There's a good chance many of the NHL's brightest future stars will be playing big roles this weekend when the 2014 MasterCard Memorial Cup commences at Budweiser Gardens in London, Ontario.
The four-team round robin tournament takes place May 16-25 and will feature the host team London Knights along with the Ontario Hockey League champion Guelph Storm, Western Hockey League champion Edmonton Oil Kings and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champion Val d'Or Foreurs.
Make no mistake, NHL scouts and general managers pay close attention to the tournament and which prospects rise to the occasion in a big spot.
2014 Memorial Cup schedule
All times EST
Val-d'Or vs. London, 7 p.m. (NHLN-US)
Guelph vs. Edmonton, 4 p.m. (7:30 p.m., NHLN-US)
London vs. Edmonton, 7 p.m. (NHLN-US)
Guelph vs. Val-d'Or, 7 p.m. (May 20, 1 p.m., NHLN-US)
Edmonton vs. Val-d'Or, 7 p.m. (May 21, 1 p.m., NHLN-US)
London vs. Guelph, 7 p.m. (May 22, 1 p.m., NHLN-US)
"We approach it as a body of work over the whole season but if some guys do well and play over their head at the Memorial Cup, you have got to take into consideration what he did," Buffalo Sabres assistant GM Kevin Devine told NHL.com. "Look at a guy like [Nathan] MacKinnon in last year's tournament. He put that [Halifax Mooseheads] team on his back and cemented his No. 1 status."
Since the round-robin format was introduced in 1972, the OHL has won 14 Memorial Cup championships, including the 2005 title when the Knights last hosted the event. The Halifax Mooseheads, led by forwards Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin, and goalie Zachary Fucale, won the first Memorial Cup in franchise history last year with a 6-4 victory against the Portland Winterhawks.
"Whether scouts would agree or not, the Memorial Cup is your last viewing of a player so that's what remains in your mind," Florida Panthers director of scouting Scott Luce said. "Last year, you had a final that pitted the top two guys [MacKinnon and Winterhawks defenseman Seth Jones] going head-to-head. That's what people remember. It's important but not the end-all, be-all. The biggest thing is not to get caught up on what we like to call momentum picks.
"There are positives but also traps coming out of the Memorial Cup as a scout, so it's a double-edged sword, but there's no question it's an exciting event."
Here's a closer look at the top drafted and undrafted prospects for each team in the 2014 Memorial Cup:
The Knights have two players on NHL Central Scouting's final list of top North American players eligible for the 2014 NHL Draft on June 27-28 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
Left wing Christian Dvorak, No. 71 on Central Scouting's final list of the top North American skaters, is scheduled to return to the lineup after being sidelined by a knee injury on Dec. 14. He had six goals and 14 points in 33 games prior to his injury.
"His knee is healed and that's good for him," London coach Dale Hunter told The London Free Press. "He's worked hard and it was a long time out for him. It'll be up to his parents and we're very protective of him. He's a good kid."
Also starring for the Knights is No. 153-ranked right wing Chandler Yakimowicz. The 6-foot-2, 198-pound power forward joined the team in late December and had three goals, seven points and a plus-11 rating in 33 games. He scored two goals in nine playoff games.
NHL prospects to watch:
Goalie: Anthony Stolarz (Philadelphia Flyers, 2012).
Defense: Nikita Zadorov (Buffalo Sabres, 2013), Brady Austin (Buffalo Sabres, 2012).
Forwards: Gemel Smith (Dallas Stars, 2012), Max Domi (Phoenix Coyotes, 2013), Michael McCarron (Montreal Canadiens, 2013), Bo Horvat (Vancouver Canucks, 2013), Ryan Rupert (Toronto Maple Leafs, 2012), Chris Tierney (San Jose Sharks, 2012), Josh Anderson (Columbus Blue Jackets, 2012).
The Storm won their first league title since 2004 when Columbus Blue Jackets draft pick Kerby Rychel connected with 26.3 seconds remaining in the third period for a 4-3 victory against the North Bay Battalion in Game 5 on May 9.
Also playing a big part in the Robertson Cup title was center Robert Fabbri, No. 21 on Central Scouting's final ranking. The 18-year-old from Mississauga, Ontario, was the OHL's most valuable player in the playoffs after scoring 13 goals, 15 assists and six power-play goals with a plus-16 rating in 16 games.
Swiss-born defenseman Phil Baltisberger, No. 197 on Central's final list, had two goals, five points and a plus-18 rating in 20 playoff games.
Backup goalie Matthew Mancina (6-2, 178), No. 12 on Central Scouting's list of the top draft-eligible goalies in North America, owns a 2.98 goals-against average and .915 save percentage in two playoff games for the Knights.
NHL prospects to watch:
Defense: Matthew Finn (Toronto Maple Leafs, 2012), Ben Harpur (Ottawa Senators, 2013), Zachary Leslie (Los Angeles Kings, 2013), Nick Ebert (Los Angeles Kings, 2012).
Forwards: Jason Dickinson (Dallas Stars, 2013), Kerby Rychel (Columbus Blue Jackets, 2013), Tyler Bertuzzi (Detroit Red Wings, 2013), Justin Auger (Los Angeles Kings, 2013), Brock McGinn (Carolina Hurricanes, 2012), Zachary Mitchell (Minnesota Wild, FA), Scott Kosmachuk (Winnipeg Jets, 2012).
EDMONTON OIL KINGS
The Oil Kings scored a 4-2 road victory against the Winterhawks in Game 7 of the WHL championship round to hoist the Ed Chynoweth Cup. This despite losing 10 key players from last year's team that was beaten by Portland in the WHL final.
Among the key performers in 2014 were left wing Brett Pollock, No. 34 on Central Scouting's final list of the top draft-eligible North American skaters. Pollock had 11 goals, 19 points and a plus-11 rating in 21 playoff games. Latvian-born left wing Edgars Kulda, the younger brother of Winnipeg Jets defenseman Arturs Kulda, is No. 145 on Central's final list. The younger Kulda has 10 goals, 22 points and a plus-14 rating in 21 games.
Defensively, Edmonton relies on No. 82-ranked Dysin Mayo and No. 90 Aaron Irving. Mayo connected for three goals and 15 points and Irving had two assists.
NHL prospects to watch:
Goalie: Tristan Jarry (Pittsburgh Penguins, 2013).
Defense: Cody Corbett (Colorado Avalanche, FA), Griffin Reinhart (New York Islanders, 2012).
Forwards: Henrik Samuelsson (Phoenix Coyotes, 2012), Curtis Lazar (Ottawa Senators, 2013), Mitchell Moroz (Edmonton Oilers, 2012).
Detroit Red Wings top prospect Anthony Mantha scored with 52 seconds remaining in the third period to lead the Foreurs to a dramatic 4-3 victory against the Baie-Comeau Drakkar in Game 7 of the President's Cup series to capture the league championship on May 13.
Mantha has 24 goals, 38 points and a plus-17 rating in 24 playoff games for the Foreurs, who will look to win a fourth consecutive Memorial Cup for the QMJHL.
Right behind Mantha in playoff scoring is left wing Louick Marcotte (6-0, 189), who is No. 198 on NHL Central Scouting's final list of the top North American skaters eligible for the 2014 NHL Draft. Marcotte has 37 points (12 goals, 25 assists) and a plus-16 rating in 24 games for Val-d'Or.
Right wing Nicolas Aube-Kubel, No. 40 on Central's final list, had four goals, 13 points and a plus-10. Backup goalie Keven Bouchard, No. 10 on Central's final ranking of the top North American goalies, made one brief appearance in the playoffs and stopped five of six shots in 14:04 of action.
NHL prospects to watch:
Goalie: Antoine Bibeau (Toronto Maple Leafs, 2013).
Defense: Ryan Graves (New York Rangers, 2013).
Forward: Anthony Mantha (Detroit Red Wings, 2013).