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Prospects to Watch at the Memorial Cup for the New Jersey Devils

The 2024 CHL Memorial Cup features players of interest for Devils fans, including one of their prospects, Dawson Mercer’s brother, and a few 2024 NHL Draft eligible players of interest.

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New Jersey Devils

With the 2024 NHL Draft just over a month away, playoffs and international tournaments are coming to a close. All of the benchmark tournaments for this year’s crop of prospects have come and gone except one; the CHL Memorial Cup.

For those unfamiliar, the Memorial Cup is a four-team tournament consisting of the OHL, WHL, and QMJHL champions, as well as the host team. This year’s participants representing the OHL will be host team Saginaw Spirit and champion London Knights. Representing the WHL will be the Moose Jaw Warriors, and from the QMJHL the Drummondville Voltigeurs.

This summer’s draft is filled with a lot of high-end talent, especially in the top part of the draft. General Manager Tom Fitzgerald and his scouts will have their eyes firmly on this tournament that features a couple of prospects that may be in play with the 10th selection.

However, there are also a handful of players that likely won’t be high picks this year, but have made a big impact on their team reaching this point. The Devils have found quite a few hidden gems over the years, and maybe one will come out of this tournament.

That being said, here’s a look at a few prospects to watch at this year’s Memorial Cup.

Sam Dickinson (D)- London Knights

A player who should be firmly on any Devils fan’s radar for the draft is Sam Dickinson. The London Knights defenseman has had a stellar year in the OHL, and projects as a high-end, top-four defenseman. Dickinson led all Knights defensemen with 70 points in 68 games, which was also the fourth-highest among OHL defensemen.

Dickinson is a well-rounded player with excellent mobility, a bomb of a shot, and has greatly improved as an in-zone defender. He uses his skating to close gaps and break up plays, which plays into his strength of moving the puck up the ice in transition.

What makes Dickinson an exciting prospect is his pro-ready size and style of play. The 6-foot-3, 195 lbs Dickinson is projected to go somewhere in the wheelhouse of where the Devils are selecting. NHL Central Scouting and TSN’s Bob McKenzie has him ranked 7th, three spots off of where the Devils pick.

Sam O’Reilly (F) – London Knights

If you’re following the draft then you’ve likely heard Dickinson’s name, but not many have heard the name of his teammate, Sam O’Reilly. The Knights forward finished with 56 points in 68 games in his rookie OHL season. Also, he contributed 12 points in 16 playoff games playing up and down the lineup.

O’Reilly is lauded for his ability to get to the dirty areas and be opportunistic. Despite a lack of gaudy numbers, O’Reilly was a consistent scorer, which saw him earn an OHL Rookie of the Month and a spot at the CHL Top Prospects Game. He’s a player who no matter where he is in the lineup will give you an honest, hard-working shift.

His play style and production as a rookie have him as the 24th-ranked North American skater according to NHL Central Scouting. Bob McKenzie has him ranked 46th. If the Devils are looking for a well-rounded, hard-working player, then O’Reilly could be their guy if he makes it to one of their third-round picks.

Zayne Parekh (D) – Saginaw Spirit

Like Dickinson, Zayne Parekh is a player to watch for the 10th pick. He is about as skilled of a defenseman as they come, and the stats back it up. Parekh put up an incredible 96 points in 66 games, including an absurd 33 goals from the backend. This all has to do with his elite hockey sense, explosive shot, and willingness to take on defenders.

Parekh has been the catalyst for Saginaw and he’ll have to carry them on his back like he’s done all season for them to win the Memorial Cup. His elite offensive game cannot be understated, as he won the OHL Defenseman of the Year, and has drawn comparisons to Erik Karlsson. However, Parekh’s biggest weakness is as a defender. He’s been known to cheat for offense and can get caught out of position often. But when you have a player as dynamic as he is you take the good with the bad.

Parekh has good size at 6 feet, 180 lbs, and could be around when the Devils are selecting. Central Scouting has him as the 5th North American skater and Bob McKenzie has him ranked 9th. Saginaw goes into the tournament as underdogs, but Parekh is the great equalizer, as well as appointment television.

Jackson Unger (G) – Moose Jaw Warriors

The Devils broke a seven-year streak of drafting a goaltender when they chose not to take one in the 2023 Draft. If they choose to restart that streak then Moose Jaw’s Jackson Unger could be a late-round gem. Unger put up solid WHL numbers in the regular season, posting a 3.08 GAA, a 0.908 SV%, and 35 wins. His SV% was the fifth highest in the WHL, while his 35 wins were the most for a goalie.

However, Unger’s game has taken another step during Moose Jaw’s WHL Championship run. He’s gone 16-1-2 with a 2.90 GAA and a 0.910 SV%. As the Devils have found out this year, you can’t win without good goaltending, and that’s what Unger has given his team. He has adequate goalie size at 6-foot-1 and earned himself a WHL Goalie of the Year nomination.

Unger isn’t projected to be a very high pick, and may even go undrafted again after being passed over last year. He’s ranked as the 27th North American goalie by Central Scouting, but he has the chance to put NHL teams on notice if his strong play can carry over to the Memorial Cup.

Mikael Diotte (D) – Drummondville Voltigeurs

If that name looks slightly familiar it’s because it should. Mikael Diotte was signed by the Devils back in March, just before winning the QMJHL Top Defensive Defenseman Award. Diotte has been Drummondville’s top defenseman and had a big jump in production this season. His 42 points in 59 games were second among Drummondville defensemen, and he’s added 10 points in 19 QMJHL playoff games.

Diotte was a bit of a late-bloomer offensively, but it’s his work as a shutdown defender that’s helped him earn a contract with the Devils. He has an NHL-ready frame at 6-foot-3, 205 lbs that will come in handy trying to shut down some of the other high-flying offenses in this tournament.

The big question will be if Diotte’s game can continue to progress as he begins his pro career next year. He’ll likely play in the AHL next season, but with the organization’s love for big, long defensemen, Diotte may have a chance to play NHL games in the not-so-distant future.

Riley Mercer (G) – Drummondville Voltigeurs

Yet another name that should look familiar for Devils fans and again, because it should. Riley Mercer, the brother of Devils forward Dawson Mercer, is having a fantastic season in the QMJHL. Mercer ranks in the top 10 in the QMJHL with a 2.83 GAA and a 0.905 SV%. In addition, Mercer’s 31 wins are tied for second in the league.

While those regular season stats are impressive, it’s his playoff numbers that are eye-opening. Mercer’s posted a 16-2-1 record with a staggering 1.89 GAA and a 0.934 SV%. Drummondville has rode Mercer’s elite goaltending to the Memorial Cup and has a legitimate chance at winning if his performances continue.

What Mercer does have working against him is that he is a double over-ager. Meaning, at 20 years old Mercer has been passed over in the draft twice. It’s typically rare for players to get drafted in that situation. However, his numbers have been so good that it should at least be discussed. The Devils could also go the route of inviting him to development camp and giving him the chance to earn a contract, similar to what they did with Jesper Bratt‘s brother, Filip.

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