Sunday, October 9, 2011
Sunday Top 10 - Surprises of the Opening Weeks
The 2011-2012 OHL season is now almost three weeks old. Many teams have played around 10% of their season thus far, and things in the league are starting to round into form.
So let's take a look at some of the things that have caught everyone by surprise and opened up some eyes so far. There isn't any order to this week's list, just a collection of ten facts that may be interesting about the start to the new season.
The Guelph Storm Are Winning Games
The Storm were the preseason favourites to be the worst in the West after losing Taylor Beck, Peter Holland, and Michael Latta (among others). They had a good preseason, but I'm not sure a lot of people put stock into it. But now Scott Walker (new assistant for Canada at the WJC's) has the Storm playing well to start the regular season. The team's collection of hard working forwards are wearing down opposing defenses and they're actually the second highest scoring team in the league (per game) behind London right now. I'm not even sure Guelph fans anticipated this type of start.
Niagara and Oshawa Struggling
In pretty much any preseason prognostication, one of three teams were bend pegged to win the East. The 67's, who are off to a great start. And the IceDogs and Generals who have looked quite poor thus far. For Niagara, it could be the absence of Ryan Strome (NHL) and Mark Visentin (injury). For Oshawa, who knows. Both teams could be suffering from the post NHL camp malaise that often plagues players who return to the OHL from long stays in NHL/AHL camps. Either way, these two beasts of the East have looked more like basement dwellers thus far and that has to be a surprise.
Joey Hishon Still Not Healthy
After suffering a concussion at last year's Memorial Cup, Owen Sound's star center Joey Hishon is still out with post concussion syndrome. There is no time table for his return. In a lot of ways, this has been a bit of a surprise in the past month or so because of how well hidden the extent of Hishon's malaise was. If Hishon is able to recover at some point this season, it may actually be a blessing to the Attack...as well as Hishon. Many were expecting he would turn pro this season and play in the AHL. But with no NHL camp time and a long recovery ahead of him, if he comes back at all this season, you'd have to assume it'd be with Owen Sound (instead of throwing him straight to the wolves in the AHL/ECHL). Which would give their line up a HUGE boost.
Christian Thomas' Slow Start
Yes, the Generals are struggling, as has already been mentioned. But maybe part of that lies with Christian Thomas who hasn't looked great (save the last game) since returning from New York Rangers camp. As a popular preseason pick to lead the league in scoring (as he came close to doing last year), it has to be surprising that prior to yesterday's two goal effort, Thomas had only 1 goal in 5 games to start the year. It looks like he's turning things around now, which is great news. But his slow start is definitely still news worthy.
Kerby Rychel, Scorer Extraordinaire?
If I had said to you that one of the top scoring 1994's in the OHL after the first three weeks would be Kerby Rychel, would you have called me crazy? Considered a hard nosed player with limited upside, Rychel has exploded offensively this season and is still top 10 in league scoring, and 2nd in goals scored. Would anybody care to call him a reach in the OHL Priority Draft first round anymore?
Peterborough Petes, East Division Leaders
Granted, a lot of people expected the Petes to be much better this season (myself included), but leading their division thus far has to be considered a solid feat. Even more surprising has been the play of goaltender Andrew D'Agostini. Offseason acquisition and supposed starter Mike Morrison has been shaky thus far and D'Agostini has taken the bull by the horns.
What's Going On With the Draft Eligible Players?
Some of the OHL's supposed top talent for the NHL Draft this year have struggled out of the gate statistically. In fact, thus far, only 2 of the league's top 20 scorers thus far are first year draft eligible players (Yakupov and Rychel). The likes of Matia Marcantouni, Scott Laughton, Andreas Athanasiou, Jesse Graham, among others are struggling to find their groove. In net, Malcolm Subban is losing starts to offseason acquisition John Chartrand, who is outplaying him by leaps and bounds. Now I'm sure that most of these guys turn it around, but it wouldn't be shocking if a few continued this into a year long funk.
The Perfect Mississauga Majors
Memorial Cup hangover? Loss of the team's top 8 scorers from last year? Devante Smith Pelly in the NHL. Yet...the Mississauga Majors have been the best team in the league thus far with a perfect 7-0 record. Many of the team's veteran players have stepped up huge, and the team's young/inexperienced defense have looked like a group of 4 year veterans. If the team gets Smith-Pelly back eventually...and even gets a surprise OA return (Flemming, Shugg?), could they be Memorial Cup contenders yet again? A 68-0 season?
7 Players Stick in the NHL
If this list were in a specific order, this fact would likely be number one or at the top of the list. It was assumed many of the league's top picks this season were simply not NHL ready. That certainly hasn't been the case. Gabriel Landeskog (who was a lock to make the NHL), Ryan Strome, Ryan Murphy, Mark Scheifele, Brandon Saad have stuck from the 2011 Draft, while Erik Gudbranson (another lock) and Devante Smith-Pelly have made it from the 2010 crop. Who knows how many or who sticks past the maximum games requirement, but some of these players are significant losses to their OHL teams. If Niagara doesn't get Strome back until sometime in November, they could already be out of the Division race by then.
Tanner Pearson, Zach Hall, and Colin Behenna
Mark Scheifele who? These three linemates in Barrie are absolutely tearing apart the league. Pearson is on pace for a 200 point season, and the three amigos are on pace to score close to 200 goals alone, as a unit. Talk about finding a first line with chemistry to start the year. Best of all, Barrie is in 4th place in the East and look to be a force to reckon with. Now that's a quality rebuilding effort.