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League finals begin this week in OHL, QMJHL, WHL

by Adam Kimelman

While the NHL stars of today are ready to start the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the players of tomorrow are focused on their goal of reaching the Memorial Cup.

The Ontario Hockey League, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and Western Hockey League all will start their league finals this week, with the winning teams advancing to join the host London Knights in the Canadian Hockey League championship series May 16-27.

The first series to start is the OHL final between the Guelph Storm and North Bay Battalion, which begins Thursday.

Leading the way for Guelph is center Robert Fabbri, who is No. 21 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters for the 2014 NHL Draft. The 5-foot-10, 164-pound center had nine goals and nine assists in 11 playoff games; his nine goals are tied for second on the team and he has at least a point in eight straight games.

Also playing a big role for Guelph is Swiss-born defenseman Phil Baltisberger. The 6-foot, 200-pounder has four points and a plus-12 rating in 15 games and is No. 197 on Central Scouting's final ranking.

Backup goaltender Matthew Mancina has a .915 save percentage in two games; he's No. 12 on Central Scouting's final ranking of North American goaltenders.

The top 2014 draft prospect for North Bay is center Michael Amadio, who has four goals and four assists in 17 games, and is No. 68 on Central Scouting's final ranking. Defenseman Kyle Wood, who went from unranked in Central Scouting's midterm ranking to No. 191 on the final list, has nine points and a plus-10 rating in 17 games.

The QMJHL final between the Baie-Comeau Drakkar and Val d'Or Foreurs opens Friday. One of the top players for the Foreurs has been right wing Nicolas Aube-Kubel, No. 40 on Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters. The 5-11, 187-pounder has scored four goals, but two of them have been game-winners, including the series-clinching goal in Game 4 of Val d'Or's first-round sweep of the Acadie-Bathurst Titan.

Baie-Comeau's top draft prospect, 6-foot-5, 225-pound defenseman Alexis Vanier, is out for the season after sustaining having shoulder surgery in March. He is No. 112 on Central Scouting's final ranking.

The WHL final, which starts Saturday, will match the Portland Winterhawks and the Edmonton Oil Kings for the third straight year.

The top draft prospect in the series is Portland center Chase De Leo, No. 36 on Central Scouting's final list. De Leo has seven goals and seven assists in 14 playoff games. In the final game of the conference finals against the Kelowna Rockets he had a goal and an assist. He helped set up Minnesota Wild prospect Matt Dumba's goal 59 seconds into the third period, sparking a four-goal Portland run that turned a 3-2 lead to a 7-2 advantage.

The Winterhawks have three other players ranked in the top 100 by Central Scouting: Right wing Alex Schoenborn, No. 78; center Keegan Iverson, No. 85; and center Dominic Turgeon, No. 97.

Iverson and Turgeon, the son of former NHL star Pierre Turgeon, each have two goals and four assists in 14 games. Schoenborn has three goals and two assists in 14 games.

Center Brett Pollock is Edmonton's top draft prospect. The 6-foot-2, 182-pounder is tied for fifth among WHL players with 10 playoff goals, and his 17 points are tied with Ottawa Senators 2013 first-round pick Curtis Lazar for the team lead. Pollock is No. 34 on Central Scouting's final rankings, moving up from No. 71 in the midterm.

Latvian-born forward Edgars Kulda is third on the Oil Kings with 15 points in 14 games, and also has a plus-13 rating. Kulda is No. 145 on Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters.


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