We're nearly one third of the way through the 2010/2011 season, which means that it's probably safe to assume that the things we're seeing so far...are more than just flukes or minor trends. They may in fact be the reality of this season.
It's been a pretty entertaining and exciting season so far, with a lot of surprises (both good and bad).
Let's take a look at some of them.
10. Where is the Guelph Storm Offense?
Guelph currently sits in 6th in the Western Conference with a pretty respectable record, but perhaps surprisingly they have been weak offensively with among the lowest goals for per game in the league. Part of that lies with the Storm big three in Taylor Beck, Peter Holland, and Michael Latta, none of whom are currently in the top 20 of league scoring (and only Holland in the top 30). This from a group that had Beck at 4th in league scoring, Holland at 15th, and Latta 21st last year. All are in presumably their last OHL seasons and it was expected that these three Storm superstars would be up near the top of the OHL scoring race. Now it's not like they've been terrible as all three are averaging over a point per game, but it has to be said that more was expected. Maybe the blame falls on the the rest of the Storm for failing to provide any offensive support to their all star teammates, as the big three have accounted for a total of 64% of the Storm's goals so far this season. Hard to be dominant when a defense can focus nearly all of its attention on you.
9. Brampton Battalion Staying Strong
Stan Butler deserves a ton of credit. The Battalion are staying afloat despite having one of the youngest defenses in the league. Considering that the Battalion and Butler play their famous defensively oriented system, and this is even more impressive. Considering that the team is icing four OHL rookies (Auld, Abraham, Blujus, McIvor) in critical defensive situations, I'd say Butler has to be a candidate for OHL coach of the year if Brampton can stay above .500.
8. Michael Houser Stealing the Time
The London Knights are having a pretty good season so far on the strength of some outstanding goaltending from second year guy Michael Houser. When the Knights took Igor Bobkov in the Import Draft and it was stated the Ducks draft pick would be playing for London, many assumed he'd end up getting the majority of the starts. In a twist of fate, it's been Bobkov riding the pine while the undrafted Houser (went through the 2010 unselected) has been stealing the show.
7. Garrett Wilson Attacks the League
The Owen Sound Attack are playing great hockey right now and are among the leaders of the Western Conference. One of the main reasons for that has been the play of captain Garrett Wilson. Wilson made great strides last year in becoming a more consistent scoring threat, finishing the year in the top 50 of league scoring and the top 20 of goal scoring (with 36). This year has been a whole other story, as Wilson leads the league in goal scoring (with 19 in 19 games) and is third in points. This is the type of progression you like to see from power forwards in their 19 year old season.
6. Saginaw Spirit Got it Going On
The Spirit took a LOT of flak for trading Nick Crawford and T.J. Brodie last year in the midst of playoff contention (they ended up finishing 6th in the West). But G.M. Todd Watson is looking like a genius now with his club sitting on top of the Western Conference thanks in part to the youth they brought in and the goaltending of overager Mavric Parks. Preseason predictions for the Spirit were all over the map, from among the league's worst, to among the league's best, which tells you that a lot of people just weren't sure what to expect. Well now we can expect they'll continue to improve on the way to a possible Memorial Cup representation.
5. Jack Campbell and the Windsor Spitfires
Things were really rough for the much hyped first round pick and the Spitfires early in the season. Campbell was getting booed and the Spits were looking pretty bad. Things have definitely gotten better and the Spits currently sit 4th in the Western Conference, but Campbell is still working towards respectability (currently sporting a 3.69 GAA and a .885 Sv %). Then it came out this week that the Spits might look to move him (Coming Down the Pipe) on top of fielding offers for Ellis and Kassian. Needless to say, things likely haven't gone the way Campbell expected they would when he signed on to play for Windsor.
4. The Other Ryan Show
When it was announced that Ryan Ellis was heading back to Windsor (again), many were assuming that Ellis would be the leading candidate to lead the OHL in defenseman scoring. But it's been another Ryan leading the way; Kitchener defenseman Ryan Murphy. After scoring 39 points as a rookie last year, Murphy is already at 31 points this season and is running away with the defenseman scoring title (13 points ahead of Ellis). In fact, Murphy is on pace to be the first OHL defenseman to score 100 points since Jamie Rivers in 1994, and the first to score 30 goals since fellow Ranger Allan Rourke in 2000. Considering that Rivers and Rourke did it in their 19 and 20 year old seasons, and Murphy is 17, pretty damn impressive if it happens.
3. The Peterborough Pete Implosion
Many were expecting great things from the Petes this year. They were to be an experienced squad with a lot of high end offensive talent. Preseason prognostications had them as a contender for the East Division. Then it all changed. Missiaen, Sedlak, and Doornbosch were all sent packing. Then the season started with disastrous results. Then several depth players were sent home. Then Bryce O'Hagan was acquired for draft picks, to try and rectify the goaltending issues (created by the release of Missiaen in favour of the inexperienced D'Agostini and Brown). Then Ryan Spooner is sent home to await a trade, which was recently completed with Kingston. All of this adds up to the second worst winning percentage in the league and a possibility of winning the Jack Ferguson Award when all is said and done.
2. Influx of European Talent
One of the biggest stories so far this season has to be the impact of OHL Import selections on the league. I can not remember the last time so many quality European players played in the league. Nearly every team has an import making a profound difference for their team, and the likes of Nail Yakupov, Gabriel Landeskog, Alexander Khokhlachev, Vladislav Namestnikov, among many others have taken the league by storm. For those that believe the import is bad for the CHL, this might not be the best time for them.
1. A Major Offensive
Who's the best offensive team in the OHL? OK, so it's not the Mississauga Majors. But they do have the third best offense in the league right now at 4.35 goals for per game (to the 4.45 goals per game the Attack and Rangers are putting up). It may not be the best, but it's certainly among the best which is surprising considering how much is made about the Majors being so defensively oriented (well they are first in GAA at 2.25). Maybe that's the reason the Majors are currently the top ranked team in the entire CHL. The Memorial Cup hosts still have that strong defense under coach Dave Cameron, but they've improved offensively to become quite the powerhouse. The next time you go to call the Majors a boring defensive team...stop and look at the stats.