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Top prospects to watch at the 2024 Memorial Cup

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The 104th Memorial Cup championship commences Friday in Saginaw, Michigan, as the league winners from the OHL, QMJHL, and WHL converge to face the hosting Spirit for one of the toughest trophies to win in hockey.

It's a stacked field as the three league champs - the London Knights, Drummondville Voltigeurs, and Moose Jaw Warriors - all swept their final opponents en route to the Memorial Cup. It's the first time that's ever happened.

The hosting Saginaw Spirit are no slouches, either. The Spirit gave London its toughest test of the playoffs, taking the Knights to six games in the OHL's Western Conference Championship Series.

Here are some of the top prospects to watch at this year's event.

Cowan looks to finish magical season on a high

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It's remarkable what Easton Cowan has done since being a surprise first-round pick less than a year ago.

The Toronto Maple Leafs prospect recently became the sixth OHL player ever to win regular-season MVP and playoff MVP in the same year. A campaign of that caliber was unimaginable last June when the Leafs took him with the 28th overall pick.

The criticism of the Cowan selection was less about the player and more about the slot. At the time, the Strathroy, Ontario, native was viewed as a feisty, hard-working winger with a bottom-six NHL projection. That makes for an intriguing prospect, but it isn't quite the upside you want in the opening round.

Every step since that day, Cowan has proven that his upside is significantly higher than just a bottom-six energy winger. He's played all three forward positions regularly, been the most dangerous penalty killer we've seen in the OHL in a decade, and been the primary driver on arguably the best team in the entire Canadian Hockey League.

After scoring 96 points in 54 regular-season games, highlighted by a record point streak, Cowan's next task was coming through in the playoffs. He did exactly that with 26 points in 10 contests against the Spirit and Oshawa Generals in the OHL's conference finals and league final.

Now, Cowan looks to match one of his heroes in Mitch Marner by adding a Memorial Cup to his mantle before pushing to make the Maple Leafs in the fall.

Other London Knights of note: D Jackson Edward (BOS), F Max McCue (CBJ), F Kaleb Lawrence (LAK), D Isaiah George (NYI), F Denver Barkey (PHI), D Oliver Bonk (PHI), F Kasper Halttunen (SJS), F Landon Sim (STL), F Jacob Julien (WPG), F Sam O'Reilly (2024), D Sam Dickinson (2024)

The Firkus circus and Co.

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The CHL's top scorer will be on display at the Memorial Cup, as Jagger Firkus leads a potent Moose Jaw Warriors team.

Firkus scored an absurd 61 goals and 126 points in 63 regular-season games before leading the WHL playoffs with 32 points. The Seattle Kraken second-rounder was surprisingly left off Canada's roster for the world juniors, and he's taken out any frustration on opposing WHL netminders.

He hasn't done it alone, though. Three of his teammates - Brayden Yager, Denton Mateychuk, and deadline add Matt Savoie - featured on that Canadian squad and have been similarly terrific the past few months.

Mateychuk earned WHL playoff MVP honors with 11 goals and 30 points in just 20 games from the backend. The Columbus Blue Jackets first-round selection registered nearly twice as many points as the second-highest scoring blue-liner in the postseason.

Yager has only one goal in his last seven games entering the Memorial Cup but still completed the WHL playoffs with 11 tallies and 27 points. The Pittsburgh Penguins' 14th overall pick will go head-to-head against the top defenders in the tournament as Moose Jaw's first-line center.

Then there's Savoie, the highest-drafted player at the Memorial Cup this year. Taken ninth overall by the Buffalo Sabres in 2022, Savoie annihilated the WHL with a league-best scoring rate by tallying 30 goals and 71 points in just 34 games in the regular season. He didn't hit the same heights in the playoffs, but he has a legitimate case to be the best player at this year's Memorial Cup.

Other Moose Jaw Warriors of note: D Vojtech Port (ANA), F Martin Rysavy (CBJ), D Kalem Parker (MIN)

Smells like teen Spirit

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The hosting Saginaw Spirit have loaded up over the past year in preparation for this tournament, but two players drafted by the Spirit will draw particular attention over the coming days.

Michael Misa introduced himself to the hockey world at the 2022 OHL Cup when he broke Connor McDavid's scoring record at the tournament with 20 points in only seven games. That performance was a catalyst for making him an exceptional status player, granting him early entry to the OHL as a 15-year-old.

Misa is eligible for the 2025 NHL Draft but isn't the projected first overall pick. Rather, that's USNTDP standout James Hagens. With a statement performance at the Memorial Cup, the 6-foot-1 forward can remind scouts he's still very much in the conversation at the top of next year's class.

Saginaw took Misa with the first overall pick of the 2022 OHL Draft. With their second first-rounder that year, the Spirit selected defenseman Zayne Parekh, the other young gun on the host team who'll have plenty of eyes on him at the Memorial Cup.

Parekh obliterated the OHL this season, tallying 33 goals and 96 points in 66 contests (an obligatory reminder that he's a defenseman). He's not the biggest, and he's not exactly a high-end defender, but his outrageous offensive production has Parekh projected to go inside the top 10 in June's entry draft.

A quality showing against elite teams could vault Parekh to the fringes of the top five. Conversely, a poor performance might see Parekh's stock slip into the early teens. It's a big tournament for the right-shot blue-liner.

Other Saginaw Spirit of note: D Rodwin Dionicio (ANA), G Nolan Lalonde (CBJ), F Hunter Haight (MIN), F Owen Beck (MTL), F Joey Willis (NSH), D Jorian Donovan (OTT), F Ethan Hay (TBL), F Josh Bloom (VAN), F Matyas Sapovaliv (VGK)

Can the QMJHL five-peat?

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The QMJHL is on a crazy run at the Memorial Cup. Four straight tournaments have been won by teams from the league dating back to 2018.

The Windsor Spitfires are the last non-QMJHL team to win the title in 2017. The WHL hasn't claimed the event since 2014.

It'll be a tall task for the Voltigeurs to complete the five-peat, however. Drummondville has only five NHL-affiliated players on its roster, and arguably the best of the group, Arizona Coyotes prospect Maveric Lamoureux, is unavailable due to injury.

Buffalo Sabres fifth-rounder Vsevolod Komarov has stepped up in a huge way in Lamoureux's absence. A Memorial Cup winner last year with the Quebec Remparts, Komarov exploded offensively after arriving in Drummondville midseason.

The 6-foot-3 defender tallied 11 goals and 50 points and was a plus-44 in 38 games with the Voltigeurs after a trade in December. Komarov carried that momentum into the postseason en route to winning QMJHL playoff MVP.

Other Drummondville Voltigeurs of note: D Mikael Diotte (NJD), F Alexis Gendron (PHI), F Ethan Gauthier (TBL)

Tournament schedule

Round robin

Team 1 Team 2 Date Time (ET)
Moose Jaw Saginaw May 24 7:30 p.m.
London Drummondville May 25 4 p.m.
Saginaw Drummondville May 26 7:30 p.m.
London Moose Jaw May 27 7:30 p.m.
Drummondville Moose Jaw May 28 7:30 p.m.
Saginaw London May 29 7:30 p.m.

Elimination round

Game Date Time (ET)
Tiebreaker (if necessary) May 30 7:30 p.m.
Semifinal May 31 7:30 p.m.
Final June 2 7:30 p.m.

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