Jordan Staal may be in select company for the 2006 NHL entry draft but he is going to be in his own class at the Memorial Cup.
The Peterborough Petes centre is the only highly ranked member of the 2006 group of prospects who will participate in the tournament for major junior hockey supremacy, which begins tonight when the Petes meet the Quebec Remparts at the Moncton Coliseum. Though Staal won't plummet in the eyes of NHL scouts if he has a poor showing in New Brunswick, he would solidify his standing with a good overall performance.
"I know this could be a win-win situation for me, if I play well and we win it,"the 17-year-old Thunder Bay native said. "But I'm just focused on the Cup. There's going to be enough pressure with just being there. Any thought of playing in the NHL next year seems a little far-fetched right now, but we will see."
In NHL Central Scouting's final rankings, Staal is No. 2 in North America, behind only American defenceman Erik Johnson. The St. Louis Blues hold the first selection, but there is no clear-cut favourite among Johnson, Staal, Jonathan Toews, Phil Kessel and Derick Brassard.
"I would think those clubs picking high should have made up their minds by now, but I think if Staal plays well it could have an effect," said an NHL scout whose team will not pick in the top 10. "Either way the kid is going to be fine."
Staal, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound centre, will follow older brothers Eric (second overall by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2003) and Marc (12th overall by the New York Rangers in 2005) as a high NHL draft pick.
Though the scouts will have their collective spotlight trained on Staal, by no means is he the only big story of this Memorial Cup. This tournament, which has no clear favourite, has more subplots than an average episode of the TV series, Lost.
Petes coach Dick Todd and Moncton Wildcats coach Ted Nolan went toe-to-toe in 1993, when Nolan's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds beat Todd's Petes in the 1993 Memorial Cup. That was after the Petes beat the Hounds in OHL final, but then lost to the Soo in the super series to determine the host of the Memorial Cup.
The Western Hockey League champion Vancouver Giants feature another former NHL coach, Don Hay, and 2005 Columbus Blue Jackets first-rounder Gilbert Brule. Hay won the Memorial Cup in 1993 and 1994 with the Kamloops Blazers. Lesser-known hockey people named Gordie Howe and Pat Quinn are part owners of the Giants.
And then there's Quebec Remparts co-owner/coach Patrick Roy. Destined for the Hockey Hall of Fame later this year, Roy has been an animated success in his first season behind the Remparts bench.
"It's going to be exciting with four high-profile guys who all have connections to the NHL, but they are now enjoying being at the junior level," Hay said. "The coaches might take a little bit of the attention, but hopefully the players will take over once the tournament starts."