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2017 Memorial Cup primer: T-Birds joined by Erie, Saint John and Windsor in round-robin tournament

Dylan Strome played with Mathew Barzal for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships (Associated Press)

The dust has yet to settle on the Seattle Thunderbirds’ first-ever WHL Championship, but with the 99th Memorial Cup just days away, we continue to look forward.

The T-Birds enjoyed a brief celebration after winning then returned to Seattle for an even more brief rest at home before heading to Windsor, Ont. Wednesday morning to participate in the 2017 Mastercard Memorial Cup.

Four teams, including Seattle, will participate in a round-robin style tournament beginning Friday, May 19 before an eventual champion of the Canadian Hockey League is crowned on Sunday, May 28.

Seattle will play each team once between Saturday and Tuesday before the tournament’s semifinal on Friday and championship on Sunday.

Here, we’ll take a look at what each team was able to accomplish in their respective leagues this season.

Erie Otters

The winners of the Ontario Hockey League, the Otters feature eight NHL draft picks. They’re led by Dylan Strome, the third overall pick in 2015, which was the same draft in which Seattle’s Mathew Barzal was taken 16th overall by the New York Islanders.

Strome, however, is arguably not even the most accomplished player on his own line. That honor might belong to Alex DeBrincat, a 5 foot 7 wing from Farmington Hills, Mich., who has amassed three straight 50-goal seasons, three straight 100-plus-point seasons, has won the OHL and CHL Rookie of the Year award and this year was awarded the Red Tilson Trophy as the OHL’s Most Outstanding Player after scoring 65 goals and adding 62 assists in the regular season. A Chicago Blackhawks draft pick, DeBrincat is only the second OHL player ever to score 50 goals in three straight seasons and also tied a record by scoring in 19 straight contests.

Erie’s 103 points in 68 regular season games were the most of any OHL team. They led the league in goals scored with 319 — an average of 4.69 goals per game – and allowed the second fewest with 177 – just 2.60 goals against on average. Their goals for/against margin of 137 is the most of any team in the Memorial Cup. Their power play ranked second, converting on 27.2 percent of chances, and their penalty kill ranked fourth, killing 83.4 percent of opposing advantages.

They continued their strong play into the postseason, where they put together a 16-6 record en route to winning the J. Ross Robertson Cup. They had the third-ranked power play (25.7 percent) and sixth-ranked penalty kill (83.1 percent) during the postseason and a plus-36 goal differential.

Erie Otters Regular Season Fast Facts

• Record – 50-15-2-1; 103 points (1st in OHL)
• Goals For – 319
• Goals Against – 182
• Power Play – 75 for 276; 27.2 percent (2nd)
• Penalty Kill – 196 for 235; 83.4 percent (4th)
• Leading Scorer – Alex DeBrincat, 127 points (65 goals, 62 assists)
• Leading Goaltender – Troy Timpano, 36-8-0-0 (2.35 GAA, .901 save percentage, six shutouts)

Erie Otters NHL Draft Picks

• RW Alex DeBrincat (2016) – Chicago (Rd. 2 No. 39)
• C Kyle Pettit (2014) – Vancouver (Rd. 6 No. 156)
• RW Taylor Raddysh (2016) – Tampa Bay (Rd. 2 No. 58)
• C Dylan Strome (2015) – Arizona (Rd. 1 No. 3)
• C Anthony Cirelli (2015) – Tampa Bay (Rd. 3 No. 72)
• C Warren Foegele (2014) – Carolina (Rd. 3 No. 61)
• D Jordan Sambrook (2016) – Detroit (Rd. 5 No. 137)
• D Erik Cernak (2015) – Los Angeles (Rd. 2 No. 43) (Rights traded to Tampa Bay)

Erie Otters 2017 NHL Central Scouting Draft Prospects

• RW Ivan Lodnia – No. 36 among North American skaters
• C German Poddubnyi – No. 130

Saint John Sea Dogs

Of any team qualifying for the Memorial Cup, Saint John did it quickest by posting a 16-2 playoff record as they won the President’s Cup as champions of the QMJHL. They swept the first and second rounds against the Rimouski Oceanic and the Val-d’Or Foreurs, beat the Chicoutimi Saguenéens in six games in the conference finals, then swept the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in the championship.

With 10 NHL draft picks on their roster, the Sea Dogs feature an incredibly balanced attack. Their leading scorer, Matthew Highmore, had 89 points in 64 games played and was signed by the Chicago Blackhawks as an undrafted free agent this year. Highmore tied for seventh in QMJHL scoring. Overall, Saint John had eight players who had at least 50 points during the regular season.

Three of those eleven draftees are defensemen and two, Jakub Zboril and Thomas Chabot, were first round NHL picks in 2015, the same draft that saw all four of Seattle’s drafted players get taken. Chabot won the Guy Lafleur Trophy as Playoff MVP and the Emile Bouchard Trophy as the league’s Defenseman of the Year. Eight players on the Sea Dogs’ current roster were drafted in 2015.

Saint John’s 102 points in 68 regular season games led the QMJHL as they averaged 4.22 goals for per game and allowed 2.65 goals against. They led the league in both special teams categories, converting 29.9 percent of their power plays while killing 85.4 percent of their shorthanded chances.

Saint John Sea Dogs Regular Season Fast Facts

• Record – 48-14-5-1; 102 points (1st in QMJHL)
• Goals For – 287
• Goals Against – 180
• Power Play – 97 for 324; 29.9 percent (1st)
• Penalty Kill – 299 for 350; 85.4 percent (1st)
• Leading Scorer – Matthew Highmore, 89 points (34 goals, 55 assists)
• Leading Goaltender – Callum Booth, 31-12-2-1 (2.59 GAA, .911 save percentage, four shutouts)

Saint John Sea Dogs NHL Draft Picks/Signed Players

• C Nathan Noel (2016) – Chicago (Rd. 4 No. 113)
• RW Julien Gauthier (2016) – Carolina (Rd. 1 No. 21)
• C Matthew Highmore (Undrafted) – Signed by Chicago as free agent in 2017
• C Samuel Dove-McFalls (2015) – Philadelphia (Rd. 4 No. 98)
• RW Spencer Smallman (2015) – Carolina (Rd. 5 No. 138)
• RW Mathieu Joseph (2015) – Tampa Bay (Rd. 4 No. 120)
• LW Bokondji Imama (2015) – Tampa Bay (Rd. 6 No. 180)
• D Simon Bourque (2015) – Montreal (Rd. 6 No. 177)
• D Thomas Chabot (2015) – Ottawa (Rd. 1 No. 18)
• D Jakub Zboril (2015) – Boston (Rd. 1 No. 13)
• G Callum Booth (2015) – Carolina (Rd. 4 No. 93)

Saint John Sea Dogs 2017 NHL Central Scouting Draft Prospects

• C Cedric Pare – No. 146 among North American skaters

Windsor Spitfires

The Spitfires were granted an automatic bid to the Memorial Cup as the host team. Windsor finished the regular season with 41-19-5-3 record and 90 points, placing them fifth in the Western Conference. That same point total would have placed them first in the East, but they instead found themselves facing off against the Western Conference’s fourth place team in the London Knights in round one, who beat the Spitfires in seven games. London gave league champion-Erie the most trouble in the playoffs, taking them to seven games as well before losing Game 7 in overtime.

While they were knocked out in the first round, it appears that Windsor is no team to take lightly considering how well they played a very good London Knights team. Over half of the Spitfires’ roster is made up of NHL draftees – 10 total – led by first-rounders Logan Brown, Logan Stanley and Mikhail Sergachev. Stanley actually hasn’t played since January 17 as he’s recovering from knee surgery but is expected to be ready to go for Windsor’s opening game on Friday versus Saint John.

In preparation for the Memorial Cup, Windsor’s biggest transaction of the season was the addition of Jeremy Bracco, a second-round pick by the Toronto Maple Leafs and former Boston College commit who has 147 points in 106 career OHL contests. Bracco led the Spitfires in scoring this season with 83 points in 57 games, though 51 of those points came in the 27 contests he played with the Kitchener Rangers. After moving to Windsor, he had 32 points in 30 games.

The only other players on the Spitfires to average a point per game were Gabriel Vilardi (61 in 49 games) and Logan Brown (40 in 35 games). Windsor finished tenth in the OHL in goals scored with 232 and third in goals against with 185, giving them a scoring margin of plus-47.

Windsor Spitfires Regular Season Fast Facts

• Record – 41-19-5-3; 90 points (7th in OHL)
• Goals For – 232
• Goals Against – 185
• Power Play – 55 for 240; 22.9 percent (4th)
• Penalty Kill – 224 for 253; 88.5 percent (1st)
• Leading Scorer – Jeremy Bracco, 83 points (25 goals, 58 assists)
• Leading Goaltender – Michael DiPietro, 30-12-4-2 (2.35 GAA, .917 save percentage, six shutouts)

Windsor Spitfires NHL Draft Picks/Signed Players

• LW Jeremiah Addison (2015) – Montreal (Rd. 7 No. 207)
• C Logan Brown (2016) – Ottawa (Rd. 1 No. 11)
• C Julius Nattinen (2015) – Anaheim (Rd. 2 No. 59)
• LW Graham Knott (2015) – Chicago (Rd. 2 No. 54)
• LW Cristiano DiGiacinto (2014) – Tampa Bay (Rd. 6 No. 170)
• RW Jeremy Bracco (2015) – Toronto (Rd. 2 No. 61)
• D Logan Stanley (2016) – Winnipeg (Rd. 1 No. 18)
• D Mikhail Sergachev (2016) – Montreal (Rd. 1 No. 9)
• D Jalen Chatfield (Undrafted) – Signed by Vancouver as a free agent in 2017
• D Sean Day (2016) – New York Rangers (Rd. 3 No. 81)

Windsor Spitfires 2017 NHL Central Scouting Draft Prospects

• C Gabriel Vilardi – No. 4 among North American skaters
• RW Cole Purboo – No. 189
• RW Lucas Boka – No. 201

This tournament officially begins on Friday with the host Spitfires facing off against Saint John. Seattle’s three guaranteed games will be on Saturday versus Erie, Sunday versus Windsor and Tuesday versus Saint John.

The full schedule can be viewed here.