Portland Winterhawks defenceman Seth Jones is anticipating one heck of a tournament this weekend when he heads an impressive group of top 2013 NHL Draft-eligible prospects at the 2013 MasterCard Memorial Cup.
The event, hosted by the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League, will have the WHL champion Winterhawks, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champion Halifax Mooseheads and Ontario Hockey League titlist London Knights joining the Blades for a chance at winning the Canadian Hockey League's ultimate crown. The quartet of teams will play May 17-26 at Credit Union Centre in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
The tournament opens Friday when the Knights face the host Blades. Last year, the Knights lost the Memorial Cup final in overtime 2-1 to Shawinigan.
The Knights completed the four-team field Monday in dramatic fashion when center Bo Horvat, No. 15 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of the top draft-eligible North American skaters, scored with 0.1 seconds left in the third period to give his team a 3-2 victory against the Barrie Colts in Game 7 of the OHL championship series.
"You dream as a kid about scoring a goal like that in a Game 7," Horvat told Canadian Press. "I knew I had to get to the net and look for a rebound."
Horvat, who also scored a first-period goal, finished the series with seven goals and 11 points and was named winner of the 99 Trophy as playoff MVP. The 6-foot, 206-pounder had 16 goals and seven assists in 21 playoff games for London, which went 16-5 in the postseason. The Knights became the first club to win back-to-back Robertson Cup titles since the Windsor Spitfires in 2009 and 2010. They had to battle back from a 3-1 series deficit against Barrie to take the big prize.
In addition to Horvat, the Knights have two other potential first-round candidates in forward Max Domi and defenceman Nikita Zadorov. Domi, No. 19 on Central Scouting's final list, finished second in OHL playoff scoring with 32 points (11 goals) in 21 games. The 6-foot-5.25, 221-pound Zadorov was tops among first-year defencemen in the league with six points (two goals) in 20 playoff games.
Leading Halifax is a trio of top prospects for this year's draft. Forwards Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin and goalie Zachary Fucale -- all rated among the top three at their respective positions in NHL Central Scouting's final rankings -- helped the Mooseheads to a 16-1 postseason record en route to the club's first President's Cup. Halifax earned its trip to the Memorial Cup with a 5-1 defeat of the Baie-Comeau Drakkar in Game 5 of the league final May 10.
The team will open Memorial Cup competition Saturday against a Winterhawks team led by defenceman Seth Jones, Central Scouting's No. 1-rated North American prospect.
"It's going to be great and a lot of fun to be playing against some of the top prospects in this year's draft," Jones told NHL.com. "Our first one is against Halifax with MacKinnon, Drouin and Fucale. We're both pretty skilled teams. The whole Memorial Cup should be an exciting experience."
MacKinnon, No. 2 on Central Scouting's list of the top North American skaters, finished third in the QMJHL with 33 points (11 goals) in 17 postseason games. He also sported a plus-17 rating and scored five power-play goals.
Drouin, the QMJHL's nominee for CHL player of the year, led all playoff scorers with 35 points (12 goals) and owned a plus-22 rating while scoring two shorthanded goals. Drouin, who was named league's most valuable player and the best pro prospect in the regular season, is No. 3 on Central Scouting's final list.
Fucale is No. 1 on Central Scouting's final ranking of the top North American goalies. He didn't disappoint in the playoffs, losing just once in 17 games while sporting a 2.02 goals-against average, .918 save percentage and three shutouts.
"The stars are lining up for sure," NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr told NHL.com. "With Portland, Halifax and London in the mix, there are a lot of potential first-round candidates. I don't know if this tournament has ever had the top-three ranked players [by Central Scouting] playing in the Memorial Cup.
"We're all looking forward to it."
The Mooseheads, the No. 1-ranked team in the CHL for much of the season, are a combined 74-7-4 in the regular season and playoffs this season.
Jones, meanwhile, potentially could be the first American-born player since Patrick Kane in 2007 to be picked No. 1 when the 2013 NHL Draft is held June 30 at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. In addition to being a stabilizing force along the blue line in his first season with the Winterhawks, Jones chipped in with five goals, 15 points and a plus-15 rating in 21 playoff games.
Jones is joined by two other highly-regarded teammates eligible for the 2013 draft -- center Nicolas Petan and right wing Oliver Bjorkstrand. Petan, No. 33 on Central Scouting's list, finished second in WHL playoff scoring with 28 points (nine goals) in 21 games. Bjorkstrand, No. 36 on Central Scouting's final ranking, had eight goals and 19 points in his first season with Portland.
The Winterhawks closed the WHL final with a 5-1 victory Sunday against the Edmonton Oil Kings to win that series in six games.
The opportunity to play for a Memorial Cup title comes in a season when the team was hit hard by league sanctions in November for player-benefit violations. Portland lost all its draft picks in the opening five rounds of this year's WHL bantam draft and is ineligible to make a first-round choice until 2018. The organization also was fined $200,000 and coach and general manager Mike Johnston was suspended for the remainder of the season.
Travis Green has been the acting coach and GM in place of Johnston.