Thursday, September 29, 2011

Future Considerations' New Look

In case you don't visit their website regularly (which you should), the boys over at Future Considerations (like Aaron Vickers, Dan Stewart, and Sean Lafortune, who have helped me out at this blog numerous times) have a new look. They have redesigned their website and it looks great.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Buzzing the Net's New Video Endeavours!

Blog friend and the fantastic Neate Sager over at Yahoo Sports, sent me a little note the other day to tell me about Buzzing the Net's new endeavour.

Neate is going to try to have his wonderful Draft Tracker segments done through video (as well as in script on his blog).

Here's the first crack at it, with Belleville's Brendan Gaunce.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Experts Weigh In on the 2011-2012 Season

I sent off a survey to the league's foremost experts in advance of the beginning of the regular season. Here's what the experts have to say about the 2011-2012 OHL season!

Dominic Tiano (2012 OHL Draft Eligible Players)

1. Right now, who's the best team in the East?

If Ryan Strome and Dougie Hamilton are back in Niagara they are the team to beat in my opinion. Oshawa should be up there and Daniel Altshuller looks like the real deal and can carry Oshawa a long way especially after last years playoff failure. Ottawa will be a tough opponent as well.

2. Right now, who's the best team in the West?

I Like Sarnia in the West. Just the thought of what Yakupov and Galchenyuk will do this season makes them an intriguing team. Can't overlook Saginaw and Owen Sound though.

3. Which team is everyone overlooking right now (most underrated headed into the season)?

Has to be the London Knights. Great move drafting Maatta and bringing in Domi. Jared Knight should be back along with Namestnikov. In my opinion, seriously underrated in some circles.

4. Which eligible OHL player (outside of Landeskog) is going to stick in the NHL?

Ryan Strome. One of the biggest surprises in 2010-11.

5. Who's the best 2012 Draft Prospect from the OHL?

Nail Yakupov. His rookie season was off the charts. Some believe Galchenyuk is the more complete player and will challenge Yakupov, and that may be. But I expect Yakupov to dominate the OHL this year. I am currently surveying OHL GM's as to their top 3 by position and surprisingly, 2 don't have Yakupov on their list. There are names like Laughton, Kea and Athanasiou on some lists, and while they could be in the top 3, I don't think you can include them over Yakupov

6. Who's your pick for the Eddie Powers Trophy (leading scorer)?

Nail Yakupov. Was up there last year as a rookie and will easily out do what Hall, Seguin, Akeson and Strome did before him.

7. What's the one storyline you're looking forward to following the most?

Interestingly enough, the Kingston Frontenacs. Curious to see what Doug Gilmour does there this season. If the likes of Spooner and Gudbranson return from NHL camps, and I expect they will, Gilmour will probably be trading them to a contender for assets. And with more than a couple of teams in serious contention, we could see Gilmour hauling in some serious assets for the Fronts. Surprisingly, I have the over/under on Kingston wins as 15.5. I don't expect it will be long before Gilmour starts to deal.

Neate Sager (Yahoo Sports, Buzzing the Net)

1. Right now, who's the best team in the East?

"It's probably not going out on a limb to say the Niagara IceDogs appear to be the class of the East so long as they have Dougie Hamilton and Ryan Strome back. Beyond the big names with those two NHL first-rounders and third in goaler Mark Visentin, they're deep in 19-year-old and overage talent with the likes of Brock Beukeboom, Freddie Hamilton and Andrew Agozzino. Marty Williamson also has the trade chips to add a veteran scorer to replace Darren Archibald."

2. Right now, who's the best team in the West?

"That's like asking to predict the worst movie ever made by Happy Madison productions; there's a lot of parity. Process of elimination, looking at the four teams who won a playoff round a year ago and did not lose too much, would say the Plymouth Whalers merit being the top-ranked team in the west. Well-coached, no problems in goal with the Wedgewood/Mahalak tandem and I'm eager to see what Stefan Noesen does in his post-draft season."

3. Which team is everyone overlooking right now (most underrated headed into the season)?

"You mean who is this season's Owen Sound? Tough call, since in the West, Plymouth, London and Sarnia have each generated plenty of preseason buzz with their off-season additions, so none could count as underrated.

4. Which eligible OHL player (outside of Landeskog) is going to stick in the NHL?

"Erik Gudbranson would have stuck last season were it not for a contract issue with the Florida Panthers. Don't see any of the first-round picks from June -- Hamilton in Boston, Strome with the New York Islanders and Ryan Murphy with Carolina -- doing it this season.

5. Who's the best 2012 Draft Prospect from the OHL?

"Nail Yakupov over Alex Galchenyuk, taking the goal scorer over the distributor."

6. Who's your pick for the Eddie Powers Trophy (leading scorer)?

"Nail Yakupov. He might lose time to the Russian world junior team, but 101 points in his first go around and now the Sting have more talent around him and the Western Conference might not be as deep. It was tempting to joke Reid Boucher might lead the league just cleaning up while playing with Galchenyuk and Yakupov.

"Ryan Strome, even if he only plays 58 or 59 games, has a good shot, too. Ottawa possibly keeping the RST line intact -- Ryan Martindale, Shane Prince and Tyler Toffoli -- is another factor in the scoring race."

7. What's the one storyline you're looking forward to following the most?

"Just to see if Jacques Beaulieu can turn Sarnia from an intriguing on-paper team to bona fide contender. So many elements there -- a coach going against his former bosses in the Hunters at London who's also trying to build a winner after only getting to start the job in Saint John, and doing it with a franchise which has historically sputtered.

There's some good off-ice stuff with the Central Division teams in southern Ontario. Namely, seeing what, if any, Memorial Cup bump there is for Mississauga and Brampton, along with the glacial progress toward replacing the Jack Gatecliff Arena in St. Catharines."

Patrick King (Sportsnet)

1. Right now, who's the best team in the East?
Niagara IceDogs. Quite simply the best team on paper heading into the season. Factor in that they acquired a boatload of picks from Windsor in the Bateman trade and they're ready to go shopping. This team should be the first Eastern Conference team to win the league in six years.

2. Right now, who's the best team in the West?
Plymouth Whalers. One thing I've learned in my years covering the OHL is to never look past the Whalers. This year's team is loaded. Head coach Mike Vellucci is one of the best and knows how to get the most from his players. Sounds like a recipe for success.

3. Which team is everyone overlooking right now (most underrated headed into the season)?
Sudbury Wolves. Remember that sweep over Ottawa? This team now knows how to win. Head coach Trent Cull is one of the bright, young, up-and-comers in this league and will have this team ready to play. Michael Sgarbossa should have a huge year.

4. Which eligible OHL player (outside of Landeskog) is going to stick in the NHL?
Erik Gudbranson. Had it not been for a contract dispute last season, he would have already been in the NHL. Florida could ease him into the lineup, which may be better for his development at this point than rejoining a rebuilding Frontenacs squad.

5. Who's the best 2012 Draft Prospect from the OHL?
Nail Yakupov. Hands down. The WHL borrowed the first-overall pick with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins last season, Yakupov will take it back this season.

6. Who's your pick for the Eddie Powers Trophy (leading scorer)?
See above (Nail Yakupov). We all know how dynamically skilled he is. The first-overall spot is his to lose at this point, which should provide all the motivation he needs to have a great season.

7. What's the one storyline you're looking forward to following the most?
In some ways, it's a make or break for both Saginaw and Sarnia. Neither team has a rich history in winning. With these two teams, I need to see it to believe it. Sarnia has some holes on defence while the Spirit have much to prove. None of the big three (Windsor, Kitchener and London) are in a position to take the West, so the door is wide open this season. There's no better chance for these two teams than now.

Dan Stewart (Future Considerations)

1. Right now, who's the best team in the East?

Niagara, Ottawa and Oshawa all lead the pack from the East right now. Niagara could have a great squad if they get all NHL-drafted bodies returned, Ottawa has well rounded talent as well as likely the OHL’s top goaltender and Oshawa has some great weapons up front, some solid veterans returning on the back-end and an elite goaltending prospect in the crease. My pick for top team in the East, and likely a surprise pick for some, has to go to Oshawa at this point.

2. Right now, who's the best team in the West?

Plymouth, London and Sarnia all lead the pack from the West. Plymouth has a healthy amount of returning talent and some top level goaltending, London has emerged full of talent after a one-year semi-rebuild and Sarnia, well what can be said of Sarnia that hasn’t been already this off-season. Although Sarnia will be the scouting paradise for 2011-2012, my pick for top team has to be London for the West.

3. Which team is everyone overlooking right now (most underrated headed into the season)?

The London Knights are a talented bunch that could surprise with scoring not being an issue as forwards Vlad Namestnikov, Seth Griffith and Jared Knight lead the way. Also 2012 eligible Andreas Athanasiou is poised to have a breakout year. Chris Tierney, the Rupert twins and rookies Max Domi and Bo Horvat all look to make a positive impact. On defense they have some skill in import and fellow 2012 eligible Olli Maatta as well as Montreal draft pick Jarred Tinordi and Pittsburgh selection Scott Harrington as well as overage stopper Michael Houser. With all the talk about the potential powerhouse in Sarnia, Niagara, Saginaw, etc I would say London could really challenge for top team in the O this season.

4. Which eligible OHL player (outside of Landeskog) is going to stick in the NHL?

Not sure any of them will; maybe Ryan Strome or Mark Scheifele as it is easier to impress as a forward prospect than it is as a defender in say Dougie Hamilton or Ryan Murphy’s case. Although Murphy, Strome and Scheifele offer something that their NHL organizations are currently lacking, all three in my opinion would be better served to develop one more season in the OHL. If I had to pick on I guess Ryan Strome would be my pick.

5. Who's the best 2012 Draft Prospect from the OHL?

Nail Yakupov is the best of the bunch but the OHL again has a healthy amount of talent to scout. Nail’s elite hockey sense, his quickness with not only his hands but also his feet as well as his natural finishing ability make him extremely dangerous every time on the ice.

With high end two-way defensemen, elite scoring forwards and a couple goaltenders to watch, the O will again be a hot spot for NHL scouts as they help compile their teams draft lists heading into June 2012.

6. Who's your pick for the Eddie Powers Trophy (leading scorer)?

It is between Nail Yakupov, Ryan Strome (if he makes it back to Niagara from the Islanders camp) and Christian Thomas (same thing but Rangers) in my opinion. Again, Sarnia Sting sniper Nail Yakupov would be my pick. I would project Nail producing 140+ points with 60+ of them goals. This is not only possible but more than likely probable not only because of Nail’s own elite offensive skills but also because the impressive firepower assembled around Yakupov in Sarnia for the 2011-2012 season.

7. What's the one storyline you're looking forward to following the most?

As always, for me anyways, the most intriguing storyline in any league is always based on draft eligible prospects and how they perform night after night in front of the scouts. I want to see the ongoing competition between the Yakupov’s and Marcantuoni’s; Gaunce’s and. Maidens’; Ebert’s and. Maatta’s; Subban’s and Altshuller’s, and how they all perform for the next seven months.

Thanks so much to Dominic, Neate, Patrick and Dan for helping out. You can visit their respective websites at the links beside their name.

Also, just to the guys over at Future Considerations, make sure you check out their new and improved website which is set to launch at the end of September.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sunday Top 10 - Performers of the 2011 Preseason

The 2011 OHL preseason wraps up today when Oshawa and Peterborough face off. With only one game remaining, we can take a look at some of the stronger performances in today's Top 10.

Here are the preseason standings (minus the OSH/PBO game).


1. Barrie Colts - 4-0-2 - .883%
2. Belleville Bulls - 4-2 - .667%
3. Ottawa 67's - 2-2-1 - .500%
4. Niagara IceDogs - 1-1-1 - .500%
5. Brampton Battalion - 2-3 - .400%
6. Oshawa Generals - 1-2-1 - .375%
7. Kingston Frontenacs - 1-2-1 - .375%
8. Mississauga Majors - 1-3-2 - .333%
9. Peterborough Petes - 1-3 - .250%
10. Sudbury Wolves - 0-4-2 - .167%


1. Sarnia Sting - 4-1-1 - .750%
2. London Knights - 3-1-1 - .700%
3. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds - 3-1-1 - .700%
4. Guelph Storm - 3-1-2 - .667%
5. Kitchener Rangers - 3-2 - .600%
6. Owen Sound Attack - 2-2-1 - .500%
7. Plymouth Whalers - 1-1-2 - .500%
8. Windsor Spitfires - 1-2-2 - .400%
9. Saginaw Spirit - 1-3 - .250%
10. Erie Otters - 1-4 - .200%

I know a lot of people would love to jump to conclusions based on the results of the preseason, but it just isn't logical. With the large majority of the league's "star" players away at NHL camps, it's just impossible to determine whether these above results mean anything.

Just the same, individual player results can sometimes be deceiving. Who are these players racking up points against? A team full of first year OHL players? Against a goalie who was just drafted and has never faced OHL competition? It's a mix bag. Accumulating correct stats is also mind numbing and excruciating. Some teams post full box scores. Others don't even mention who scored all the goals in a game. So consider the below accumulation of stats to be extremely unofficial.

That being said, the preseason does often give us some great indications of players who'll have big years in the OHL...who aren't already attached to NHL teams. This generally means overagers (who aren't at a camp on a tryout), draft eligible players looking to break out, and rookies looking to establish themselves. Last year, some of the league's top preseason performers were Nail Yakupov, Ryan Strome, and Alex Khokhlachev. So it does give us some idea of who's going to "explode" if you will.

10. Brock McGinn - Guelph Storm
The Storm had a very solid preseason thanks in part to the strong play of the team's core group of 1994's. Brock McGinn was one of those who played very well, leading Guelph with 5 goals. With Beck, Holland, and Latta gone, Guelph is going to need balanced scoring from all their offensive players if they want to avoid the basement in the West. This performance from McGinn (and the other younger forwards in Guelph) would suggest that maybe, just maybe, things won't be as bad in Guelph as they appeared prior to the preseason.

9. Josh Anderson - London Knights
A terrific story, Anderson spent the majority of last season playing midget in Burlington and was a free agent acquisition of London this offseason. A '94 forward, Anderson showed a terrific scoring touch with 5 goals in the preseason to earn himself a serious look on a scoring line. You have to wonder where London always finds these talented, overlooked gems.

8. Scott Laughton - Oshawa Generals
In only four games thus far, (the Gennies play their final game today), Laughton has been fantastic with 2 goals and 5 assists. The Generals have been missing nearly all of their big offensive weapons this preseason, which has allowed Laughton to show off the improvements he's made this offseason. Going into his draft season, Laughton appears to be primed for a breakout season, possibly centering one of the team's top lines.

7. Tanner Richard - Guelph Storm
The son of former OHL star Mike Richard, Tanner was the Storm's Import selection this year and took no time making himself known as an offensive weapon in Ontario. Passed over in last year's draft, Richard will be looking to make a name for himself in order to get called this time around. With a 2 goal and 7 assist preseason, Richard appears well on his way to doing that. And just like McGinn, he'll be one of several players counted on to score by committee in Guelph.

6. Ryan Hanes - Sudbury Wolves
Sudbury did not have a good preseason, thanks in part to their core players being away at NHL camps, and because they got suspect goaltending. But the one bright spot was the emergence of defenseman Ryan Hanes. With Josh McFadden away at Montreal Canadiens camp, Hanes was able to be the team's premier offensive defenseman and powerplay quarterback. He finished the preseason with 4 goals and 4 assists. The 19 year old defenseman will definitely push for more playing time if he can keep up this level of play.

5. Garrett Hooey - Belleville Bulls
When the Bulls picked up the scrappy Hooey from Sarnia this offseason, I'm not sure they expected him to be one of the team's premier offensive players. But that's exactly what he was this preseason. With 5 goals and 5 assists, Hooey (and some of his Belleville teammates) was dominate. In his NHL draft year, Hooey will be looking to prove that he's a legit prospect and appears to have really improved prior to his second OHL season.

4. Sean Monahan - Ottawa 67's
Something tells me that NHL teams are going to be salivating over Monahan this year. Unfortunately for them, his late birth date makes him ineligible until 2013. The 67's aren't complaining as the strong two way center will be with them for at least another two seasons. One of the leaders of Canada's Ivan Hlinka team, Monahan had a sensational preseason with 3 goals and 6 assists. One has to wonder if he could end up centering Tyler Toffoli, regardless of whether Ryan Martindale returns or not.

3. Brett Findlay - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Even if the Hounds spent most of their preseason beating up on the Wolves, they deserve some credit for persevering in the face of losing several players to NHL camps themselves. One of the few players who was passed over last year and failed to get an invite to an NHL camp, Findlay was the offensive leader for the Hounds this preseason. He had 2 goals and 6 assists. Findlay is going to be counted on to be the team's second line center behind Nick Cousins, so hopefully he can continue his strong play.

2. Luke Judson - Belleville Bulls
The second Bull to make the list (and there probably could...and should have been more), the Bulls overage captain is going to need a bounce back season. After a disappointing season on a personal and team level, Judson is being counted on to have a big year. The strong all around winger had a simply dominate preseason with 5 goals and 6 assists. Originally considered to be an NHL prospect, Judson is going to need a big year to try and earn an NHL contract in 2012.

1. Nail Yakupov - Sarnia Sting
Even if you discount his dominating 4 goal, 1 assist performance against Windsor to close out the preseason, Yakupov was just as effective throughout the entire preseason, helping Sarnia to a very strong 4-1-1 record. With 6 goals and 9 assists, Yakupov looks poised to make a run for the Eddie Powers trophy yet again this year. The Sting sure are going to be exciting to watch this season!

Honorable Mentions (broken down by team)

Barrie Colts
Barrie had a fantastic preseason, finishing undefeated. It would appear they may be a tad better than some were giving them credit for. Before leaving for Winnipeg camp, Mark Scheifele looked like a man among boys with 1 goal and 2 assists in his lone game. Import goaltender Mathias Niederberger was excellent in net, posting several wins and a shutout.

Belleville Bulls
I could have included several players from Belleville on the list, but decided to spread around the wealth a little bit. Rookie Jordan Subban was terrific in the preseason with 3 goals and 3 assists. He looks poised to take over from where P.K. left off. Draft eligible center Brendan Gaunce had 3 goals and 6 assists and looks poised to have a big season offensively

Brampton Battalion
Big winger Matt MacLeod will be looking to finally cement himself in an OHL line up and had a good enough preseason (3 goals) to earn a look on a scoring line. Import forward Patrik Machac was as good as advertised too, with 2 goals and 2 assists.

Erie Otters
The Otters did not have a good preseason, with most of their star players away at NHL camps. One of the lone bright spots was the play of former first rounder Chris Marchese, who had 3 goals and 3 assists.

Guelph Storm
Another of the team's solid 1994's had a good preseason, and that was forward Scott Kosmachuk. He had 3 goals and 3 assists and looks poised for a breakout with Brock McGinn.

Kingston Frontenacs
Things are probably going to be pretty rough in Kingston this year, but there were a few bright spots in the preseason. Picked up in the offseason, Darcy Greenaway appears to be a possible diamond in the rough. The smaller offensive forward had 4 goals and an assist during preseason play. Another offseason pick up, Import Petr Beranek, was also effective with 2 goals and 2 assists.

Kitchener Rangers
Everyone in Kitchener is talking about the return of defenseman Ben Fanelli, who was solid in the preseason with 1 goal and 2 assists. Young forwards Matia Marcantuoni (1 goal, 3 assists), Ben Thomson (2 goals, 1 assist), and Radek Faksa (2 goals, 1 assist) were all effective.

London Knights
Max Domi was excellent in the preseason and looks poised to have a big offensive season (dare I say the Emms Family Award front runner?) after putting up 1 goal and 4 assists. Overager Colin Martin was also solid with 2 goals and 2 assists.

Mississauga Majors
Import selection Sergei Kuptsov made an immediate impact in a depleted Majors line up, putting up 1 goal and 5 assists. Scrappy wingers Riley Brace (2 goals, 2 assists) and Derek Schoenmakers (3 goals, 1 assist) also had solid preseasons.

Niagara IceDogs
The Dogs really didn't play much in the preseason and when they did, they were missing their big guns. When they played, Ryan Strome (2 assists), Freddie Hamilton (2 assists), and Mark Visentin (a shutout) all looked strong.

Oshawa Generals
Tough guy Emerson Clark had a great preseason with 4 goals and 2 assists. Any offense they get from him on the bottom two lines will be a great bonus.

Ottawa 67's
After a great year with Smith Falls last year, and a terrific preseason, winger Ryan Van Stralen appears to have earned a spot on the 67's. With 4 goals and an assist in the preseason, Van Stralen could be a classic late bloomer.

Owen Sound Attack
Rookie Holden Cook had a solid preseason with 2 goals and looks to be able to be one of those guys Owen Sound needs to step up to fill some voids offensively.

Peterborough Petes
The little Swiss magician Lino Martschini had a good preseason with 1 goal, and 3 assists. He could have a big year offensively.

Plymouth Whalers
Import defenseman Dario Trutmann appears ready to take on a larger offensive role this season after scoring 2 goals and 2 assists in the preseason.

Saginaw Spirit
Overager Michael Fine was the strongest performer on an undermanned Saginaw team this preseason, scoring 3 goals and adding one assist. Could he finally be poised for that breakout season we've always been expecting from him?

Sarnia Sting
Defenseman Jack Kuzmyk was picked up from Owen Sound last year with little fan fare, but he looked terrific in the preseason with 4 goals and 2 assists. Sarnia is going to need a few defenseman to step up and he could be one of them. New acquisition Charles Sarault looks to make a name for himself now that he's out of Kingston, and he's got Sarnia fans excited with a 6 point preseason (1 goal, 5 assists). And former first overall pick Alex Galchenyuk was solid with 2 goals and 4 assists.

Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
As mentioned before, the Hounds had a very solid preseason thanks to some strong performances from returning players. David Quesnele paced the team in the goal scoring department with 4. Gianluca Curcuruto had 1 goal and 4 assists from the blueline. And veteran (at least in age) Rudy Sulmonte had 3 goals and 3 assists.

Sudbury Wolves
Second year forwards Brody Silk (3 goals) and Matthew Campagna (1 goal, 3 assists) had solid preseasons. The Wolves are going to need a strong sophomore effort from them on a second scoring line.

Windsor Spitfires
Rookie center Michael Clarke looks poised to break into the OHL full time with a 3 goal preseason. And second year forward Kerby Rychel is perhaps showing he has more offense to his game than people give him credit for, with 3 goals and an assist.

That's it folks. Stay tuned for an "experts make their picks" article that will be appearing in a few days. Otherwise, get ready for the regular season!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Apperance on The Pipeline Show

Was privileged enough to be on "The Pipeline Show" again last night, with Guy Flaming. We discussed the upcoming OHL season.

Check it out!

Monday, September 5, 2011

2011-12 Season Preview - Award Predictions

I bring you part three, award predictions time! It's definitely likely that not a single one of these predictions come true!

Red Tilson Trophy (MVP) - Ryan Strome
The OHL has so many quality forwards in the league this year, the race for the Red Tilson has to be wide open. I think Strome has to be the front runner right now, as long as he doesn't make the New York Islanders (which I don't think he's ready for). The IceDogs are set to be one of the league's elite teams this year and Strome is their most important offensive player. He nearly won the scoring title last year and should be equally as beastly this year, even if he does miss time at the World Juniors. There are a number of other forwards who could garner serious consideration like Nail Yakupov, Christian Thomas, Tyler Toffoli, among a few others. The only non forward I could see getting mention is Ryan Murphy, as long as he doesn't make the Hurricanes. He'll be the key to Kitchener's success this season and will have a Ryan Ellis like impact on that team.

OHL Goaltender of the Year - Mark Visentin
I'd be really surprised if Visentin doesn't repeat as goaltender of the year. Again, the Dogs are going to have a very good team and Visentin is the best goalie in the league. Plymouth should be the class of the West and Scott Wedgewood is poised for a big year. He could get consideration, especially if Plymouth's solid defense can really get that GAA down. A wild card has to be John Gibson of Kitchener. He comes into the league with the same hype Jack Campbell did, but I think he'll have less of a learning curve. Michael Houser of London could also get some votes if the Knights can win their division.

Max Kaminsky Trophy (Defenseman of the Year) - Ryan Murphy
If Murphy returns to the OHL (which I think he will, and should), this award is his to lose. He's arguably, the most important player to his team's success (maybe even at any position) and should have a monster offensive season. Dougie Hamilton (if he returns) will get some votes too. Nick Ebert in Windsor should have a monster year in his draft season and could be the odds on favourite if Murphy and Hamilton end up in the NHL. A couple of overagers could work their way into discussion too. Josh McFadden is going to put up a ton of points in Sudbury, it's whether people view his defensive knocks as a strike towards this award. And I think this is the year that Beau Schmitz really explodes offensively in Plymouth.

Emms Family Award (Rookie of the Year) - Max Domi
Pretty wide open field this year I think. I've heard tremendous things about Domi coming out of London thus far and with the offensive firepower they're surrounding him with, I think he could have a big year. I really wanted to pick Daniel Altshuller here. Oshawa is going to ride him and they should be a very good, division leading team. The only problem is that the odds are stacked against him. Only one goalie has ever won the award, Bruce Dowie in 1980. Another "true" rookie I'm hearing great things about so far is Brandon Robinson in Brampton. He's going to get a ton of playing time and could help ignite the Battalion's offense. And let's not forget the Euro's, who've won the award 2 of the past 3 years. I think Kitchener's Radek Faksa and London's Olli Maatta are the two best options on that front.

Leo Lalande Trophy (Overager of the Year) - Taylor Carnevale
As always, the competition for the Overager of the year will be intense. There are always a ton of great 20 year old's in this league, making huge contributions. I think Carnevale in Sarnia is in the best situation to put up some big numbers. He'll have some serious firepower on his wings and plays in all situations. Previously mentioned Josh McFadden and Beau Schmitz are serious contenders on defense. If Ryan Martindale returns to Ottawa, he could easily win this award while playing with Toffoli and Prince again. Andy Andreoff in Oshawa should have a big year and is an all situations type of player. A true wildcard could be Euro Andrei Kuchin who finished off last year in terrific form.

Matt Leyden Trophy (Coach of the Year) - Mike Vellucci
As I've stated, I think the Whalers are the cream of the West heading into the season. I see the Dogs as the cream of the East. But I like Vellucci to beat out Marty Williamson for coach of the year, based on the fact that Plymouth finished a little lower in the standings last year, and that people seem to like Vellucci a bit more. If the Sudbury Wolves can be as good as I think they will, Trent Cull will deserve a lot of votes too. As will Jacques Beaulieu in Sarnia if they end up being as good as everyone anticipates.

Eddie Powers Trophy (Scoring Leader) - Ryan Strome
A lot of people put a lot of emphasis on the WJC's when selecting the potential scoring champion. Usually that's the case. And it very well could be if one of the league's premier offensive juggernauts fails to make their WJC team (certainly possible). But in the event that the likes of Strome, Christian Thomas, Tyler Toffoli, Nail Yakupov, etc are all playing elsewhere in December and January, I like one of the heavy favourites to still capture the scoring title. I'm going with Strome.

Goal Scoring Leader - Christian Thomas
I'd be really surprised if one of Thomas, Toffoli, and Yakupov aren't the league's top goal scorer. They finished in the top three last year and are back and surrounded by just as much team talent. I'm picking Thomas because I see Oshawa having the best season (of those three teams) and because he's such a consistent workhorse. Greg McKegg in Erie could have a big year too, as could a couple of the league's premier snipers, who are now overagers; Brett Thompson, and Josh Shalla. Tom Kuhnhackl in Windsor could be a bit of a wildcard here too.

All Star Teams

1st All Star Team
C - Ryan Strome
LW - Tom Kuhnhackl
RW - Christian Thomas
Defense - Ryan Murphy
Defense - Dougie Hamilton
Goaltender - Mark Visentin
Coach - Mike Vellucci

2nd All Star Team
C - Greg McKegg
LW - J.T. Miller
RW - Tyler Toffoli
Defense - Nick Ebert
Defense - Beau Schmitz
Goaltender - Scott Wedgewood
Coach- Marty Williamson

3rd All Star Team
C - Alex Galchenyuk
LW - Freddie Hamilton
RW - Nail Yakupov
Defense - Josh McFadden
Defense - Ryan Sproul
Goaltender - John Gibson
Coach - Trent Cull

That's it folks. Bring on the 2011-2012 season. Anyone case to post their award predictions?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

2011-12 Season Preview - Western Conference

I bring you the second part of my season preview; a rundown of the Western Conference.

1. Plymouth Whalers
The Whalers have set themselves up for a tremendous season and are looking like a serious Memorial Cup contender. Plymouth is a very deep and balanced team, who has both the desire and talent, in combination with the pedigree for winning. At forward, this team is as deep and talented as any in the league. The additions of JT Miller and Andy Bathgate were definitely great. Better yet, the core of this team's offense should be around for another year after this, making this team a force to be reckoned with over the next two seasons. The defense is anchored by overager Beau Schmitz, who should have a tremendous year as he aims to get an NHL contract. In goal, the Whalers have perhaps the best goaltending tandem in the league with Scott Wedgewood and Matt Mahalak. Never a bad problem to have, even though I'm sure both goaltenders will want starting time. Plymouth is one of the surest bets to be among the league's elite this year too, because they don't really have any serious threats to make the NHL or AHL, like Niagara (for instance) does.

2. London Knights
The Knights should return to the top of the West again this year, after a one year hiatus (don't you wish your OHL team could say that?). The backbone of this year's Knights team will be goaltender Michael Houser, who will play workhorse for the team yet again and is one of the more underrated players in the league. In front of him, is a likely improved defense with a more confident Jarred Tinordi and Scott Harrington, as well as top import Olli Maatta. At forward, the team is returning all major players and have a deep line up. Expect a big year from second year forward Andreas Athanasiou. The true key for London may be the return of their powerplay to dominance. Any good London team has a strong powerplay, and last year's was among the worst in the league. With Olli Maatta and a recovered Jake Worrad, this year's unit should be much improved with comfortable quarterbacks on the line.

3. Sarnia Sting
I have to admit, I'm a little bit leery putting Sarnia this high. While they have a ton of talent on paper, I'm not sure their defense and goaltending is quite good enough (especially with Connor Murphy's injury) for them to put forward the consistency that would be needed to finish this high in the West. But like everyone else, I'm enamored by the potential of the team's forward group. You thought they were electric last year? What about adding Taylor Carnevale, Reid Boucher, and Ludvig addition to the inevitable improvements made by the team's current young stars. So the team will be able to put the puck in the net. They were able to do that last year. In net, veteran Brandon Maxwell is going to have to have a big year and be more consistent than he was in Kitchener. The team's new look defense will have to gel and new faces like Alex Basso and Anthony DeAngelo will need to play big roles while Connor Murphy recovers from injury. While I've got Sarnia high, it wouldn't surprise me if giving them home ice advantage is a bit premature and some of the more veteran and more well rounded teams like Kitchener and Saginaw end up finishing ahead of them.

4. Saginaw Spirit
I've seen a lot of comments about Saginaw being a bit overrated going into the year based on the goaltending questions they're facing. And sure, neither Tadeas Galansky or Jake Paterson is a sure bet to prove to be a competent starter this season, so the criticism is valid. But if there's a team who can get by this year with average goaltending, it's Saginaw. They have one of the strongest and oldest defenses in the league, and the addition of Jamie Oleksiak won't hurt one bit. Not to mention, that the team's forward unit is one of the most dedicated defensive groups in the league, who play hard at both ends. Really, the team is returning all major players on offense from last year, except Ivan Telegin. So chemistry should be high, as long as you bank on improved seasons from the likes of John McFarland and Brandon Saad. If this team's goaltending surprises and one of Galansky or Paterson emerges as a legit starter (or the team trades for a quality goaltender), I could actually see Saginaw push Plymouth for the West.

5. Kitchener Rangers
Kitchener is a really interesting team this year. I think there are a lot of questions that need to be answered. 1. Can the team's set of younger forwards take that next step, especially Matia Marcantuoni? If the answer is yes, Kitchener should have a solid offensive team. Keep an eye on import Radek Faksa, who I've heard great things about. 2. Is Ryan Murphy going to make the NHL? If the answer is yes, this team will not finish 4th in the West. I don't think he's ready, and if Kitchener has his dynamic ability on the back end, it makes them better 5 on 5 and on the powerplay. 3. Is John Gibson going to have similar growing pains as Jack Campbell did last year? He comes in with the same kind of hype and same kind of international pedigree. Something tells me that this guy is the real deal though, as he exudes a real calm about himself on and off the ice. 4. Obviously everyone is going to be following Ben Fanelli this year and rooting for him to succeed and fulfill the potential that was robbed of him. While I'm not sure his on ice success has a huge impact on Kitchener's season, he makes for an intriguing storyline to follow. If the answer to the above questions is negative in nature, than Kitchener could actually struggle this year and find themselves closer to the bottom of the West.

6. Windsor Spitfires
Spits management has hinted that this season is to serve as a rebuilding year for the team, but what is a rebuilding year for Windsor really? A rebuilding year for the lined pockets of Windsor isn't exactly the same as the one Barrie went through last year. This team still has a lot of talent at every position, even if depth appears to be a moderate concern for the time being. With Alex Khokhlachev, Tom Kuhnhackl and likely Kenny Ryan at forward, this team should be able to put the puck in the net with some regularity. Kuhnhackl, in particular, should have a big year. The defense is going to look a hell of a lot different without Ryan Ellis for the first time in four years, but Nick Ebert showed last year that he's ready to carry the torch. And in net, Jack Campbell is determined to erase the inconsistency issues that plagued him last year. Mind you, there's a chance the Spits start trading some of these guys to gain picks and younger players, but as of right now, I still think this team is a playoff team.

7. Owen Sound Attack
The reigning OHL champions have lost 7 of their 8 top playoff scorers from last year's run (with only Mike Halmo scheduled to return). And while the Attack do have some nice young forwards like Jarrod Maidens and Gemel Smith, and did acquire Daniel Catenacci, asking the players they currently have to fill that lost production may be a tad excessive. Owen Sound should continue to have a strong defense, who'll be the backbone of this year's team thanks to veteran contributions from the likes of Matt Petgrave, Geoff Schemitsch, Keevin Cutting, and overager Jay Gilbert. Likely, the team will rise and fall with the play of Jordan Binnington, who showed flashes of brilliance at times last year. With a young and unestablished forward group, the defense and goaltending is going to have to carry this team to the playoffs.

8. Erie Otters
I'm not really understanding the lack of love the Otters are receiving this year. Every prediction I've seen, seems to have them finishing outside the playoffs in the West. Now granted, I don't think this is an exceptional team or anything. But I think a team returning as many core players as Erie is, deserves some credit. Teams with a solid core of overagers and 19 year old players, rarely struggle in this league. And with Greg McKegg, Brett Thompson, and Mike Cazzola returning at forward, the mystery of Sondre Olden, and some capable youngsters like Luke Cairns and Chris Marchese, this team should be able to score some goals. Defensively,things could be a little rougher. Derek Holden and Adam Pelech are steady and capable, but outside of them the team is relying on younger, inexperienced players. In goal, things are complicated. Ramis Sadikov is back...for now, complicating the team's already complicated overager situation. Not to mention the team acquired Tysen Teichmann this offseason to be their starter. Sadikov is almost certain to be dealt, even if he's the best of the bunch.

9. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
I've seen the Hounds a lot higher on other predictions, but I'm not buying it. I think this is a solid team, but not without question marks. I think they're right in that mix with Windsor, Owen Sound, and Erie, battling for the bottom spots of the West. But of those teams with serious question marks, I think the Hounds are least likely to have theirs answered. There is no question that Sault Ste. Marie has a great defense lead by the likes of Ryan Sproul and Gianluca Curcuruto. But I'm not convinced they won't have any better luck scoring goals as they did last year when they finished second last in the West in goals scored. The teams in this league who score goals (and really in any league) are those that have dynamic players down the middle. The trading of Daniel Catenacci really hurt (even if Andrew Fritsch is a solid player). I like Nick Cousins, but I don't think he's a premier playmaker in this league. And in net, I'm not convinced Matt Murray is ready to take a team to the playoffs (or Chris Perugini if the team decides to keep him on for the roster for the long run). This team could easily slide into the top 6 of the West, if things work out for them. But I think they could just easily finish out of the playoffs yet again.

10. Guelph Storm
I look at the Storm and see a team pretty similar to the Greyhounds. They're built from the defense out. Andrey Pedan, Tim Campbell, Matt Finn, and Stephen Gaskin (likely) form a solid top four, and the Storm have some solid younger talent to fill the remaining spots. In net, Brandon Foote is generally solid and will provide some veteran leadership. It's at forward, where this team will struggle. Like Kingston in the East, Guelph has only one forward who has scored more than 15 goals in an OHL season (Cody McNaughton). Unlike Kingston though (sorry Fronts fans), the Storm actually have some quality young players who have potential. But potential is the key word. Will the likes of Zack Mitchell, Brock McGinn, and Scott Kosmachuk, etc, be excellent OHL players eventually? More than likely. But will they be good enough next year to lead this team to the playoffs? The answer to that seems pretty unlikely at this point.

Stay tuned for Part 3, Award predictions!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

2011-12 Season Preview - Eastern Conference

Another Ontario Hockey League season is upon us. That means it's time to play the role of prognosticator, predictor of the future. The season preview will come in three parts. This is part one, an examination of the Eastern Conference. The other two parts will look at the West and at the awards to be handed out in 2011-2012.

The thing that makes predicting outcomes in the OHL so difficult, is the uncertainty surrounding the return of certain star players. You've got several players in the league who are candidates to play in the NHL next year. You've also got a lot of overage players trying to earn contracts or the chance to play in the AHL. The return or departure of these players can make a big difference. For example, what happens to the Eastern Conference favourite Niagara IceDogs if Ryan Strome and Dougie Hamilton make the NHL, and Alex Friesen impresses enough at Canucks camp to earn a contract and a spot in the AHL? Are they still the favourites of the East? The unpredictability is exciting (and nerve racking) for fans and league executives alike.

Here's my preview of the East.

1. Niagara IceDogs
While the Generals and 67's should have terrific teams this season, I think it's safe to say that Niagara is the favourite to win the East right now. And why shouldn't they be? Their offense is anchored around an extremely veteran presence. Besides Ryan Strome, their top 6 forwards will be comprised of 19 and 20 year olds. They've got a very well rounded defense that is anchored by lottery pick Dougie Hamilton, and playing in net is arguably the league's best goaltender, Mark Visentin. The core of this team has been through a couple fairly long playoff runs and they know what it takes to win. Couple that with the fact that they've got a large advantage when playing in the smaller confines of the Jack Gatecliff. The only thing stopping them is the potential departure of Ryan Strome or Dougie Hamilton to the NHL. The loss of either would be a significant blow, although one would have to think that Marty Williamson would be quick to fill the void via trade.

2. Oshawa Generals
The East Division should be a real dogfight this season, between the 67's and Generals. Two very dangerous offensive line ups, but I'm giving the nod to Oshawa because I think their veteran laden defense (anchored by overagers Scott Valentine and Danny Maggio) will stand up to the rigors of the OHL season a tad better. Their forward group is damn scary and possibly the best in the entire league. Just how much better will players like Nicklas Jensen, Lucas Lessio, Boone Jenner, Scott Laughton, etc be this season? It was a young line up last year and this year they should be stronger and more consistent. The real wild card for the Generals is...or at least was in net. The acquisition of Daniel Altshuller should help Oshawa fans sleep a little more easy. But as much as he's accomplished this early in his career (Gold at the Under 17's and at the Ivan Hlinka), is he truly ready to be a top flight goaltender in this league?

3. Ottawa 67's
With Tyler Toffoli and Shane Prince (and maybe even Ryan Martindale), the 67's will definitely be able to put the puck in the net. Sean Monahan is a potential break out candidate if he ends up centering that dangerous first line. In net, the 67's have the energetic Petr Mrazek, who has proven himself to be one of the better goaltenders in this league. He'll be playing in his third OHL season and should have a fantastic year. I think the question mark lies in the team's defense. Overager Marc Zanetti will be the anchor with Cody Ceci providing solid support in his draft season. But can enough of the young guys step up to fill in the gaps like Ryan Shipley or Taylor Fielding, or can Jake Cardwell or Michal Cajkovsky really up their game?

4. Sudbury Wolves
IMO the Wolves are one of the most intriguing teams going into the season. They finished last year with a lot of momentum and are returning most of their critical components. Team chemistry is huge and if the Andrei Kuchin, Michael Sgarbossa, Josh Leivo first line can really find that magic again, Sudbury would be provided with a dynamic offense. The defense is identical to last year, and again, chemistry will play a large part (like the solid duo of Justin Sefton and Frank Corrado). The big question mark will be in net. Import and Blackhawks draft pick Johan Mattsson comes after having success in Sweden, but who really knows how well he adapts to the OHL? If Mattsson plays well and some of the team's younger forwards (Kontos, Silk, Schutt, Campagna, etc) show significant improvement, I could actually see the Wolves challenging for 3rd in the Conference.

5. Mississauga St. Michael's Majors
There is absolutely no denying that the Majors will not be as good as they were last year. As what happens with most Memorial Cup challengers the following season, the team is faced with filling the voids left by several key contributors of 2010-2011 (such as captain Casey Cizikas). But, I don't think this is a full on rebuilding least not yet. The Majors still have veterans Devante Smith Pelly, Stuart Percy, and JP Anderson (among others), and should get increased offensive contributions from the likes of Joe Cramarossa, Mika Partanen, and Jordan Mayer. Import Sergei Kuptsov has been turning heads in camp so far too. But there is some uncertainty surrounding the team. Just how well does the team play without Dave Cameron (even if James Boyd employs a similar system)? What happens if Devante Smith Pelly makes the Ducks (as some Anaheim fans are envisioning)? The Majors should be good, just not great this year.

6. Peterborough Petes
I think everyone was disappointed with the season the Petes had last year. Goaltending was terrible. Injuries plagued the team. Key players failed to take steps forward. So what makes them resistant to a repeat performance again this season? I think you have to point to a few good things that happened this offseason. One was the acquisition of Mike Morrison from Kitchener, who proved himself a very capable goaltender last year and is now a solid veteran presence. The second was the selection of Peter Ceresnak in the import draft, who should help to solidify the team's defensive situation (along with an improved Slater Koekkoek and hyped second rounder Steven Varga). This will be a big year for Matt Puempel and Austin Watson, who shouldered a lot of the blame for last year's poor performance. Hopefully these two can have excellent offensive seasons and get the Petes back some respect.

7. Brampton Battalion
I thought Brampton would have been one of the worst team's in the league last season. And even though they were atrocious offensively, they won games thanks to the always dependable defensive system employed by Stan Butler. Of course it always helps when you've actually got a great defense like Stan Butler should have this season. While they're young, they have the potential to be one of the league's best defenses in a few years. Offensively, the team will likely still be challenged to score on a consistent basis, even if the team's forwards are a largely veteran group. They'll need a better performance from the likes of Sam Carrick and Phil Lane if they want to finish higher than the bottom of the East.

8. Belleville Bulls
You have to be curious about the Bulls and their progression as a team. This is a young team with a lot of good young talent. But also a team that appears to be surrounded by a bit of turmoil. Gone are four of the players that they team hoped would really explode as OHL players last season (Andy Bathgate, Tyson Teichmann, Steven Strong, Alex Basso), however the team is still left with a lot of quality young talent...especially at forward with the likes of Austen Brassard, Michael Curtis, Brendan Gaunce, and Carter Sandlak. The question is whether these players finally take that next step or not. One thing is for sure, the Bulls believe they've got a quality starting goaltender in Malcolm Subban. I'm quite curious as to how he handles a full season as the team's unquestioned starter. Really, the Bulls could finish anywhere from home ice in the first round (if the team's young talent explodes), or out of the playoffs (if those same young players falter again).

9. Barrie Colts
There is absolutely no denying that this year's Colts' team is better than last year's. There is also no denying that being better than last year's team is pretty damn easy. But the team made some very shrewd moves this offseason which should definitely make Barrie a contender for a playoff spot. They added Ivan Telegin to give Mark Scheifele some help down the middle and added Reid McNeil and Derek Hartwick to provide veteran presence on the blueline. It also remains to be seen just how large of an impact Aaron Ekblad will have, considering his age and the position he plays. But with the aforementioned Scheifele and Telegin, along with Colin Behenna, Eric Locke, Steven Beyers, amongst others, Barrie's offense could actually be quite strong. I think, like most teams, one of the keys will be in net. Seems like Clint Windsor will probably be relied upon as the starter, with other characters looming in the shadows. If Windsor shows solid progression and can play consistently, Barrie could be a surprise team.

10. Kingston Frontenacs
I'm sad to say it, but I think it's going to be a very ugly season in Kingston this year. I just don't see any way that this team can be a playoff team. On defense, the team has a total of two players who have over 10 games experience in the OHL (Alex Gudbranson and Jeff Braithwaite). Offensively, the Fronts have only one forward who's scored more than 15 goals in a season (Ryan Spooner). And in net, the team is relying on Igor Bobkov, who despite all the hype, was quite bad for London last year. For my money, Kingston has to be front runner for the Jack Ferguson Award winner of 2012.

Stay tuned for Part 2 in the coming days.