Wednesday, September 23, 2015

2015/2016 Season Preview: Award Predictions

The 2015/16 season kicks off tomorrow. This award segment concludes my season preview. Let the games begin!

Red Tilson Trophy (MVP) - Mitch Marner
Really intrigued to see who takes this one home in 2015/16. Lots of terrific candidates (as there always are). For me, the front runner is Marner. One of the best offensive players in the league on what looks to be the best team in the league. Narrowly missed on winning the scoring title last year and has even more firepower to play with this year. There's no doubt that he'll miss time at the WJC's, but I see Marner right around where he was last year (~130 points) and I think that gets the job done. IMO his biggest competitor is Michael Dal Colle. As I mentioned in my East article, I see him really carrying the Generals to a surprisingly good season. Jared McCann is another good under the radar nominee, as he should crack the 100 point barrier for the first time in his OHL career and be the go to guy on a division winning club (like Dal Colle). Let's not forget about Andrew Mangiapane, Travis Konecny, and the reigning Eddie Powers winner Dylan Strome. Or, Marner's teammate Christian Dvorak, who might be the best two-way player in the league. Needless to say, the league is not devoid of talent.

OHL Goaltender of the Year - Mackenzie Blackwood
This award is Blackwood's to lose this year IMO. I expect the Colts to be one of the best teams in the OHL and Blackwood will be right at the forefront of that. The huge, athletic net minder is set to establish himself as one of the NHL's top goaltending prospects. I'd love to see Alex Nedeljkovic in the running, and I do expect him to be dealt at some point during the season, but his stat line probably won't be impressive enough to take home the award. A real wild card is Spencer Martin should he return. If he does, he is a definite contender. A dark horse could be Niagara's Brent Moran as the Dogs' defence is set to be so strong and he'll be looking to redeem himself after an up and down year last season. In reality, the biggest competitor to Blackwood is probably Brandon Halverson in the Soo. That said, I do think that newcomer Luke Opilka could also be right there in contention.

Max Kaminski Trophy (Top Defender) - Vince Dunn
A very wide open race this year. Really like the group of defenders gunning for this award. Niagara's Vince Dunn is my pick at this time. He's got such a strong supporting cast, which makes a big difference. He'll be able to have a lot of freedom offensively and his production in the second half last year was off the charts good (nearly a goal every other game). 2nd and 3rd choice for me would be Jakob Chychrun and Travis Dermott. Huge fan of both of these players, and both of these players will be so heavily relied upon by their OHL clubs (think 30+ minutes a night). Barrie's Rasmus Andersson, London's Victor Mete, and Kingston's Roland McKeown are also serious contenders. A dark horse would be Sean Day, as he looks to establish himself as a 1st round pick come June and prove the naysayers wrong. He certainly has the offensive support for it in Mississauga this year.

Emms Family Award (Rookie of the Year) - Max Jones
I think this award is ultimately going to go to a '98 born player and not a newly drafted '99 from the recent priority selection. Too many great young 98's entering the league this year (Jones, Sokolov, Juolevi, Sergachev, Hague). Having seen Jones play in the OHL now and having seen him play internationally, I can tell you that he's the real deal. While he was a bit quiet in the preseason, with the talent surrounding him, he's going to get more scoring chances than he can handle and it should result in him having a pretty sensational draft year (think 30/40). All that said, some of the OHL's top priority selections (99's) are entering the league in great offensive situations (especially Vilardi, McLeod, Tippett, Gallant, Gilmour, etc). In particular, Brady Gilmour did lead the league in preseason scoring. So who knows. A couple of dark horses would be Cam Dineen in North Bay (could be the team's power play QB), and Oshawa's Jack Studnicka (looks like he'll be given scoring line minutes off the bat and could be playing with Michael Dal Colle).

Leo Lalande Trophy (Overager of the Year) - Kevin Labanc
Had to change my prediction for this one after initially picking Trevor Murphy (but he's signed in Nashville). So now I'm going with returning Barrie Colt Kevin Labanc. Was terrific last year and should be better or at least equivalent this year. A dark horse could be Nathan Todd in Ottawa. He has great chemistry with Travis Konecny and I think he ends up being an 80 point player this year because of it. If we're talking other forwards, we've got to mention the likes of Stephen Harper, Jordan Maletta, Jake Marchment, Brandon Robinson, Nick Betz, Gabe Guertler, etc. In reality though, Todd's stiffest competition could come from a goaltender. Some really good OA goalies in the league this year (Peressini, Smith, Nichols, Williams, Flinn, etc). Of course I do expect some of those guys to change teams this year. If Spencer Martin and Ken Appleby return, they instantly become frontrunners too.

Matt Leyden Trophy (Coach of the Year) - Dale Hawerchuk
Currently outside the preseason CHL Top 10, I think the Colts are being criminally underrated right now. This is a very good team and I do think that they finish at the top of the Eastern Conference. Thus, Hawerchuk is my pick. With how strong London should be, Dale Hunter is an obvious preseason candidate too. And how good of a story would it be for Marty Williamson to win the award in Niagara, after everything he's been through in the last six months. If we're talking about other candidates, it starts with Greg Gilbert in Saginaw for me. He's won the award before and I mentioned in my West preview that I expect the Spirit to surprise a lot of people this year. First year coaches Mike Van Ryn, Bob Jones, Rocky Thompson, and Drew Bannister should also be considered candidates.

Eddie Powers Trophy (Scoring Champ) - Andrew Mangiapane
As much as I want to say that Mitch Marner, Dylan Strome, Michael Dal Colle and Christian Dvorak win this award, they will all miss a good chunk of time at the WJC's this year. That leaves the door open for a guy like Mangiapane to take the title. He's got lots of talent to work with in Barrie and he's coming off a 104 point season. If he can elevate his play 5 on 5, he should be a 130 point guy. Niagara's Josh Ho-Sang and Ottawa's Travis Konecny are somewhat underdogs here and should see great increases in production over last season.

Goal Scoring Leader - Michael Dal Colle
I expect him to have a real monster season in 2015/16. Hitting the 50 goal mark should be reachable for him, even with time spent at the WJC's. His release and scoring instincts are that good. Niagara's Brendan Perlini is also a serious candidate, as is Barrie's Brendan Lemieux. Two great goal scorers playing with some terrific playmakers. Of course, you can't count out the likes of Strome, Marner, and Alex Debrincat. London probably has another half dozen players who could be mentioned here too. A dark horse is Dylan Sadowy in Saginaw. A 40 goal scorer last year and I think the Spirit are a better team this year.

1st All Star Team
C: Mitch Marner
LW: Michael Dal Colle
RW: Alex Debrincat
D: Vince Dunn
D: Travis Dermott
G: Mackenzie Blackwood
Coach: Dale Hawerchuk

2nd All Star Team
C: Andrew Mangiapane
LW: Christian Dvorak
RW: Travis Konecny
D: Jakob Chychrun
D: Rasmus Andersson
G: Luke Opilka
Coach: Marty Williamson

3rd All Star Team
C: Dylan Strome
LW: Brendan Perlini
RW: Kevin Labanc
D: Roland McKeown
D: Victor Mete
G: Brandon Halverson
Coach: Greg Gilbert

All Rookie Team
C: Brady Gilmour
LW: Max Jones
RW: Owen Tippett
D: Olli Juolevi
D: Mikhail Sergachev
G: Michael Dipietro

As always, would love to hear your predictions in the comments section!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

2015/2016 Season Preview: Western Conference

Part two of my season preview looks at the Western Conference. While the West has good depth and a few really good teams, I do think that London is currently the cream of the crop. However, I do see the West Division being extremely competitive and a great battle between four teams (all of whom have a chance of taking the division crown). The 4-7 spots in the Conference should also be very competitive. All the teams that I have slated to finish in those spots are very interchangeable depending on different circumstances.

1. London Knights (Midwest Division Champs)
Easily the best team in the OHL on paper heading into the 2015/2016 season. The depth is just ridiculous right now, so much so that this team is definitely going to need to make some moves before the start of the season (they have 9 quality defenders for 6 active spots). Ditto for the forward position where they've got at least 15 capable players for only 12 game spots. If London was smart, they'd try to package a few of these young guys to pick up another quality top 4 defender (with experience), as I see that as the area they'll look to improve over the course of the season. At forward, you've got a bit of everything. Size, speed, and skill. In particular, I'm excited to see Max Jones and Matthew Tkachuk suit up in the OHL. In net, Tyler Parsons is a younger net minder, but he proved to be a capable starter last year and I don't think they'll need to upgrade there. As mentioned, if you're going to nitpick it's the defence. For as talented and deep as it is, it's relatively inexperienced. Adding another quality '96 (like a Roland McKeown or Alex Peters) would go a long way to making this team even more dominant.

2. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (West Division Champs)
As I mentioned, I think the West division will be incredibly tight this year. Four really good teams. So why the Greyhounds? I just really like the makeup of this younger team. They will be relying heavily on some younger players to take massive steps forward this year (Senyshyn, Gettinger, White, etc), but they still have a very solid veteran core (McCann, Speers, Hore, Guertler, Halverson, etc). Thanks to how well they've drafted over the past couple of years, they'll also work in some really interesting rookies (Kopacka, Katchouk, Hawel, etc). All of that points the Hounds in a positive direction, not just this year, but for years to come. One guy to really watch out for is Colton White on defence. I think he has a breakout year with increased ice time. Another situation to watch is in net where Brandon Halverson will have high expectations placed upon him and a talented draft eligible net minder (Raaymakers) breathing down his neck.

3. Kitchener Rangers
If Kitchener struggles this year, it will be a major disappointment. With a roster deep in '96 born talent, the Rangers were built for a run this year. That's why they went out and got Jake Paterson last year, to give this roster some playoff experience heading into this season. That said, I don't expect them to struggle. At forward, this team is very deep and very talented. This is especially true down the middle. Ryan MacInnis really needs to have a big year to prove his worth as a quality NHL prospect and his strong supporting cast should make that happen. The real difference maker could be the signing of Luke Opilka. That's because the weak spot of this team is definitely on defence (at least in comparison to the other top teams in the league). In reality, I think this team is a top 4 veteran defender (in particular an offensively oriented one) away from competing for the division against London.

4. Saginaw Spirit
Definitely a young team, but a team that I see surprising a lot of people this year. A well balanced roster   that has a lot of toughness and tenacity. On defence, Keaton Middleton and Markus Niemelainen are twin towers and Will Petschenig was a tremendous under the radar pickup. Chase Stewart is another underrated player and a tough guy to play against. In goal, Evan Cormier is a very good young goaltender who will be looking to impress in his draft season. Up front, the team is pretty young, but they are not short on talent. Dylan Sadowy will lead by example and I expect guys like Mitchell Stephens, Tye Felhaber, Artem Artemov, Jesse Barwell, etc to have big years too. Stephens, especially, can be a real difference maker at both ends of the ice. Also worth mentioning that first rounder Brady Gilmour lead the preseason in scoring, so we'll see what that means for his contribution this year. My ranking of them is definitely aggressive, but predictions are all about making bold statements and I see this Spirit team being a tough team to play against on a nightly basis.

5. Erie Otters
Offensively, this team is still going to be dynamic. Up front, the team boasts a terrific top 6 made up of Dylan Strome, Alex Debrincat, Nick Betz, Taylor Raddysh, Mason Marchment and likely Jake Marchment. Size, skill and experience. The power play for this team will be dynamite. But on the backend, Travis Dermott and Darren Raddysh can't be on the ice every minute of the game. The team just doesn't have much experience back there outside of those two, nor do they have much size. With all the high powered offences in the West, they could really struggle to keep the puck out of the net. This is especially true when you consider how inconsistent Devin Williams has been as an Otter. He's the key to their season this year (or Jake Lawr who is a former high selection who looked great this preseason). The goaltending is going to need to be stellar to help level out an inexperienced and undersized defence. If it's not, the Otters offence isn't going to be able to carry them consistently.

6. Sarnia Sting
I seem to be lower on this team than others. I certainly respect the possibility that Sarnia could be a top 4 team in the Conference (as I mentioned above), but I think pretty much everything would have to go right for that to happen. Here are my concerns: While this is definitely a veteran laden lineup up front, and they've got some good size there, I worry about the lack of difference makers skill wise. Jordan Kyrou is a great young player. Pavel Zacha can be a beast. Nikita Korostelev has to be better than last year. But, is Sarnia's offence better than Sault Ste. Marie's? Erie's? I don't think so. Defensively, again, some good veteran players, and Jakob Chychrun could be the Max Kaminsky winner if he's healthy. Also think that the Josh Jacobs acquisition will be huge for them. But, can Chychrun stay healthy? In net, the Sting face a predicament. Three net minders, all of which have yet to truly establish themselves as starters in this league. In addition to Chychrun's injury concerns, will Pavel Zacha survive a whole year? Will he even return from New Jersey? Tons of question marks here. I expect the Sting to still be a solid team, but I'm just not as high on them as other people seem to be.

7. Windsor Spitfires
Like Erie, the Spitfires should have a great offence. The additions of Christian Fischer and Bradley Latour should really help a team that struggled to score consistently last year. You have to figure that Logan Brown, Luke Kirwan, Hayden McCool, Gabriel Vilardi, and Daniil Vertiy will keep getting better too. No concerns up front. The concerns I have are defensively and in net. When you put those two together on the flag list, it can be pretty concerning. On defence, the team is really banking on Import rookie Mikhail Sergachev being a top pairing guy, and for 2014 first rounder Logan Stanley to take a massive step forward. Trevor Murphy would have been the veteran leader, but he recently signed with Nashville. That's a huge blow. In net, who really knows. Rookie Michael Dipietro?  Sophomore Brendan Johnston? FA signee Mario Culina? The team just acquired overager Michael Giugovaz too (although I see him as a short term stop gap until others get healthy). Not a ton of experience there and that has to be concerning. At the end of the day, the Spits will probably need an Alex Nedeljkovic, J.P. Anderson style rookie season from Dipietro to push them into home ice advantage in round one. Or they'll hit the trade market (for someone better than Giugovaz).

8. Owen Sound Attack
Quite frankly, I don't expect any of these bottom three teams in the West to be particularly good this year. But one of them is going to make the playoffs and I think the Attack have the best chance. Owen Sound is going to have their difficulties scoring goals (no one on their roster has scored 25 goals in the OHL before). But they do have a hard nosed group of forwards who will wear you down and work hard for the production they do manage to create. In particular, I expect Jonah Gadjovich and Liam Dunda to have nice breakout seasons (potential 20 goal guys). The bread and butter is a solid defensive unit led by solid two-way guys in Thomas Schemitsch, Damir Sharipzyanov, and Santino Centorame. Size and physicality is a trait that their defence also possesses. However the team was dealt a big blow when Schemitsch broke his wrist at the Panthers rookie camp. He won't return until (likely) November. In net, one of Jack Flinn or Michael McNiven will provide steady goaltending (I expect one to be dealt this year). Team defence and physical play should allow the Attack to grind out enough victories for them to reach the postseason.

9. Flint Firebirds
Another team changing locations that I expect to have some difficulties this year (along with Hamilton). For Flint it's all about preventing goals. Alex Nedeljkovic is one of the best, if not the best, goaltenders in the OHL. He'll do his best to help this Firebirds team win hockey games once he recovers fully from offseason hip surgery. On defence, the team has a solid group of veteran blue liners (Alex Peters, Mathieu Henderson, and Josh Wesley), in addition to OA acquisition Zach Pittman, and rookie import Vili Saarijarvi. However, offensively the team is quite void of legitimate, veteran talent. Will Bitten is a great young player, but as we've seen time, and time again, sophomores just can't handle the offensive load alone and it's unfair to ask Bitten to do so. Another factor that leads me to believe that Flint will finish out of the playoffs is that I anticipate them to be active on the trade market as sellers. Guys like Nedeljkovic, Peters, Wesley, etc would bring back pretty nice returns. The Firebirds will already have two top picks in 2016, so it would be smart for them to rebuild for a run again in a few years, rather than try to sneak into the playoffs.

10. Guelph Storm
Going to be a very long year in Guelph IMO. I definitely really like some of the younger talent the team has (Noah Carroll, Givani Smith), and CJ Garcia is criminally underrated. But this Storm team just doesn't have the talent or depth to compete with the big boys of the West. Obviously, the one wild card is Robby Fabbri. But even if he returns (which I don't think he will), I anticipate that he'll be traded pretty quickly. Ditto for Justin Nichols, who should generate a lot of interest from teams looking to improve their goaltending situation (his wealth of playoff experience should be very attractive). At forward, the two Tylers (Boston and Hill) look ready to lead the team offensively, but again, I just don't see the depth (and experience) necessary to win in the West. It's probably a toss up between Flint and Guelph for last, depending on who starts rebuilding first. Along with the Frontenacs, I see both as front runners for the Jack Ferguson (first overall) in 2016.

Monday, September 21, 2015

2015/2016 Season Preview: Eastern Conference

The 2015/16 OHL season starts up this week and that means it's prediction time. As always, predicting the OHL can be a bit of a crapshoot. NHL teams may choose to keep certain players on their roster and that can negatively impact an OHL team. Would I have the Generals as high as I do if Michael Dal Colle cracks the Islanders roster? Definitely not. But I'm operating under assumptions with these rankings. Assumptions that certain players will return. Assumptions that certain players will take massive steps forward in their development. And even, assumptions that certain players could be, and will be traded.

The Eastern Conference looks quite solid again this year. While I would say London is the current favourite, there are a bunch of teams in this Conference that could really challenge them for superiority (Barrie and Niagara especially). It's also very deep in talent. Teams like Mississauga, and Sudbury should be much improved. Teams like Oshawa and North Bay have lost a lot of talent, but they still remain solid squads. It should be quite the dogfight for the 7-8 spots in the Conference.

1. Barrie Colts (Central Division Champs)
The Central Division is the the cream of the crop of the Conference, and I would even say the entire OHL going into the season. Barrie, Niagara, and Mississauga all have the capability to take the division and the Conference, depending on how things shake down in the first month. Right now, I'm giving it to the Colts. Very veteran laden lineup that has 3 solid scoring lines. The return of Kevin Labanc was huge and a big boost to an already deep lineup. This team already has great chemistry too, with their key offensive stars returning from last year. The defence is underrated. Michael Webster and Brandon Prophet are two key guys who don't get enough credit (Prophet has really turned the corner following the trade from Saginaw). And in net, you've got Mackenzie Blackwood, who could very well be the best goalie in the OHL this year. On top of Blackwood being a top contender for the Goalie of the Year, the Colts also have top contenders for the Red Tilson (Mangiapane) and the Max Kaminsky (Rasmus Andersson). I just like the makeup of this team.

2. Oshawa Generals (East Division Champs)
A VERY wide open division heading into the season. I don't think Oshawa, Ottawa, or Peterborough have exceptionally strong teams, but you know that one of them will emerge as better than expected. For me, I think that's still the Generals. That might surprise some people, but here's why. I still think that the Generals have a solid group of top 6 forwards. Michael Dal Colle should definitely be back, and guys like Anthony Cirelli, Sam Harding, Joe Manchurek, etc all look poised to excel in larger roles. Plus, import Lukas Lofquist has apparently looked great. You then throw in a wildcard like Matt Mistele returning, and you've got a solid group. On defence, the team is very underrated. Vande Sompel and Desrocher return as top 4 defenders from their Memorial Cup champion squad, and the team picked up veteran Jacob Graves to help mentor other younger players. In net, I do expect Ken Appleby to be back. Most seem to think that he signs in New Jersey after camp, but I think they'll be patient and return him. And even if that doesn't happen, Jeremy Brodeur should be ready for a larger role as he's proven this preseason. Again, this is a wide open division, but I think Oshawa has what it takes to bring it home.

3. Niagara IceDogs
Easily a top 2 team in the Conference heading into the season. They've got possibly the best defence in the entire OHL, a squad led by 5 terrific 96's (Dunn, Siebenaler, Mantha, Haydon, Mikulovich). The way this team played in the 2nd half of last year is the way I expect this team to begin the first half of this year. So why do I have the Dogs behind the Colts right now? For as good as their defence is, I do think that their goaltending has some question marks, just as it did last year. Brent Moran should be improved this year, but it's not a sure thing. Stephen Dhillon looked great in the preseason, but he doesn't have much experience. Offensively, I think they're about par with the Colts. I expect Josh Ho-Sang and Brendan Perlini to have monster years. In particular, Ho-Sang should be highly motivated after his highly publicized cut from Islanders training camp. And they've got some quality young players who should be able to provide scoring depth (such as Chris Paquette, who was great this preseason). As I said, super tight battle and I do expect both teams to crack the 90 point mark.

4. Mississauga Steelheads
The real wild card of the Conference. I honestly wouldn't be surprised if this team ends up winning the Conference (I could see them being aggressive on the trade market). Maybe Spencer Martin returns and quells the team's goaltending concerns. Maybe Jimmy Lodge returns and provides even more scoring depth to a team that already has an abundance of it. Maybe Sean Day takes that next step forward as one of the league's best defenders? If all three of those things happen, this team is right there near the top. As it is, this team is solid though. Good mix of veteran leadership (Burnside, Cianfrone) with young talent (McLeod(s), Nylander, Bastian, etc). Make no mistake, this is not the Steelheads team that had trouble scoring the last few seasons. Defensively, I expect this group to be fine. Lots of experience and several players who will be looking to prove something (Day, Leblanc, Walsh). Nick Hague was a dynamite pickup too. The obvious question mark, as I've already stated, is in net. If Martin returns, no worries. If he doesn't (and it's starting to look that way to me), this team needs to go out and acquire a goaltender. Not two months into the season. Right away. The team's goaltending in the preseason was downright awful. Should be several guys on the market from rebuilding teams and they need to bring them in quickly if they're serious about being a contender.

5. Peterborough Petes
Might get some flak for putting the Petes ahead of the 67's, but I call it like I see it. Peterborough has really disappointed the past few seasons, but I think this is the year they finally put it together (at least to some extent). While the team does go into the season with some question marks offensively, their core group has tons of experience (Cornel, Lorentz, Betzold, Garlent), and I expect guys like Jonathan Ang, Logan DeNoble, Zach Gallant, and Adam Timleck to be capable contributors. Defensively, the team has a very solid top 4; a top 4 that should be quite hard to play against (Masin, Spencer, Lizotte among them). The real wild card is in net. It's tough to expect a young goaltender to be able to carry a team, but I see great potential in Dylan Wells. He was great in spurts last year. He was great for Team Canada at the Ivan Hlinka. I think he's ready for a starring role and I see him as the real difference maker this season, as he emerges as a star in the Ontario Hockey League.

6. Ottawa 67's
Receiving a ton of praise right now in the media (e.g. honorable mention in the CHL preseason top 10), but I'm just not buying it. Will they be a solid team? Absolutely. But I just don't think they've got the depth (especially on defence) to hang with some of the big boys in the Conference. This team will score a lot of goals. Travis Konecny and Dante Salituro are in for big years. And I really like OA's Sam Studnicka and Nathan Todd. But preventing goals will be the issue, just like last year. Jacob Middleton is going to be relied upon to be the team's number one, and as much as I like him as a player, I don't think he's the type of guy who can do everything himself. If anything, history has proven that his game is at its best when kept simple. And outside of Middleton, Nevin Guy and Evan De Haan are really the only ones with any experience...AND one of them has to go (can't see the 67's trading Studnicka or Todd). Liam Herbst is a good goalie. But he's not a great one (yet). With the amount of rubber he's going to face, some of his faults could be exposed (rebound control, quickness). The 67's will be able to beat up on the weaker teams in the league because of their offence, but when it comes to playing the big boys, I could see them struggling (thus a finish in the middle of the Conference).

7. North Bay Battalion
Stan Butler always seems to get it done. Just like Mike Vellucci (formerly of Plymouth), Butler seems to be in the thick of the playoff race every year. True rebuilds rarely happen. That's because Butler always seems to get the best out of his 19 and 20 year old players. Armed with a very solid group of overagers (Mathew Santos, Miles Liberati, and Jake Smith), the Battalion should manage to remain competitive. Sometimes it won't be pretty (this team could have some difficulty scoring goals consistently), but I have faith that they'll keep their heads above water. The real test for Butler this year is an exceptionally green defensive group. Outside of Kyle Wood and Miles Liberati, this team doesn't really have anyone with significant experience. And they just lost first rounder Brady Lyle for a few months. But, as I said, I have faith that a team defense approach can get the job done enough for the Battalion to sneak into the playoffs.

8. Sudbury Wolves
I'm seeing them at the bottom of the Conference in a lot of predictions. I think people are underrating this team based on how horrible they were last year. Will the Wolves be a great team? No. But do they have a shot of being a playoff team? I certainly think so. The team has a very young forward group, but they are very talented. There will be games where they will be blanked, but there will be others where the likes of Dmitri Sokolov, David Levin, Michael Pezzetta, Brady Petaki, and crew will be electric. Throw in veterans like Jacob Harris, Matt Schmalz and (potentially) Pavel Jenys, and you've got yourself a solid group of forwards. Defensively, the team is inexperienced. But Kyle Capobianco is better than people realize and I think he really takes a step forward as a defensive player this year. Patrick Murphy was a solid, under the radar acquisition too. And in net, Troy Timpano is also better than people realize. If I were the Wolves, I'd be talking to London right now about their glut of defenders to try and strengthen their group. But as is, I still like the potential of this young team to surprise people.

9. Hamilton Bulldogs
This is a way lower position than I'm seeing in a lot of predictions, so maybe I get criticized for this one. Especially since they were solid in the preseason. But I stand by it. This is a team that has struggled the last two seasons, even though they squeaked into the playoffs as an under .500 team last year. From last year's team they're losing their top two scorers (Subban and Gustavsen) and 4 of their top 7 goal scorers (Welychka and Tomasek, along with the other two). They're also losing 3 of their top 4 defenders from last year (Subban, Yuill, Bignell). I expect Stephen Harper to have a big year as an overage player (especially now that he's back at forward), but I don't have enough confidence in the supporting cast to score enough to overcome their extremely raw defence (Justin Lemcke is being counted on to be the top defender and leader as the only guy with 2 seasons under his belt). And yes, Charlie Graham is a good goaltender, but he's been one the last few years too and that hasn't helped the franchise be a playoff contender. Bottom line is that this team's rebuild hasn't gone according to plan and they'd be smart to deal away Harper and Graham for picks to secure a top 3 pick in 2016. That could set them up for a nice run in the next couple of years. Tough call though, as they're trying to sell the game in a new OHL environment and get butts in the seats.

10. Kingston Frontenacs
Tough call, but I just can't see the Fronts being a playoff team this year. The top end talent level is undeniable (Crouse, Watson, McKeown, Peressini). But the depth is almost non existent. Kingston just hasn't drafted well enough outside the first round in recent years and it's hurt them going into this year. The team would be wise to trade those aforementioned star players to bring in some quality young OHL players and draft picks, to truly start a rebuild. Even trading a guy like Crouse would be a smart move, because I don't expect him to be in the OHL for two more years (if he even comes back this year). The return for those four guys could net the Fronts at least 3 quality 98's and a boatload of 2nd/3rd round picks. Best case scenario, those four really step up their games and Kingston squeaks into the playoffs in a weak division. Worst case scenario, the team trades those 4 players and are the clear front runner for the Jack Ferguson. But…in my opinion, the even worse case scenario is the team hanging on to its stars and getting nothing for them, setting the Fronts back even further (when they'll be even worse off in 2016/2017).

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Sunday Top 10 - Performers of the 2015 Preseason

The 2015 preseason is over and the regular season is just around the corner. It's time to take a look at some of the top performances of this year's exhibition action.

As always, this list is populated by players without NHL affiliations (first or second year players, and undrafted veterans), because they get into more games.

Here were the preseason standings (ignoring divisions):

Eastern Conference
1. Barrie Colts (5-1, .833)
2. Niagara IceDogs (3-2, .600)
3. Hamilton Bulldogs (3-2, .600)
4. Oshawa Generals (3-2, .600)
5. North Bay Battalion (2-2, .500)
6. Sudbury Wolves (2-2, .500)
7. Kingston Frontenacs (1-1, .500)
8. Ottawa 67's (1-2, .333)
9. Peterborough Petes (1-3, .250)
10. Mississauga Steelheads (1-3, .250)

Western Conference
1. London Knights (4-0, 1.00)
2. Kitchener Rangers (3-1, .750)
3. Sarnia Sting (4-2, .666)
4. Saginaw Spirit (2-2, .500)
5. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (1-1, .500)
6. Guelph Storm (2-3, .400)
7. Erie Otters (1-3, .250)
8. Owen Sound Attack (1-3, .250)
9. Windsor Spitfires (1-4, .200)
10. Flint Firebirds (0-3, .000)

This year, the OHL finally decided to join the 21st century and keep preseason stats, box scores, and standings. This obviously makes my job easier as I no longer have to comb through game reports and twitter feeds for unofficial and inaccurate stats. 

So here are this year's top 10 Preseason performers:

10. Chris Paquette - Niagara IceDogs
Paquette is a player I expect to have a big year in Niagara. Tons of offensive talent for him to play with, and he's certainly no slouch in that area. The draft eligible forward is terrific with the puck and has great finishing ability, as evidenced by his 4 goals this preseason. That type of production should continue as he gets ice time in key offensive situations.

9. Ben Garagan - Sudbury Wolves
Garagan has been the surprise of camp for the Sudbury Wolves thus far. A 5th round pick in this year's draft, Garagan beat out higher selections to earn a roster spot. Part of the reason for that was his great production in the preseason with 4 goals. We'll see if he can keep it up all year, but so far he's looking like a steal for a team that seems to be rebuilding the right way.

8. Tyler Parsons - London Knights
Parsons has a very big opportunity in front of him this year. The Knights should be a Memorial Cup contender and Parsons is draft eligible for the first time. With a strong season, he could establish himself as a top 100 selection. So far so good after stopping 61 of 63 shots this preseason, recording wins in both contests he played in.

7. Kenny Huether - Oshawa Generals
Undersized 2nd year forward who apparently came to camp this year in terrific shape, adding strength in order to ensure he makes more of a consistent offensive impact. He played a depth role last year in Oshawa but certainly has an opportunity to secure a top 6 role this season. With  a 4 goal, 2 assist preseason, he's well on his way to doing that.

6. Tyler Boston - Guelph Storm
Guelph's going to be in a tough spot this year, with a very inexperienced roster. They seem to be a consensus selection for the bottom of the Conference. However, 2nd year forward Tyler Boston was terrific in the preseason (3 goals, 3 assists) and looks to be ready for the increased role he'll have to take on this season. If they hope to be competitive, their 2nd year players like Boston (and Carroll, Smith, etc) will have to carry them.

5. Michael Webster - Barrie Colts
Overage defender looks poised to have a very big year on a very good offensive team. With 3 goals and 3 assists in the preseason, Webster has shown that he can handle the increased offensive expectations being placed on him. He'll be counted on as a team leader and a top defender and should be one of the league's breakout stars.

4. Olli Juolevi - London Knights
The Knights looked pretty damn good this preseason, and look well on their way to meeting the high expectations being placed on them early. Their best player this preseason? Rookie defender Olli Juolevi, who had 2 goals and 1 assist in 4 games played and looked like a force at both ends of the ice. He's being touted as a potential top 10 selection come June and that looks pretty accurate to me thus far.

3. Stephen Dhillon - Niagara IceDogs
Fresh off a decent performance at the Ivan Hlinka, Dhillon came to camp very focused and prepared to earn the club's backup spot behind Brent Moran. Considering he didn't let in a single goal this preseason (68 for 68), I'd say he accomplished that and then some. Moran has a lot to prove this year (and I do think he'll have a bounce back season), but it must be comforting to the Dogs that they've got another goalie ready and waiting.

2. Anthony Salinitri - Sarnia Sting
Speedy draft eligible forward looks to be in for a very big year after leading the OHL preseason in goal scoring with 6. Sarnia has a pretty experienced forward group, but not without question marks about who'll be putting the puck in the net. Definitely encouraging to see the improvement Salinitri has shown thus far.

1. Brady Gilmour - Saginaw Spirit
The 6th overall pick in this year's draft, Gilmour was sensational in the preseason. With 8 points (3 goals, 5 assists) in 4 games, Gilmour led the OHL in scoring during the exhibition season. As you'll find out in my upcoming season preview, I have high expectations for the Spirit this year and that's because of a potentially high octane offence, of which Gilmour will be a part of.

Honorable Mention:

Andrew Mangiapane - Barrie Colts
When I release my season preview, you'll see that I've got pretty high expectations for Mangiapane this year. 2 goals and 4 assists in the preseason. This Colts team is going to be a force offensively this year (especially with the return of Kevin Labanc).

Boris Katchouk - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
The Greyhounds only played 2 exhibition games this year, but Katchouk was a factor in both, finishing with 2 goals and 2 assists. The OHL rookie is one of the top 98's who didn't see full time OHL action last year and thus expectations are high for his involvement in Sault Set. Marie's offence this year. He should be a quick riser on draft lists.

Sean Day - Mississauga Steelheads
It's a really big year for Day, as he looks to prove the naysayers wrong. The Steelheads hope to be one of the top teams in the East this year and Day will need to be a difference maker at both ends if they hope to accomplish that. With 3 goals in the preseason, he's at least showed thus far that he's willing to be a bit more aggressive this year.

Lucas Chiodo - Barrie Colts
Pint sized rookie who was one of the last selections of the 2014 priority draft. The 5'6 forward really forced his way into Barrie's plans this year with a 6 point effort this preseason (4 goals, 2 assists). Scoring depth is invaluable and Chiodo might be able to provide that this year.

Taylor Raddysh - Erie Otters
Only played 3 games this preseason, but Raddysh was very effective with 2 goals and 3 assists. The draft eligible winger is going to be a very important player for the Otters this year as they try to establish themselves as one of the top 4 teams in the Conference, despite losing Connor McDavid. 

Sam Harding - Oshawa Generals
A very intelligent two-way center who should have been drafted last year IMO. This year, he'll take on a more critical role in Oshawa's offence and will be able to showcase his abilities offensively. Looked good this preseason with 2 goals and 3 assists. 

Adam Mascherin - Kitchener Rangers
Mascherin looked very good this preseason for Kitchener and seems to be poised for a very big draft season. He had 1 goal and 4 assists in 5 games, but in the one game I saw, he also hit a few posts. 

Michael Pezzetta - Sudbury Wolves
Usually the theme of the preseason is "breakout 2nd year players." Count Pezzetta as one of those. Only played in 2 games for the Wolves, but he had 2 goals and 2 assists in those contests. The draft eligible forward and former first rounder should definitely be better than last year.

Noah Carroll - Guelph Storm
I have very high expectations for this draft eligible defender this year. Reminds me a ton of Travis Dermott. Very poised for his age/experience. He had a terrific preseason with 1 goal and 3 assists and was one of the few Storm players to finish the preseason with a positive +/-

Other Top Performers (Organized By Team):

Barrie Colts
Ben Hawerchuk (1G, 5A)
Roy Radke (3G, 2A)
Julius Nattinen (2G, 2A)
Ruan Badenhorst (.953 Sv%, 1.62 GAA)

Erie Otters
Kyle Maksimovich (2G, 2A)
T.J. Fergus (1G, 3A)
Jake Lawr (0.50 GAA, .971 Sv%)

Flint Firebirds
Will Bitten (3A)
Jacob Collins (2G)

Guelph Storm
Tyler Hill (3G, 2A)
CJ Garcia (2G, 1A)

Hamilton Bulldogs
Stephen Harper (2G, 2A)
Jack Hanley (1G, 3A)
Joseph Mizzi (3G)

Kingston Frontenacs
Jason Robertson (2G)
Jared Steege (2G)

Kitchener Rangers
Darby Llewellyn (3G)
Elijah Roberts (3A)
Luke Opilka (0.00 GAA, 1.00 Sv%)

London Knights
Aaron Berisha (1G, 5A)
JJ Piccinich (1G, 2A)
Brandon Crawley (1G, 2A)

Mississauga Steelheads
Michael McLeod (1G, 2A)
Bryson Cianfrone (3A)

Niagara IceDogs
Mikkel Aagaard (1G, 4A)
Zach Wilkie (1G, 2A)

North Bay Battalion
Max Kislinger (2G, 1A)
Mathew Santos (2G, 1A)
Kyle Moore (2G, 1A)

Oshawa Generals
Joe Manchurek (3G, 1A)
Jack Studnicka (1G, 3A)
Jeremy Brodeur (2.10 GAA, .925 Sv%)

Ottawa 67's
Sam Studnicka (2G, 1A)
Artur Tyanulin (2G, 1A)

Owen Sound Attack
Nick Suzuki (1G, 4A)
Petrus Palmu (3G, 1A)

Peterborough Petes
Jonathan Ang (1G, 3A)
Cam Lizotte (2G)

Saginaw Spirit
Cole Coskey (3G, 1A)
Artem Artemov (2G, 2A)
Keaton Middleton (1G, 3A)
Kiril Maksimov (2G, 2A)
Tye Felhaber (3G)

Sarnia Sting
Patrick White (4G)
Nikita Korostelev (2G, 2A)
Kevin Spinozzi (4A)
Justin Fazio (2.00 GAA, .935 Sv%)

Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Hayden Verbeek (1G, 3A)
Keigan Goetz (1G, 2A)

Sudbury Wolves
David Levin (3A)
Nicholas Romero (2G)
Troy Timpano (.919 Sv%)

Windsor Spitfires
Gabriel Vilardi (1G, 4A)
Logan Brown (3G)
Daniil Vertiy (3G)
Mikhail Sergachev (3A)

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Sunday Top 10 - Breakout Players for 2015/2016

One of the great things about the OHL is the improvement that players show from one season to the next. Whether it's strength, confidence, increased playing time, or a combination of all three, there are several players in the league who "breakout," each season. The list below aims to highlight 10 players from each age group who could have very good years in 2015/16.

1998 Born
Jonathan Ang - Peterborough Petes
Not worried about Peterborough's goaltending or defence, but they'll need a couple of players to step up as offensive stars. Ang looks like he could be that guy, with a dynamic offensive skill set and added strength.

Jakob Chychrun - Sarnia Sting
Maybe a bit of a stretch putting him on this list, but the reality is…if he's healthy, I expect him to establish himself as a best defenseman in the entire OHL and the likely winner of the Defenseman of the Year award.

Cam Dineen - North Bay Battalion
A first year player transferring from the EHL, where he lead all defenseman in scoring and was rookie of the year. This is not an easy league for young players to star in. With some graduations, North Bay will need someone to step up as a puck mover and power play QB and I expect that to be Dineen.

Tye Felhaber - Saginaw Spirit
Looked very impressive at the Hlinka camp and I think he's in for a big season as part of an underrated Saginaw club that could surprise with speed, skill, and tenacity.

Jonah Gadjovich - Owen Sound Attack
Really liked this player last year and I think he's got a lot of potential as a power forward in this league. The Attack could struggle to score a bit, but I think Gadjovich has a solid season and establishes himself as a top 3 round candidate for 2017 (late birthday).

Tim Gettinger - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Hulking winger who is coming off a solid showing at the Ivan Hlinka. Tons of skill in Sault Set. Marie's lineup, even with graduations, and they'll need a big guy to finish in close. Gettinger could be in for a big draft season.

Jordan Kyrou - Sarnia Sting
Tremendous young playmaker with feet that never stop moving, Kyrou should see a significant spike in his production this year on a much improved Sarnia team.

Michael McLeod - Mississauga Steelheads
I think McLeod is poised to emerge as one of the league's serious breakout stars this year. His speed and strength coming down the wing and off the wall, makes him a serious scoring threat. Combine that with an improved offensive supporting cast and I could see McLeod as a 40 goal scorer.

Victor Mete - London Knights
London is going to have some serious firepower up front this year. Someone has to get them the puck and run that power play. Look for Mete to be in the top 5 of defensive scoring this year.

Dylan Wells - Peterborough Petes
Back stopped Canada to a gold at the Hlinka and I see him coming into camp with the Petes and grabbing hold of the starting job within the first month of the season (no offence meant to Matthew Mancina).

HM's: Givani Smith (GUE) & Christopher Paquette (NIA)

1997 Born
Noah Carroll - Guelph Storm
I don't think the Storm are going to be a great team this year (with, or without Fabbri), but Carroll should emerge as the team's top defender and a possible top 3 round candidate in 2016.

Anthony Cirelli - Oshawa Generals
Last year Cirelli emerged as one of the biggest surprises in the league (a free agent signing by OSH), and I expect him to take that next step this coming year. From complimentary offensive piece to standout offensive catalyst. Should be a 70+ point player.

Luke Kirwan - Windsor Spitfires
We've seen it time, and time again. Players transferring from the USHL (or NTDP) tend to struggle in their first year in the OHL. Kirwan needs a big bounce back year to put himself back in conversation for the first round in 2016 and I think we'll see that.

Mason Kohn - Kitchener Rangers
I thought he was under utilized by Kitchener's management last year, as shown by his strong performance in the playoffs when he saw more ice time. Kitchener has a veteran laden team, but it's Kohn that I expect to really see a jump in production from.

Travis Konecny - Ottawa 67's
Already an established point per game player, I expect Konecny to really take that next step offensively to break into the top 10 of scoring in the league (which makes him a 90 point player).

Brett McKenzie - North Bay Battalion
Stan Butler often brings his forwards along slowly and I was shocked to see McKenzie not drafted in 2015. But I think he's a very talented player who is going to get his chance to center a scoring line now (with power play time).

Tyler Parsons - London Knights
At this point, I think we all expect London to be quite the powerhouse this year. And Parsons should be the goaltender along for this ride. He's more than just a pawn though. Parsons is a quality goaltending prospect who should gain a lot of confidence from playing behind a strong team.

Zach Senyshyn - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
The surprise of the 2015 draft (for most people), Senyshyn is a legit prospect who's going to get lots of ice time (and power play time) in the Soo this year. Look for a big time breakout from the goal scorer (35+ goals).

Mitchell Stephens - Saginaw Spirit
Was terrific in the 2nd half of last year and sensational at the U18's, parlaying that into a 2nd round draft selection. Confidence should be high heading into the season and I think he'll have a great year with a strong supporting cast (think 80+ points).

Colton White - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Loved this player last year and I think he's poised for a big time breakout. With all the graduations in the Soo, White could potentially be a first pairing defender this year and see tons of power play time. One of the league's breakout defensive stars.

HM's: Evan Cormier (SAG), Liam Dunda (OS), Nikita Korostelev (SAR), & Cam Lizotte (PTB)

1996 Born
Zach Bratina - North Bay Battalion
Struggled to stay on the ice last year, but he was effective when he played. I look for him to emerge as North Bay's top offensive weapon on the wing, on a team with some solid depth down the middle. A Stan Butler type of player who I think scores 30 this year.

Blake Clarke - Saginaw Spirit
Have to feel for Clarke after the last two seasons have not gone according to plan. Not ready to give up on him yet though. Finally healthy, I think he puts himself back on the map with a 25 goal season.

Stephen Desrocher - Oshawa Generals
Loved what I saw from Desrocher in the playoffs and the Memorial Cup, when he was seeing top 4 ice time. He'll get even more this year and should be poised for a big time breakout. I expect him to be in the top 10 of defensive scoring.

C.J. Garcia - Guelph Storm
Along with Carroll, Garcia should emerge as a top defender on Guelph. I didn't like the Harpur deal for Barrie at the time and still don't like it. Garcia is criminally underrated and I think he's a 35+ point player this year.

Josh Ho-Sang - Niagara IceDogs
With back to back 80+ point seasons, it may seem odd to see Ho-Sang's name on this list. However, I think this year becomes his true breakout, where he cracks the top 10 of OHL scoring and hits that 100 point mark.

Ryan MacInnis - Kitchener Rangers
The most important player in Kitchener's lineup this year. They really need him to step up and lead this club offensively. With his skill set, I do think he steps up to the challenge in his final year in the league.

Jacob Middleton - Ottawa 67's
Has established himself as a very solid player in his own end at this point, but the offensive game had yet to really come around…until this season. I think Middleton really breakouts out as a two-way star on one of the East's top teams.

Roland McKeown - Kingston Frontenacs
Like Chris Bigras last year, I expect McKeown to find his offensive confidence in his final OHL season. He focused on the defensive side of things last year which should allow him to take more chances offensively this year.

Alex Peters - Flint Firebirds
The forgotten man after a season ending injury last year, Peters will be poised and ready to establish himself as a top 10 defender in the league this year. He'll lead a Firebirds team that will look to start off their new surroundings in a positive way.

Spencer Watson - Kingston Frontenacs
Easily one of the most offensively talented players in the league, but his numbers have yet to match his skill set. I just can't see him disappointing yet again this year and based on how strong he looked in those team Canada exhibition games, I think this is finally going to be the year where we see him near the top of the scoring race.

HM's: David Miller (KIT), Blake Siebenaler (NIA), Brent Moran (NIA), Roy Radke (BAR), & Keigan Goetz (SSM)

1995 Born
Greg Betzold - Peterborough Petes
Blessed with great size and hustle coming down the wing, I think this is the year that Betzold finally breaks out offensively. The Petes will need their veteran forwards to really step up and I see Betzold as a 30+ goal scorer and point per game player.

Josh Burnside - Mississauga Steelheads
Has been hovering around the 40 point mark for the last few years, but this OHL veteran should be in for an offensive spike this year. A few more playmakers in the lineup and Burnside is good enough near the crease to put up 25-30 goals this year.

Stephen Harper - Hamilton Bulldogs
Following the move back to forward half way through last year, Harper looked like a different player and as such, I see him having a pretty big year as Hamilton's go to offensive guy. For the first time in his OHL career, he's going to be a point per game player.

Tyler Hore - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Has proved to be a great acquisition for the Hounds, emerging as one of their top defensive players. However, in his OA year, I expect the offensive side of things to really come around. Confidence is the name of the game and I say that leads him to a 35+ point season.

Jake Marchment - Erie Otters
I would be downright shocked if he's not back in the OHL for his overage season. And that means I think he's going to have a very big year. Erie still has tons of talent on the wing and if he's back in the OHL, I see him as a 30/30 player.

Brent Pedersen - Oshawa Generals
One of those guys who still hasn't put it all together in his OHL career. His lack of offensive development was the main reason Carolina chose not to sign him. But, having one NHL door slammed in your face can often serve as great motivation (ask Joseph Blandisi, Jake Muzzin, etc). I think he bounces back and finally hits that 30 goal mark in his OA year

Will Petschenig - Saginaw Spirit
Very underrated acquisition by Saginaw this offseason, I've long been a fan. Just a solid all around defender. In Saginaw I think he'll take on a little more offensive responsibility and I see him closing out his career with a 30 point campaign.

Mathew Santos - North Bay Battalion
Hard working veteran winger who is an integral part of the leadership group in North Bay. He's the type of player who breaks out in his OA season. I think he's a 25/25 guy and the potential captain for the Battalion.

Sam Studnicka - Ottawa 67's
Already had a mini break out last year and I expect his numbers to jump yet again in his final year. He's going to have a talented center to play with (Konecny or Salituro) and he'll be the guy responsible for opening up space and banging home garbage. Another jump in the 25/30 goal range is possible.

Michael Webster - Barrie Colts
Webster has slowly improved every year he's been in the league. Next year he'll be counted on as a top 4 defender on one of the best team's in the conference. Moves the puck well and I think the offensive confidence grows to the point where he's a 35+ point player.

HM's: Jordan Maletta (NIA), Jacob Harris (SUD), & Bradley Latour (WIN)