards stepped up to the plate when star sniper Anthony Mantha was unable to find the net after opening the tournament with a goal against London.

The QMJHL has been often derided in the past as being the weak sister in the CHL, but with Val-d’Or’s showing this year, along with the fact that the last three champions (Saint John, Shawinigan, and Halifax) all come from the league, the viewpoint of many about the Q should hopefully have changed for good.

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As for Edmonton, they are off to their first Memorial Cup title game since the franchise was formed in 2007. This isn’t the first time that an Oil Kings team has played in the championship contest though, as the original franchise (which moved to Portland and became the Winterhawks in 1976) won it all in 1963 and 1966 and were the runner-up team on multiple occasions.

The biggest question mark about their game with Guelph on Sunday might be just how much everyone has recovered from the triple overtime game, especially since they just played a double overtime affair a few days earlier. However, given the fact that Edmonton had a seven-game war with Portland just to get to the Memorial Cup, that shouldn’t be an issue.

With that said, Guelph has looked like an unstoppable force all tournament, and should be heavily favoured in this contest. However, as my Dad reminded me when I talked to him earlier this weekend, those dominant teams end up dropping the ball when you least expect it, so perhaps we shouldn’t be super surprised if Edmonton ends up becoming your 2014 Memorial Cup champions.


Stray Thoughts on London vs. Guelph

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The majority of this blog post will be spent talking about the end of the season for the London Knights, so let’s get the saluting of the Guelph Storm out of the way first, as they finished the round-robin with a perfect 3-0 record following its 7-2 triumph over the 2014 Memorial Cup hosts on Wednesday night.

Just like they did against Edmonton and Val-d’Or earlier this week, Guelph ran London out of their own building, despite how much the Knights pressed early on, and even with losing forward Zack Mitchell after he was ejected for kneeing Dakota Mermis.

Other than Marc Stevens’ goal late, the big damage was done by the heavy hitters. Scott Kosmachuk had a hat-trick in what could have been a five-goal evening, while Tyler Bertuzzi was booed out of the building after recovering from a knee-on-knee hit with Nikita Zadorov and had a two goal night in the process. Plus, guys like Jason Dickinson and Robby Fabbri were also making magic on offence.

With the way they have played all week, it’s getting to the point now where if the Storm don’t win their first Memorial Cup in franchise history, it will go down as one of the most shocking upsets in recent memory.

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Now we turn our attention to the Knights, who became the second host team to finish 0-3 for the week in the tournament’s history, a dubious honour they share with the 2003 Quebec Remparts.

At the start of the year, I had London winning not only their third straight OHL championship, but the Memorial Cup as well. It’s safe to say that didn’t go to plan, so where was I and many others wrong in our predictions?

In looking at my notes on the Knights from the start of this season, the amount of players that graduated or were traded away wasn’t as large as it had been after they won in 2012. Okay, Scott Harrington wasn’t around anymore on the backend, and losing Seth Griffth didn’t help matters up front, but this was still a loaded team on paper.

When I wrote my preseason preview on the Knights, the two issues I had with the team was the lack of defensive depth (which became a bigger issue once Olli Maatta stayed in Pittsburgh), and the debate over who would start in goal between Anthony Stolarz and Jake Patterson. Stolarz became the starter, and they did strength things on defence with overagers Zach Bell, Alex Basso, and Brady Austin, in addition to getting Zadorov back from Buffalo midway through the year. Nevertheless, things still went pear shaped.

When it comes down to it though, I think the biggest factor did that Knights in was how much Guelph and Erie improved in the Midwest Division. The Storm were expected to be a good team, with the one question mark being in goal until they got Justin Nichols, but they were not predicted to be a juggernaut. Meanwhile, the Otters were expected to improve as well, but no one had them contending for a league title. Those tougher tests on a regular basis made things a lot harder for London to win it all again.

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So what lies ahead for the Knights? Obviously it’s a bit early to say right now, but the franchise that was favoured to be league champions during the last three campaigns might not be in that role for a fourth straight year, as the 2014/15 season might be one of change.

Now since it’s May, I can’t give you an honest answer as to where the Knights will stack up in the grand  scheme of things, so I will instead leave you with how things look in all three aspects of the Knights roster and let you judge things for yourself.

Forwards: Josh Anderson, Gemel Smith, Chris Tierney, and Ryan Rupert may all graduate to the pro ranks, and both Bo Horvat and Max Domi could both leave the OHL a year early to play for the Vancouver Canucks and Phoenix Coyotes respectively.

Mitchell Marner will probably become the offensive leader if that’s the case, with guys like Michael McCarron, and Christian Dvorak also being expected to contribute more, though you could make that case for everyone in the lineup.

Thunder Bay native Zach Grzelewski and 2014 first round draft pick Max Jones might be two rookies to keep an eye on, while Anthony Louis of the Miami Redhawks and future Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward Matthew Tkachuk will both more than likely be courted.

Defencemen: With Brady Austin, Alex Basso, and Zach Bell all leaving as overagers, and Nikita Zadorov more than likely sticking with Buffalo, the Knights would only have three guys (Dakota Mermis, Tim Bender, and Aiden Jamieson) potentially coming back.

There are a few draft picks who may fill those roles, but the biggest new face that could help the Knights out is 2013 second round pick Zack Werenski. He played with the US NTDP last season, and he was considered a top five talent in his OHL draft year, but Werenski’s apparently considering playing for the Michigan Wolverines instead of coming into the OHL. What happens with him may be one of the biggest storylines of the off-season.

Goalies: Anthony Stolarz is headed off to the Philadelphia Flyers organization, but Jake Patterson might be one of the team’s overage players (with Mermis, Matt Rupert, and Brett Welychka all in that mix), and may finally have a chance to start for the Knights.

London drafted Emanuel Vella in the third round this year, so at this point he would be the backup netminder, unless the Knights made a trade with a team with multiple netminders on their depth chart. In that scenario, Belleville (depending on what happens with 2013 draft pick Connor Hicks) and Kitchener (especially if Michigan recruit Hayden Lavigne shows up there) spring quickly to mind.

I would of expected the Knights to grab a netminder in the CHL Import  Draft in the summer, but that’s not going to happen any time soon thanks to the European Goalie Ban. Thanks a lot David Branch.


Stray Thoughts on Edmonton vs. Val-d’Or

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A couple of hours after I finished watching Tuesday’s Memorial Cup double-overtime affair between the Edmonton Oil Kings and Val-d’Or Foreurs, I was still trying to wrap my head around the fact that the WHL Champions didn’t win the game and ended up losing by a score of 4-3.

Edmonton out-shot Val-d’Or by a healthy margin, they had a 2-0 lead just nine minutes into the first period, and had way more quality scoring chances throughout regulation. In fact, even my mother was surprised after the game when I told her that the Foreurs had won in overtime.

The Oil Kings, in my opinion, had a similar performance to what they turned in against London on Sunday. The top forwards were pretty much clicking right from the word go, with Curtis Lazar more or less taking over the game right from the opening face-off, and everyone else following suit.

However, they didn’t capitalize on their scoring chances, most notably when Reid Petryk’s shot in overtime smashed off of the cross-bar just 30 seconds into the extra frame. Now Edmonton finds themselves sitting in third place and possibly heading to a tiebreaker game against the London Knights, who have to beat the Guelph Storm on Wednesday just to stay alive.

It may be deja vu for the Oil Kings if that happens, as they were knocked out of the 2012 tournament by the host Shawinigan Cataractes in a tiebreaker contest.

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I have to give a ton of credit to Val-d’Or on their victory over the Oil Kings, especially after they were blown out by Guelph on Monday and looked to be heading down that same path early on in Tuesday’s contest.

Goaltender Antoine Bibeau returned to form, and the Foreurs offence capitalized on mistakes by the Oil Kings to get their goals, especially on the game winner by Anthony Richard when he capitalized on a botched pass by Henrik Samuelsson and blew by Griffin Reinhart.

All of this was done without the QMJHL defenceman of the year Guillaume Gelinas, who tried to skate in the pre-game warm up after suffering a knee injury against Guelph on Monday but immediately returned to the locker room.

With a berth in the semis now in hand, the Foreurs will give the overage blueliner a chance to heal up, which may prove to be a big factor in their favour if he is able to go in the playoff round. However, if he will be even close to full-strength remains to be seen.

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The big thing to take away from Tuesday’s double-overtime affair was that we actually had our first really good game of the tournament, and the first truly memorable one since the championship contest in 2012 between London and Shawinigan. I suppose you could make a case that the last exciting thriller at a Memorial Cup was last year’s semi-final between Portland and London, but my memories of that contest are somewhat fleeting.

In looking up some other Memorial Cup tournaments the other day, it seems like for the last couple of years there has only been one super awesome game that stands out from the bunch at each tournament, with 2011’s crazy contest being the round-robin game between Owen Sound and Saint John.

I’m hoping that we haven’t reached our quota of classic confrontations yet, as we still have a number of games to go. However, Guelph may need to have their performances drop off a little bit for that to happen.


Stray Thoughts on Guelph vs. Val-d’Or

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With another impressive performance on Monday night at the Budweiser Gardens, and a guaranteed spot into the 2014 Memorial Cup championship game in London on Sunday night, it’s getting harder to see how the Guelph Storm will be topped in this year’s tournament.

After romping the Edmonton Oil Kings 5-2 on Saturday, the OHL champions topped themselves with a convincing 6-3 performance over the Val-d’Or Foreurs, which was pretty much over after the Storm scored three goals in the opening seven minutes of action.

The top line of Kerby Rychel, Zack Mitchell, and Robby Fabbri did the most damage for the Storm, but when you have guys like Jason Dickinson, Tyler Bertuzzi, and Pius Suter also contributing to the scoresheet, they are hard to stop.

Heading into this tournament, I thought the Edmonton Oil Kings were the team to beat, While I still think they are a good squad, the way that the Storm have dominated their last two opponents has moved them into the top spot for me.

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With the win, the Storm have advanced to its first Memorial Cup final since 1998 in Spokane, when they lost to the Portland Winterhawks in overtime on a game-winning goal from Bobby Russell. I may have only brought this up just to use that Bobby Russell photo, but I digress.

While it’s still to early to hand the Storm their first national title, a victory by Guelph would be the first Memorial Cup triumph for an OHL squad since the Windsor Spitfires won in 2010, which is a squad that this Guelph reminds me of a lot.

Now to be fair, that Spitfires team did have a lot more star power with Taylor Hall, Zack Kassian, Adam Henrique, Phillipp Grubauer, Cam Fowler, and Ryan Ellis all in the lineup, but this Storm has a vibe at the moment that comes across like no one is going to beat them, which is pretty scary.

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At the conclusion of Monday’s game, Sportsnet colour commentator Sam Cosentino wondered (and I’m paraphrasing here as I can’t remember the exact words off of the top of my head) what kind of effort the Storm would bring in their final round-robin game on Wednesday against the London Knights.

While I get Sam’s point, I’m pretty sure the Storm will be just as amped for this game as they were for their other two round-robin contests for one reason. They will have a chance to knock out the Knights from the Memorial Cup on their division rivals home ice.

Given the fact that they had won two straight league titles prior to this season, London has returned to being the team that the fans of every other franchise in the OHL loves to hate. Personally, if I was a player and I knew I had the chance to knock the kings of the league off of their perch in their home rink at the Memorial Cup, I would love to have that opportunity.

The one risk though could be any injuries or suspensions, as I’m sure Storm Head Coach Scott Walker wouldn’t be pleased if one of his star players was unable to suit up in the biggest game the franchise has had in nearly two decades.

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I’ve talked a lot about the Storm, so I better touch on the Foreurs, who sit at 1-1 heading into Tuesday’s game against the Oil Kings.

Overall, I thought Val-d’Or played pretty well in the second period, especially when they cut a 4-0 deficit down to a two-goal margin with a pair of goals in less than a minute. But when you fall behind by three goals in the opening seven minutes, it’s hard to recover.

Despite the one-sided loss to Guelph, I think that the Foreurs will play better against Edmonton, especially with a berth in the semi-final on the line. However, it will be interesting to see if 92-point defender Guillaume Gelinas will be at full capacity, after he left the game on Monday following a knee-on-knee hit with Guelph forward Chadd Bauman in the third period.


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