While many hockey fans have been focusing on the Stanley Cup playoffs, those fixated on the future have been watching this year's edition of the Memorial Cup, in which the host Shawinigan Cataractes claimed the coveted CHL title over the London Knights. Now in the aftermath of the 10-day-long event, we take a look at how the key draft-eligible players fared and what the event did for their draft status.
In my opinion, the performance of prospects in the Memorial Cup will not be a defining criterion for most teams. Instead scouts and front offices will look at the body of work from throughout the entire season. But when high draft picks from different leagues go head to head it is certainly a chance to measure those players against each other. And a few performances stood out in particular.
Josh Anderson of the London Knights got sick after the first two games of the tournament, but the 6-foot-1½ winger has obvious size and competitiveness. Teammate Andreas Athanasiou was in and out of the lineup as a healthy scratch. Athanasiou has really plummeted on draft boards this season. Once considered at the top of this class, he's dropped down charts all season long due to questions about his compete level and willingness to pay a price to score. Still, he has elite speed and some team is going to take a chance on him.
London defenseman Olli Maatta, from Finland, had what many would consider an average Memorial Cup. I personally believe this will not fool teams picking in the top 15 and he remains status quo (14th in my Top 50). Interestingly, I think that the much-discussed poor ice conditions in Shawinigan might have had an impact here, as, visually, they did not help the 6-2, 200-pound Maatta. Skating is one area that he needs to improve before he plays in the NHL, and cruising around a beat-up sheet wasn't going to make him look any better.
Keep in mind that Maatta, a smart, puck-moving defenseman, just completed his first full season in North America and has never played this much hockey -- even with him missing games due to a concussion he suffered at the World Junior Championships. Fatigue might have been a factor, which compounds his skating issues.
Edmonton Oil King defenseman Griffin Reinhart also holds on to his status (8th in my Top 50) and in fact, with the association to the Edmonton Oilers -- keeper of the first overall pick and owners of the junior team -- his name has been mentioned as a potential dark horse at No. 1 overall. The Oilers might need D-men, but if Reinhart is their target they're more likely to trade back to land him. Though talented, taking him No. 1 overall is a bit of a reach.
Like Maatta the poor ice conditions in the Memorial Cup did not allow Reinhart, a 6-3½, 197-pounder, to shine like he had throughout the season. Conversely I don't believe it did anything to hurt his stock for the June draft. His size, skating and ability to advance the puck to the head man has most teams -- if not all -- excited with the prospect of adding him to their roster. He also didn't show any lack of grit in his Memorial Cup performances, which is also a positive.
For Reinhart's Oil King teammate Henrik Samuelsson -- and midseason lineup addition -- the Memorial Cup seems to have provided a nice bump. Son of former NHLer Ulf Samuelsson, this 6-2, 192-pound, right-shot right winger was impressive, using his size and determination to great effect. Skating is an area in which he looked out of sorts, especially on the slow ice, but there is much upside to this Swedish (but American-born) forward. He was not listed in my Top 50, but I would not be surprised if a team stepped up late in Round 2, fully aware that if his skating improves he has a strong chance of playing in the NHL. The rest of his game shows strong upside.
A few other notable players in the tournament did not make my final Top 50, but I believe they will be commodities come draft day. Among them are the undersized Rupert twins from London. Left winger Matt Rupert and center Ryan Rupert both stand at 5-9, but both showed their hockey sense, skill and elite competitiveness. They certainly wouldn't be the first NHLers to overcome short stature with outsized performance in those other areas.
For me, the other player who finds his way onto a team's drafted list is tough winger Mitch Moroz. His 131 penalty minutes and 15-plus majors this season, will attract a team looking for some muscle. He is just the type of player some team will invest the time in in order to develop.
Grant Sonier has scouted for six NHL organizations over the past 13 years, most recently for the Atlanta Thrashers during the 2010-11 season. He is a special contributor to ESPN Insider. You can find his ESPN archives here and follow him on Twitter here.