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Players to watch in the Western Canada Cup

Several scouts will be on hand to watch top talent in the Western Canada Cup
Penticton Vees captain Nicholas Jones, pictured, and teammate Griffin Mendel are among a group of players to watch during the 2017 Western Canada Cup, presented by Sun Life Financial, from April 29 to May 7 at the South Okanagan Events Centre. Jenna Hauck/Black Press

The 2017 Western Canada Cup (WCC), presented by Sun Life Financial, starts Saturday in Penticton at the South Okanagan Events Centre.

Scouting presence should be heavy in Penticton with a projected top-10 NHL draft pick hitting the ice in Cale Makar, the dynamic defenceman from the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Brooks Bandits.

Here are a few other players to look out for, including Vees Griffin Mendel and Nicholas Jones.

Mendel’s size jumps off the page at six-foot-four, and 215 pounds and he’s able to use his reach to knock pucks away from attackers and cover space in his own zone. A 1999-born player, he’s been listed as a possible late-round selection in various NHL Central Scouting lists and has seen a slight uptick in his offensive numbers in the BCHL playoffs. Mendel is committed to the defending National Collegiate Athletic Association-champion University of Denver for the coming season.

Jones had the second-most points in the BCHL playoffs despite his team having a bye in the first round. A hard-nosed competitor, Jones provides the leadership and accountability factor for a young Vees team and has the offensive skills to carry his team at times.

Makar - Widely considered the top defenceman available for this year’s NHL Entry Draft, Makar slotted in at No. 9 in the latest NHL Central Scouting rankings and has been listed as high as fifth by TSN’s Craig Button. Makar is a right-shot blueliner and posted 24 goals and 51 assists for 75 points in 54 games this season and also had eight points in four games as captain of Team Canada West at the 2016 World Junior A Challenge. He is not the biggest body at five-foot-11 and 180 pound, but he shows elite offensive capability and has been compared to Erik Karlsson at the same age. A late 1998 birth date, Makar was ineligible for last year’s draft by 45 days but he could become the second-straight junior A talent to go in the top-10 after Tyson Jost last season. Makar is committed to the University of Massachusetts for next season.

Makar’s teammate Parker Foo, a forward, leads the Bandits in postseason goals with 10 after a 34-goal regular season. The 1998-born forward has projectable size (six-foot-one, 170 pounds) and has shown the playmaking ability and finish to make him a threat on any given shift. His older brother Spencer just came off a fine junior season at Union College that saw him named a top-10 finalist for the Hobey Baker Award. Parker will join his brother at Union for the coming NCAA season.

Levi Kleiboer - D - Battlefords Stars: Mobility and decision making rank as the strengths of Kleiboer’s game and when a good outlet is not available, he has the ability to skate the puck out trouble himself. With a goal and six helpers in the playoffs, he’s tied for the team lead in scoring among defenceman and his play has helped take up the slack with Stars blueliner Kendall Fransoo absent for much of the postseason so far. The 1998-born Kleiboer checks in at six-feet and 160 pounds giving him a projectable frame. He is not committed to a college hockey program at this point.

Chase Brakel - C - Portage Terriers: Blessed with above-average skating and puck skills, Brakel finished second to teammate Jeremey Leipsic in the MJHL in regular-season scoring with 34-46-80 in 58 games. Brakel is a valuable faceoff man for the Terriers and has posted 7-8-15 in helping Portage to the MJHL title. The 1998-born centre checks in at five-foot-10 and 175 pounds and remains uncommitted for college.

Kohen Olischefski - F - Chilliwack Chiefs: Olischefski has been a point-per-game player this postseason after filling more of a support role last year for Chilliwack. A six-foot-two, 180-pound frame gives Olischefski good size and he will go into traffic to make a play. Possesses above-average skating skills and the puck skills to consistently generate offensive chances. Also displays the awareness in his own zone to already be considered a solid 200-foot player. He’s appeared at times on NHL Central Scouting rankings over the last two seasons and is committed to the University of Denver for next season.

Related: Western Canada Cup features the best field yet

Other players to watch:

Jeremey Leipsic - F - Portage Terriers: Leipsic led the MJHL with a 100-point season and led playoff performers with 5-14-19 in 18 games. The younger brother of Nashville third-rounder and current Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Brendan Leipsic, Jeremey started the 2015-16 season with the Powell River Kings but has spent the last season-and-a-half becoming an offensive force in Portage.

Jordan Kawaguchi - F - Chilliwack Chiefs: Kawaguchi posted an eye-popping 18-25-43 in 23 postseason games, far and away leading BCHL playoff scorers. The 1997-born Kawaguchi is technically still draft eligible but has already spent four full seasons in the BCHL and is committed to the University of North Dakota for the coming NCAA season. Displays soft hands and deft passing ability.

Ty Barnstable - F - Portage Terriers: After beginning the season with the Penticton Vees, Barnstable gets a chance to face his former club on May 3 in the final WCC round-robin game. Barnstable led the MJHL with 10 goals in the playoffs.

Mitchel Benson - G - Brooks Bandits: The former Victoria Grizzlies netminder registered a .929 save percentage and 1.73 goals-against average in the regular season while going 36-3-2 for the top-ranked Bandits. Upped those numbers to .949 and 1.21 while going 12-1 in the playoffs. He is committed to NCAA University of Alaska for next season.

Coby Downs - F - Battlefords Stars: Downs has had multiple points in all but one SJHL playoff game and led postseason scorers with 4-21-25 in 11 games. The six-foot, 185-pound forward is committed to NCAA Div. III Norwich University for next season.

Kurtis Chapman - G - Portage Terriers: Went 8-3 with three shutouts in the MJHL playoffs while posting a 2.07 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage. Chapman spent parts of two seasons with the Western Hockey League’s Regina Pats.

The top-two teams from the WCC will qualify for the RBC Cup national championship which is happening May 13 to 21 in Cobourg, Ont.

Cole Makar led the Brooks Bandits blueline in scoring with 24 goals and 75 points in 54 games. In the playoffs, he added another five goals and 17 points in 13 games. The Bandits open the Western Canada Cup in Penticton on April 29 at 2 p.m. against the Chilliwack Chiefs. Emily Duncan/Brooks Bandits