With the Memorial Cup starting one month from Wednesday, the three leagues that make up the Canadian Hockey League -- the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the Ontario Hockey League and Western Hockey League -- have all reached their conference finals. And a number of 2013 NHL Draft prospects have helped their respective teams get to this point.
The conference finals in the WHL start first, with a junior-hockey version of the Battle of Alberta when the Eastern Conference Finals open April 18 with top-seeded Edmonton Oil Kings facing the Calgary Hitmen.
Aiding in Edmonton's effort to this point has been forward Curtis Lazar, No. 26 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of North American skaters eligible for the 2013 draft. A 5-foot-11.75, 193-pound center/right wing is fifth on the team with four goals in nine games. Lazar already has proven himself as a quality postseason player -- Lazar led all first-year WHL players with eight goals and 19 points in 20 playoff games last season to help Edmonton reach the Memorial Cup.
Helping Calgary's case has been forward Gregory Chase, No. 94 on Central Scouting's list. The 6-foot, 195-pound right wing/center is fourth on the Hitmen with seven points in 10 games.
On the other side of the WHL bracket, the Portland Winterhawks, who had a WHL-best 117 points, will face the Kamloops Blazers in a series starting April 19.
Leading the Winterhawks up front has been a pair of highly regarded prospects, center Nicolas Petan and left wing Oliver Bjorkstrand. Petan, No. 34 on Central Scouting's list, is tied for second on the team with five goals and 15 points in 10 games. Bjorkstrand, No. 29, leads all first-year WHL players in the postseason in goals (five), assists (eight) and points (13). He also has a team-best two game-winning goals.
Their teammate, defenseman Seth Jones, Central Scouting's top-rated North American skater, is fourth among WHL blueliners with eight points, and has a plus-8 rating in 10 games.
Leading Kamloops is JC Lipon, the league's leading scorer with 21 points in 10 games. Lipon, going through the draft for the second time in 2013, is No. 96 on Central Scouting's list. No. 97 Cole Ully, a left wing, has a goal and seven assists in 10 games.
The OHL conference finals both start April 19. In the Eastern Conference, the Barrie Colts and Belleville Bulls will meet. Center Zach Hall, No. 128 on Central Scouting's rankings, has two goals, six assists and a plus-7 rating in six games. Also helping the Colts get this far have been center Erik Bradford (No. 126) who has a goal and two assists in eight games, and defenseman Michael Webster (No. 157), who has three assists in eight games.
The Western Conference finals will see the London Knights, who had an OHL-best 105 points in the regular season, face the second-seeded Plymouth Whalers. London has been led by center Max Domi (No. 23). The 5-9.25, 193-pound forward is sixth among all OHL players with 14 points in nine games. He also leads the team with five goals -- including a league-best three game-winners -- and nine assists.
A pair of Domi's teammates also has been solid -- center Bo Horvat (No. 15) and left wing Remi Elie (No. 56) each has six points in nine games. Horvat also has four goals and a plus-6 rating. Defenseman Miles Liberati (No. 88) has one assist in four games.
Plymouth has managed to win without right wing Ryan Hartman (No. 25), who had three goals and an assist in seven games before sustaining a lacerated right forearm. However, Hartman told NHL.com that he could return to the lineup as soon as next week.
"It looks good … I got half the stitches out [Wednesday]," he said. "The doctor then re-casted it and I'll go back on Monday to get it off. The fact there was no infection was the determining factor on if I could return soon."
The Blainville-Boisbriand Armada open their QMJHL conference finals series against the Baie-Comeau Drakkar on April 19. Leading the Armada has been center Marc-Olivier Roy. The No. 58-ranked skater on Central Scouting's list is tied for sixth in scoring with 16 points in nine games, and his 11 assists are tied for fourth. In goal, Etienne Marcoux -- No. 27 on Central Scouting's midterm ranking of North American goalies -- is 8-0-1 with a 2.09 goals-against average and .916 save percentage in nine games. He ranks in the top four in the league in GAA and save percentage.
The other half of the bracket features the Halifax Mooseheads facing the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in a series that opens April 20.
Not surprisingly, Halifax's offense is led by its two top-rated draft prospects, center Nathan MacKinnon (No. 2) and Jonathan Drouin (No. 3), who have 15 points each. MacKinnon's 12 assists are tied for second in the league, while Drouin's 11 assists are tied for fourth.
In addition, Zachary Fucale, Central Scouting's top-rated goaltender, leads the league with a 1.13 GAA and .936 save percentage. He's allowed just nine goals in eight games and has a pair of shutouts, which is tied for the most in the league.
Rouyn-Noranda has had its own big-time offensive performers. Forward Sven Andrighetto, unranked at the midterm, leads all players with 22 points in 10 games. Teammate Jean-Sebastien Dea, a center ranked No. 181, is second in the league with 10 goals -- including a league-best five on the power play -- and tied for sixth with 16 points.
Also contributing has been right wing Mathieu Lemay (No. 190), who has two assists in 10 games. Alexandre Belanger, ranked No. 25 among goalies, is 8-1 in 10 games, with a 2.91 GAA and .889 save percentage.
The winners of each league will join the host Saskatoon Blades at the Memorial Cup.
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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