Monday, May 28, 2012

Recapping the Memorial Cup - Congrats Bournival + Ellis!

Last night, the Memorial Cup Final was played to determine the 2011-12 champion of the Canadian Hockey League.  After a great week of hockey, the host Shawinigan Cataractes emerged victorious, with an Anton Zlobin overtime goal allowing them to get past the London Knights 2-1 to win the first Memorial Cup in franchise history.  The Cup was presented to Montreal's own Michael Bournival, as captain of the Cataractes, so congratulations to both him and future Hab defenseman Morgan Ellis, who was also named the game's second star.  Let's recap how our Habs fared during the tournament.

First, of the four Canadiens prospects in the tournament, the only one not appearing in the Finals last night was Nathan Beaulieu, whose favourited Saint John Sea Dogs lost in the semi-final to QMJHL rivals Shawinigan after having beaten them in the round robin two days earlier.  Though he did have 4 assists, 13 shots, and an even +/- rating in his four games, Beaulieu's overall performance in the tournament could be described as disappointing.  His silky smooth skating was on display, as he never hesitated to jump into the rush, or create chances on the transition, but he has two major areas where significant improvement is needed: his defensive zone play and his mental game.  With regards to play in his own end, he was notably a -4 with multiple turnovers in that semi-final matchup against the Cataractes. He is prone to giveaways and his positioning in his own end is sometimes questionable.  In terms of mental game, Beaulieu is prone to lazy or frustrated penalties, often for hacks and slashes, which we saw on numerous occasions during the Cup.  If we remember back to this year's World Junior Championship, one could blame Beaulieu's "giving up" on the play on a delayed penalty call that ultimately led to the winning Russian goal on gaps in his mental game as well.

Don't be discouraged by the above paragraph; I'm by no means calling Beaulieu a bust, or suggesting he has any less potential than he appeared to when the Canadiens made him a first round selection.  But I am suggesting the guy remains a project, needing time to develop before he becomes a real NHL player.  He is very naturally skilled, and the issues in his game can be worked on in Hamilton.  In fact, the issues he is facing aren't unlike the doubts many had about P.K. Subban as a prospect.  I'm not saying Beaulieu will necessarily be as good as Subban, but he's a mobile blueliner with size who can put up points, with enough balance to his game to project as a top four rearguard.

The sting of defeat is still fresh for London Knights' captain Jarred Tinordi, but he has nothing to be ashamed of in his own game, being named to the tournament's all-star team.  Tinordi and d-partner Scott Harrington played upwards of 30 minutes on a regular basis, and he was generally a beast in his own end, intercepting passes, blocking shots, and rubbing forwards out.  I maintain that offense is an underrated part of Tinordi's game (when you look at his OHL production, it's certainly underwhelming), and he showed some nice flashes with a couple of sequences yesterday where he jumped into the rush.  He'll never be a powerplay quarterback, but I don't think he's a Hal Gill either; in London, his role is very focused on its defensive aspect, but in another situation he might put up more points.  Tinordi finished the event with no points, but five shots on goal and a tied-for-team-lead (with forward Matt Rupert) +2 rating.

On to the winners.  Captain Michael Bournival started the Memorial Cup slowly, and fears rose that his poor QMJHL playoffs might carry over to this tournament.  But he silenced doubters with a strong performance, ranking fourth on the Cataractes with 7 points and tied for 3rd with three goals in 6 games.  While a natural center, he most frequently played the wing in the tournament, adding to speculation that he may have some kind of injury which will require repairs during the off-season.  Of course, playing on any sort of injury would make the intense, aggressive, speedy game he played all the more impressive, and bodes well for his professional future.  Bournival likely projects to a third liner at the NHL level, though it will be interesting to see if his goal-scorer's touch can carry over to the AHL next season.

Lastly, Morgan Ellis has opened a lot of eyes during the course of this season.  A mostly unheralded prospect, he served as the captain of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, a bottom feeder in the QMJHL.  When the contending Cataractes traded for him this season, he took his game to a new level, producing at a point-per-game clip for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs, while playing on the team's top defensive pairing with Brandon Gormley.  Ellis, a 6'2", 200 lbs right-handed buleliner, continued his responsible play into the Memorial Cup, tying for fifth on the Cataractes with five points in 6 games, firing 17 shots on goal and finishing a +3.  Of the three d-men in the tournament, Ellis appears to have the most mature and complete game, meaning he may actually be the most NHL-ready of the group.  That doesn't necessarily mean he'll be the one to have the best career of the three, but he is likely the one that will soonest be ready to fill-in for spot duty on a third pairing in case of injuries.

All in all, the Memorial Cup was a fun tournament for Habs fans to follow with four prospects in the fray, and we should be quite happy with the showing.  Yesterday's game marked the final game of the 2011-12 season for any player in the Hab organization, and also the final game of the junior careers of all of Tinordi, Bournival, and Ellis.  The three of them, along with Beaulieu, Brendan Gallagher, and Patrick Holland, will graduate from the CHL to the Hamilton Bulldogs in the Fall, as they continue their development towards becoming NHL players.  It is important to be patient with these youngsters and not expect too much from them too quickly, as for each to reach their full potential, the organization mustn't rush them.

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