While the focus of most of the hockey world is turned to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the next generation of NHL stars is chasing their own title hopes.
The three biggest Canadian junior leagues -- the Ontario Hockey League, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and Western Hockey League -- have advanced to their league finals, with the three champions joining the host Brandon Wheat Kings in the Memorial Cup championship.
The OHL final already has started, with the Windsor Spitfires taking a 2-0 series lead on the Barrie Colts, with Taylor Hall leading the way.
Taylor Hall (Getty Images)
Hall, the dynamic left wing ranked No. 2 among North American skaters in NHL Central Scouting's final rankings for the 2010 Entry Draft, scored an overtime power-play goal to give Windsor, the defending OHL and Memorial Cup champions, a 4-3 victory. Hall, who tied top-ranked prospect Tyler Seguin for the regular-season league scoring title with 106 points, is second in playoff scoring with 29 points and third with 15 goals in 17 games.
Windsor won Game 2, 5-4, and with the next two games at Windsor's WFCU Centre, the Spitfires are in good shape to repeat as league champions.
Cam Fowler, No. 5 on Central Scouting's list, assisted on Hall's Game 1 winner. Windsor also features forward Justin Shugg, who is No. 53 on Central Scouting's final list and will join Hall and Fowler at the NHL Scouting Combine next month.
Leading the Barrie charge is Russian-born center Alexander Burmistrov, ranked No. 11 on Central Scouting's list. His goal in Game 2 gave him 15 points and a plus-11 rating in 15 games. He had 65 points and a plus-32 rating in 62 regular-season games and helped Barrie finish with the league's best record.
The QMJHL Final, which starts Friday, features an all-New Brunswick match between the Saint John Sea Dogs and Moncton Wildcats.
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Saint John is led by Russian-born right wing Stanislav Galiev. Galiev led all first-year players with 45 assists and a plus-41 rating, and was second with 60 points. In the playoffs, his 11 assists and 19 points leads all rookies heading into the final.
Galiev is No. 20 in Central Scouting's final rankings, making him the highest-rated QMJHL forward.
The highest-rated QMJHL player is Moncton defenseman Brandon Gormley, No. 6 on Central Scouting's list. Gormley is third among defenseman in playoff scoring with 14 points, and he's second with 13 assists. That follows a regular season that saw him finish with 43 points and a plus-31 rating in 58 games.
Also aiding Moncton's efforts is right wing Marek Hrivik, who is fourth on the team with 10 assists. He's ranked No. 194 by Central Scouting.
In the WHL finals, which also start Friday, the Tri-City Americans will face the Calgary Hitmen in a clash between the conference's top seeds.
Leading Tri-City's cause is right wing Brooks Macek and left wing Justin Feser. Macek, who has 6 goals and 17 points in 17 games, is the No. 84-ranked skater on Central Scouting's list. Feser, who is tied for the team lead with 14 assists in 17 games, is No. 177 on Central Scouting's list. Feser had 36 goals and 73 points in 72 regular-season games, while Macek had 21 goals and 73 points in 72 games.
Calgary, which finished with the best record in the league, reached the finals with help from defenseman Matt MacKenzie, who leads all WHL defenseman in the playoffs with 14 points in 18 games. Ranked No. 74 by Central Scouting, he had 40 points and a plus-14 rating in 64 games, and also played in the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in January. He also received an invitation to the NHL Scouting Combine.