While most of the hockey world is focused on the Stanley Cup Playoffs, a number of top prospects for the 2015 NHL Draft are pushing to advance to the Memorial Cup.
The champions from the top three Canadian junior leagues, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the Ontario Hockey League and the Western Hockey League, will join the host Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL for the 2015 Memorial Cup tournament, which will be held May 21-31.
The final push starts Thursday in the Ontario Hockey League when the Erie Otters host the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in Game 1 of the OHL Western Conference Final.
Leading Erie is center Connor McDavid, who leads all OHL players in goals (11) and points (23). The top-ranked player in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters, McDavid has at least one point in all nine of Erie's playoff games.
Also starring for Erie is center Dylan Strome, Central Scouting's No. 4-ranked North American skater, who has six goals and 11 points in nine games. Defenseman Travis Dermott (No. 46) is tied for second among OHL defensemen with four goals in nine games.
The Greyhounds' top draft-eligible players have been right wing Zachary Senyshyn (No. 38) and center Blake Speers (No. 49), who each have six points in eight games.
The OHL Eastern Conference Final between the Oshawa Generals and North Bay Battalion starts Friday. Leading Oshawa is defenseman Mitchell Vande Sompel (No. 34). The 5-foot-10, 182-pound left-shot defender is tied for second in scoring among OHL defensemen with 11 points in 10 games.
North Bay has gotten contributions from center Brett McKenzie (No. 120), who has three points in nine games, and defenseman Riley Bruce (No. 210), who has one goal in nine games.
In the QMJHL the league semifinal between the Moncton Wildcats and Remparts starts Thursday in Quebec City. Leading Moncton is right wing Conor Garland (No. 86); the 5-8, 163-pound forward is second in the league with 23 points, and tied for first with 21 assists in 12 games.
Quebec left wing Dmytro Timashov (No. 92) is second on the team with 13 points in 11 games. Callum Booth, No. 2 among North American goaltenders, is 1-1-0 with a 2.95 goals-against average and .891 save percentage in three games as the backup to Montreal Canadiens prospect Zachary Fucale.
If Quebec wins the series, the winner of the semifinal between the Rimouski Oceanic and Val-d'Or Foreurs, which begins Friday, would advance to the Memorial Cup automatically.
Rimouski has gotten a solid contribution from defenseman Samuel Bourque (No. 76), who has three points and a plus-4 rating in nine games.
Val-d'Or center Anthony Richards (No. 79) leads the team and is seventh in the league with 19 points in 13 games. Defenseman Olivier Galipeau (No. 142) has six points and Foreurs-best plus-13 rating in 13 games.
The WHL conference finals start Friday, with the Kelowna Rockets at the Portland Winterhawks in the West and the Brandon Wheat Kings at the Calgary Hitmen in the East.
Leading Kelowna is center Nicholas Merkley (No. 23), who has two goals and 12 points in nine games. Defenseman Joe Gatenby (No. 174) has one point and a Kelowna-best plus-10 rating.
Power forward Paul Bittner (No. 19) has two goals and seven points in 11 games for Portland. Adin Hill, No. 4 among goaltenders, is 8-3-0 with a 2.91 GAA and .902 save percentage in 11 games.
Key for Brandon has been defensemen Ivan Provorov and Ryan Pilon. Provorov, No. 7 on NHL Central Scouting's list, has two goals and eight points in 10 games. Pilon, No. 24, has four assists in 10 games.
Among the contributors for Calgary has been right wing Pavel Karnaukhov (No. 118), who has three goals and eight points in 12 games.