As the Erie Otters and Kitchener Rangers unload their gear off of their buses in Saginaw and Owen Sound, respectively, players, coaches and fans are happy to make the drive to the rink (whether it’s a short drive up the street or a long cross province/state roadie) to catch the opening night of OHL action. A new season creates new hope and a fresh slate for every player and team to work from. As a scout and journalist, I’m taking the opportunity to whip up some predictions and enjoy the short time that I will stand one-hundred percent correct on all of these projections. Because, as with any projection, it’s a matter of time before they all look foolish and land in the WRONG category. For now, the process remains fun so let’s get at it!
Western Conference Standings
For the first time in years, the Western Conference may (key word) actually be the weaker conference as it appears the usual heavyweights will be undergoing some mini-rebuilds and roster shuffling in preparation for stronger and more competitive teams in the future.
The London Knights await on a few key returnees from NHL camps but even if Horvat, Domi and/or Zadorov return, the Hunters have question marks in goal and will be rolling out an entire new defence core (with the exception of Dakota Mermis and Aiden Jamieson). Windsor made some key acquisitions in rookies Luke Kirwan and Logan Brown but it’s yet to be determined how much of an immediate impact they will have. The Erie Otters will have a media circus following them from rink to rink as Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome draw the attention of scouts and cameras everywhere. The rest of the West has promise but no team stands out above the rest.
Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (West Division Champs)
Key Questions: Nurse is expected to return but potentially losing Alex Gudbranson and Jean Dupuy could hurt. Can Brandon Halverson and rookie Joe Raaymakers provide the stability between the pipes to make a long run?
Guelph Storm (MidWest Division Champs)
Key Questions: The graduation of Scott Kosmachuk, Zack Mitchell, captain Matt Finn, Brock McGinn and Kerby Rychel will hurt so the Storm will need Robby Fabbri, Jason Dickinson and Tyler Bertuzzi to step up. Who will step up in goal between Justin Nichols and Matt Mancina?
Key Questions: Mike Vellucci is out of Plymouth for the first time in years but the incoming Sonny Milano, addition of overager Mathew Campagna and return of star goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic should make them a formidable contender in the West. Can Matt Mistele return to form and will rookie William Bitten make enough of an impact to provide scoring depth?
Key Questions: It’s Josh Ho-Sang’s team now. The additions of import forward Markus Soberg, Luke Kirwan, Logan Brown and Slater Doggett should help but much of their success depends on how the rookies perform. Will Brady Vail return? Is the goaltending duo of Alex Fotinos and Brendan Johnston strong enough?
Owen Sound Attack
Key Questions: The Victor Mete situation has been resolved and the Owen Sound enter the season as a sleeper. The returning veterans of Holden Cook, Zach Nastasiuk, Kyle Platzer and defenseman Chris Bigras are a strong core and there’s plenty of excitement surrounding diminutive import Palmu Petrus. Will it be Brandon Hope or the towering Jack Flinn who takes ownership of the Attack’s crease?
Key Questions: The Otters will rely heavily on Connor McDavid but he’s got some promising talent in Dylan Strome, rookie Alex DeBrincat, Nick Betz and a few other incoming young forwards to help support him. Devin Williams is no worse than Oscar Dansk and the backend of Travis Dermott, Cory Genovese, Darren Raddysh, Cole Mayo and TJ Fergus mixes youth and experience well. How far can McDavid need to carry this team offensively?
Key Questions: Many years have passed since we’ve seen the London Knights this low in the projected standings. Based on the assumption that London won’t return all of Bo Horvat, Max Domi or Nikita Zadorov (in addition to the losses of Chris Tierney, Ryan Rupert, Josh Anderson and Anthony Stolarz), it could be a tough year offensively for London. Brett Welychka, Mitch Marner and Christian Dvorak will need to step up huge? Can Michael McCarron reach his 1st round potential? The Knights have a lot of exciting young incoming talent (Mete, Gleason) but they’re inexperienced, especially in goal.
Key Questions: Adding top picks Jakob Chychrun and Pavel Zacha should spark interest in a frustrated fan-base but success will depend on how impactful sophomores Nikita Korostelev and Noah Bushnell can be. Look for Davis Brown, Daniel Nikandrov, Josh Chapman and goaltender Taylor Dupuis (once he returns from injury) to be the veteran leadership. Is there any chance that first rounder Nikolay Goldobin returns from San Jose? If so, which import player will be moved?
Key Questions: Slightly underrated, Saginaw could finish anywhere from 5th to out of the playoffs. Saginaw’s 2014 top pick, Tye Felhaber, is as deadly an offensive weapon as was available at the draft and forward Blake Clarke can’t have a worse season, can he? As difficult as it is to pronounce the Spirits’ goaltending duo, Nikita Serebryakov and David Ovsjannikov are a solid pairing.
Key Questions: The Rangers, like Saginaw, are capable of finishing higher in the standings but there are questions surrounding how their goaltending will play out and the loss (at least temporarily) of defenseman Max Iafrate certainly won’t be easy. How long will it take top pick Adam Mascherin to find his lethal scoring touch at the OHL level?
Eastern Conference Standings
The East is Beast this season and I expect to see some old school rivalries develop throughout the course of the season. It’s going to be a tightly packed conference and when the regular season closes out, two teams are going to be very disappointed because they’ll miss post-season by just a few points. The Niagara IceDogs, Barrie Colts, Peterborough Petes and Kingston Frontenacs will all be in a dog-fight to secure home-ice advantage while Belleville, Mississauga, and Ottawa will look to play spoiler showing the rest of the league that they have improved and are ready to compete. The defending East Champs in North Bay will continue to play their stifling style and make life hell on the opposition each night. The East is no different from the West as they will be waiting on the likes of stars (Sam Bennett, Brendan Perlini (injured) and Nick Ritchie) to return from NHL camps before their team gets into the full swing of things.
Peterborough Petes (East Division Champs)
Key Questions: Can Nick Ritchie and Hunter Garlent pick up where they left off last year with their chemistry and become star OHLers for the entire season? Can Eric Cornel become the star he has been projected to be since he was drafted? The Petes are inexperienced on the blueline and their goaltending is very unproven. Look for high potential rookies – Jonathan Ang, Josh Coyle, Adam Timleck, Dominik Masin and Matthew Timms – to make an impact. They’re good.
Niagara IceDogs (Central Division Champs)
Key Questions: The ‘Dogs have arguably the best blueline in the league with Luke Mercer, Vince Dunn (breakout season coming, mark it), Blake Siebenaler, Zach Wilkie, Aaron Haydon and the addition of Ryan Mantha makes them tougher to play against. Can sophomore Hayden McCool elevate his game? Look for Carter Verhaeghe, Jordan Maletta, Anthony DiFruscia, Brendan Perlini, Cody Payne and Cody Caron (another breakout player) to carry the offensive load.
Key Questions: When will Sam Bennett return and will he be fully recovered from that nagging groin injury suffered at Flames camp? Ryan Kujawinski should return to form and post point-per-game numbers. Draft eligible Lawson Crouse could become the most important player on this team as Coach McFarland relies on his strong two-way game. Neither Peressini nor Helvig are proven between the pipes and that’s scary for a “contending” team.
Key Questions: The Eastern Conference’s most underrated team also made one of the best off-season signings when they brought in Roy Radke. Look for Radke to become a frustrating presence to play against as his large frame crashes around the ice. Can Brendan Lemieux stay out of the sin bin to help replace the scoring lost from the departing Athanasiou and Zach Hall. Look for Swedish import Rasmus Andersson to excite fans and Andrew Mangiapane, Joseph Blandisi and Kevin Lebanc to become regulars on the scoresheet.
North Bay Battalion
Key Questions: Can Nick Paul continue his impressive development without Barclay Goodrow? Brett McKenzie will need to show his first round talent while Zach Bratina and Mike Amadio are two key forwards ready to take the next step.
Key Questions: Finally able to add a highly offensive talent in Mikey McLeod, don’t underestimate the impact this game-breaking forward has in Mississauga. The young McLeod will open up time and space for players like Brycen Cianfrone, Jesse Barwell (breakout year coming) and Josh Burnside to operate easier. Could goaltender Spencer Martin improve upon his underwhelming 2013-14 season and lift this squad to home ice advantage? It’s possible.
Key Questions: Michael Dal Colle will start the season with no Cole Cassels as he battles mono. With no Scott Laughton, Dal Colle, Josh Sterk, Hunter Smith, Sam Harding and rookie Cliff Pu will be counted on for goals. Everyone underestimated the Generals last season and I may be doing it again but I question how much scoring depth and experience on the blueline the Gens have. Jeremy Brodeur, son of future HHOF’er Martin Brodeau, is a goaltender to watch.
Key Questions: Travis Konecny surpassed everyone’s expectations in his rookie season as he moved up the depth chart and eventually won rookie of the year. Look for Dante Salituro to improve upon a great sophomore campaign and solidify himself as one of the OHL’s most dangerous offensive weapons. How good will Russian import Artur Tyanulin? I suspect he will be very good. Can the inexperienced but highly touted goaltending duo of Liam Herbst and Leo Lazarev quiet critics?
Key Questions: Remi Elie, Jordan Subban, David Tomasek and Brett Gustavsen are expected to put up the points. Rookie Brandon Saigeon was one of the drafts most talented forwards and should transition well into the league. On the blueline, I expect Justin Lemcke to raise his draft status with a strong season and rookie Cole Candella should earn big minutes quite quickly.
Key Questions: The Wolves traded away Matt Campagna and it appears Nick Baptiste will eventually moved out for future assets so it could be a long season in Sudbury. However, the Wolves are bringing in two new faces from the import draft in Ivan Kashtanov and Pavel Jenys who will certainly excite the fan base. Is sophomore David Zeppieri ready to breakout and become a regular contributor? Look for Kyle Capobianco to earn more minutes and show his first round talents on the blue line.
OHL Championship Series: Kingston Frontenacs vs. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
OHL Champions: Kingston Frontenacs
Red Tilson Trophy (OHL MVP) - Connor McDavid, Erie Otters
Honourable Mentions: Robby Fabbri, Guelph Storm; Sam Bennett, Kingston Frontenacs
Wild Card Choice: Sonny Milano, Plymouth Whalers
OHL Goaltender of the Year – Alex Nedeljkovic, Plymouth Whalers
Honourable Mentions: Spencer Martin, Mississauga Steelheads; Mackenzie Blackwood, Barrie Colts
Wild Card Choice: Jeremy Helvig, Kingston Frontenacs
Max Kaminski Trophy (OHL Top Defenceman) – Darnell Nurse, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Honourable Mentions: Anthony DeAngelo, Sarnia Sting; Chris Bigras, Owen Sound Attack
Wild Card Choice: Vince Dunn, Niagara IceDogs
Eddie Powers Trophy (OHL Leading Scorer) – Connor McDavid, Erie Otters
Honourable Mentions: Robby Fabbri, Guelph Storm; Josh Ho-Sang, Windsor Spitfires
Wild Card Choice: Michael Dal Colle, Oshawa Generals (ya, not that “wild”)
Goal Scoring Leader –Robby Fabbri, Guelph Storm
Honourable Mentions: Michael Dal Colle, Oshawa Generals; Nick Baptiste, Sudbury Wolves
Wild Card Choice: Nick Ritchie, Peterborough Petes
Emms Family Award (ROY) – Pavel Zacha, Sarnia Sting
Honourable Mentions: Jakob Chychrun, Sarnia Sting; Mikey McLeod, Mississauga Steelheads
Wild Card Choice: Alex DeBrincat, Erie Otters
Leo Lalande Trophy (OHL Overage Player of the Year) – Mathew Campagna, Plymouth Whalers
Honourable Mentions: Garrett Hoey, Barrie Colts; Zac Leslie, Guelph Storm
Wild Card Choice: Joseph Blandisi, Barrie Colts
Matt Leyden Trophy (OHL Coach of the Year)- Jody Hull, Peterborough Petes
Honourable Mentions: Marty Williamson, Niagara IceDogs; Paul McFarland, Kingston Frontenacs
Wild Card Choice: Jeff Brown, Ottawa 67’s
To view the 2013-14 OHL Award winners, click here
What would your predictions look like?