WINDSOR, Ont. — Some of the world’s best junior hockey talent will be on display at the May 19-28 Memorial Cup in Windsor. Here are five players to watch in the battle for Canadian Hockey League supremacy:
GABRIEL VILARDI, Windsor Spitfires
Vilardi, from Kingston, Ont., is considered the top prospect at the tournament and could crack the top five at the 2017 NHL Entry Draft in June. The 17-year-old forward ended the OHL season ranked No. 4 on Central Scouting’s list of North American skaters.
Despite missing quarter of the season with an injury, the six-foot-three 200-pound centre led Windsor in scoring with 29 goals and 61 points in 49 games. He added two goals and six points in a seven-game first-round loss to the London Knights in the playoffs.
Vilardi, a big body with a right-handed shot and high-quality puck skills, is expected to see plenty of ice time at the tournament, giving scouts a final opportunity to watch him in game situations before the draft.
JOEY VELENO, Saint John Sea Dogs
In 2015, Veleno became the first player to be granted exceptional player status in the QMJHL. He’s just the third forward to be given permission to play in the CHL at 15 years old after John Tavares and Connor McDavid. Veleno, 17, isn’t eligible for the NHL Entry Draft until 2018.
The six-foot-one 190-pound centre has had the luxury of playing on a Saint John team with experience and depth up front in his first two seasons and hasn’t had to carry the weight of his title. A breakout tournament would, however, do him some good as many teammates will be moving on while he’ll be back next season with an increased role.
Veleno finished the year with 13 goals and 40 points in 45 games after missing some time with an injury that caused him to skip the world under-17 hockey challenge. The Kirkland, Que., native added eight goals and 11 points in 18 playoff contests.
THOMAS CHABOT, Saint John Sea Dogs
The 20-year-old Chabot has already had an impressive season, but will try to take it a step further with his appearance at the Memorial Cup.
Chabot, Ottawa’s first-round pick, 18th overall, in 2015, was named world juniors MVP in January for his work with Team Canada, earned QMJHL defenceman of the year in April, and added playoff MVP in May after leading the Sea Dogs to the league title.
Chabot, from Ste-Marie, Que., produced 10 goals and 45 points in 35 regular-season games, then put up five goals and 23 points in 18 playoff contests. The six-foot-two 190-pound blue-liner will not only be part of the Saint John offence, but will be expected to shut down the competition’s top lines.
CARL STANKOWSKI, Seattle Thunderbirds
The 17-year-old Stankowski wasn’t expected to do much in his rookie season as he was seen as Seattle’s goalie of the future, but he found himself leading the way come playoff time.
Seattle starter Rylan Toth went down with an injury late in the regular season and Stankowski filled in admirably despite only five career WHL starts to his name prior to the first round. Stankowski went 16-4 in the post-season with a 2.50 goals-against average and .911 save percentage, leading the Thunderbirds to their first league title.
The Calgary native, who is eligible for the 2018 NHL Draft, isn’t a large goalie. He stands just five foot nine and weighs 163 pounds.
DARREN RADDYSH, Erie Otters
Raddysh, from Caledon, Ont., is one of many offensive stars on Erie’s roster, and he’s playing for more than just a Memorial Cup.
The 21-year-old Raddysh is in his final season and his junior career will end after the tournament. He has been looked over at the NHL Entry Draft and will hope to draw some attention from scouts in the hopes of earning an NHL entry-level contract, or at minimum an invite to a training camp in the fall.
The six-foot-one 200-pound blue-liner did his part in the regular season, earning the OHL defenceman of the year and overage player of the year awards after putting up 16 goals and 81 points in 62 games.
He followed that up with eight goals and 22 points in 22 playoff games. His younger brother Taylor, an Otters forward, was drafted in 2016 by Tampa Bay and signed his first NHL contract on Monday.
Honourable mentions: Otters forwards Anthony Cirelli and Dylan Strome; Spitfires goalie Michael DiPietro and defencemen Sean Day and Logan Stanley; Thunderbirds forwards Mathew Barzal and Sami Moilanen.