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Conroy, Flames get final viewing of Knights draft eligibles at Memorial Cup

by Aaron Vickers / Calgary Flames

CALGARY, AB -- Draft eligibles of the London Knights made the most of an extended look.

So too did the Calgary Flames.

And the likes of Matthew Tkachuk, Olli Juolevi and Max Jones showed well en route to helping the Knights win the Memorial Cup.

“You see how they rise to those occasions,” said Flames assistant general manager Craig Conroy, who took in some extra action at the Enmax Centrium in Red Deer last week. “They’ve been steamrolling their way through this. They’ve got some great players. I’m not saying it’s all the draft eligible guys. The only thing you can do is say, ‘Okay in these key situations how do these guys play?’”

It’d be impossible not to give all three a passing grade.

Tkachuk finished fourth in tournament scoring with five goals and eight points in four games. Two of his goals came in the tournament final, a 3-2 overtime win against the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies on Sunday. Tkachuk scored both the deciding game's opening goal, and the overtime-winner to give the Knights their second Memorial Cup in franchise history -- on a bad ankle, no less.

Juolevi led all defencemen in tournament scoring with seven points -- all assists -- in four games. Only Toronto Maple Leafs prospect and Memorial Cup MVP Mitchell Marner had more helpers.

Jones had two goals and four points in four games.

The Knights, which also featured draft eligible defenceman Victor Mete and right wing Cliff Pu, outscored opponents 23-7 in the tournament.

“It’s been lopsided, so you walk out of there and they weren’t really challenged or under the gun because the games weren’t close,” said Conroy prior to the final. “When it’s a five, six goal game you don’t have the same urgency. You might make a mistake, but you can play a little looser.”

Tkachuk led all North American skaters in Central Scouting’s midterm ranking, and finished second in the final ranking to Pierre-Luc Dubois of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. He had 30 goals and 107 points in 57 regular season games, and added 20 goals and 40 points en route to helping London to the J. Ross Robertson Cup as OHL champions.

The 18-year-old is the son of former NHLer Keith Tkachuk.

“Seeing his dad and just how he plays … he’s a competitor,” Conroy said. “He’s a true warrior out there. He comes to play every night. He competes. People are maybe worried about his skating. To see him do what he’s done … he’s got great hands, great skill and it’s all about winning for him. When you watch him, you walk out of there saying, ‘He’s giving you everything he’s got.’ He’s got a special skill set. His skating maybe needs to be improved. That’ll be the one thing they’re nitpicking him on. But the rest of his game is there.”

The physical Jones had 28 goals and 52 points, and 106 penalty minutes in 63 games. He was limited to six playoff games because of a 12-game suspension for an illegal hit during the first round of the OHL playoffs.

As a rookie, Juolevi had 33 assists and 42 points in 57 regular season games, and 14 points in 18 playoff games. He’s ranked 14th among North American skaters by Central Scouting.

In addition to OHL and CHL titles, Juolevi also won gold with Finland at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship, and was named to the tournament's all-star team after leading all defencemen with nine assists in seven games.

Juolevi is ranked behind only Jakob Chychrun of the Sarnia Sting among North American defencemen.

“I think depending on what you’re looking for, there’s probably three defencemen, or even more, that you could say these guys are going to be battling for first spot depending on what you want, what you’re looking for,” Conroy said. “[Juolevi]’s a good outlet passer. He’s got good composure with the puck. He’s a good-sized guy. I think he needs to get stronger, but you can say that for 80 percent of the kids. There’s definitely a group of defencemen that are all very impressive and you’d love to have any of them.”

The final viewings were exciting, Conroy admitted.

But he also cautioned that the bigger picture is more important than the latest showing.

“It’s more difficult, but it’s always fun to get the last viewings, to see if you see anything that might change your mind one way or another,” he said. “You don’t want to put a ton of stock in it. The scouts have put in so much work during the year.

“It’s just one last viewing.”

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