Thursday, September 21, 2017

2017/18 OHL Season Preview: Award Predictions

The conclusion to my three part season preview sees me look at potential award candidates for 2017/18.

Red Tilson Trophy - Nick Suzuki (Owen Sound Attack)
A tough choice for this award. As always, lots of strong contenders to choose from. IMO, the three leading candidates all come from the West; Nick Suzuki, Adam Mascherin, and Jordan Kyrou. I expect all three to be up near the top of league scoring this year, which is obviously a prerequisite of earning this award (unless you play a position other than forward). My money is on Suzuki. The Attack will have one heck of an offense this year and he's returning with his entire line from last year (Gadjovich and Hancock). Even with a potential appearance at the WJC's for Canada, Suzuki should be up around the 110+ point mark. Mascherin would be my second choice. Healthy and part of a strong Kitchener offense, he could be a 50/60 player this year; his last in the OHL. And Kyrou will put up points, especially if he ends up being dealt from Sarnia if they struggle. Goaltender Dylan Wells is a darkhorse candidate. If the Petes are going to win their division this year it will be on his back due to an inexperienced blueline. Other candidates could include Taylor Raddysh, Jason Robertson, Robert Thomas, Cliff Pu, Owen Tippett, and Michael McLeod (if he's returned).

OHL Goaltender of the Year - Jacob Ingham (Mississauga Steelheads)
Kind of a tough one to predict this year. Michael Dipietro is the best goalie in the league IMO, but the Spitfires aren't likely to be very good and that eliminates Dipietro from the running. Dylan Wells seems like an obvious choice because of his talent level and the strength of the team he's playing on. But the inexperience of that Peterborough defense scares me. I think they'll win games, but it might hurt Wells' statline. That brings me to Jacob Ingham. It's not uncommon for draft eligible players to win this award. Alex Nedeljkovic won it recently in his draft year. And I think the Steelheads will be a defensive force to be reckoned with this year, putting Ingham in great position to post an impressive statline. Plus...he's quite good. Matthew Villalta is a darkhorse candidate in the Soo, and overager Jeremy Helvig is an option if he can get the Fronts to where they were last year despite some veteran losses on the blueline.

Max Kaminski Trophy - Victor Mete (London Knights)
This is an interesting one. I expect Ryan Merkley to lead defenseman in scoring this year, but given his tendency to playing inconsistent at both ends, I'm believing voters will go more for a two-way defender who will also be up near the top of the blueline scoring race. My prediction is Victor Mete. He's come a long way during his OHL career and has become one of the league's elite defenders. He should put up some serious points this year (I'm going with 65+) and will be a key cog on another strong London Knights team. Conor Timmins and Nic Hague, two recent NHL draft picks, are also serious candidates. Both will play on strong teams and put up points, and both can impact the game at both ends of the ice. Markus Phillips, Cam Dineen, Riley Stillman, and Olli Juolevi (if he returns) are all possibilities too.

Emms Family Award - Andrei Svechnikov (Barrie Colts)
I think most people would be shocked (barring injury) if Svechnikov isn't the league's rookie of the year this year. Super high expectations for the Russian import and potential top 3 pick in this year's NHL draft. He could easily be a 40 goal scorer this year and put up over 80 points. Cam Hillis is another 2000 born player who has a great chance to put up some points in a high flying Guelph offense. Wouldn't surprise me at all if he was a point per game player or close to it this year. Among 2001's, I actually like Arthur Kaliyev to make among the largest impacts and I see him battling it out with Ryan Suzuki, Nick Porco, Philip Tomasino, Aiden Prueter, and Graeme Clark for top scoring 2001 this year. Also don't be surprised if a goaltender is in the running. Lots of teams relying on young/rookie goaltenders this year. Luke Cavallin in Flint and Jordan Kooy in London are the first two that come to mind.

Leo Lalande Trophy - Logan DeNoble (Peterborough Petes)
Lots of good options to choose from for the OA of the Year this year. Ryan Moore is the highest scoring returning player and that makes him a front runner. Jeremy Helvig and Evan Cormier are going to need to stand on their head to give their teams a chance a top 6 spot in their Conference. Brett McKenzie, Garrett McFadden, Kenny Heuther, and Nikita Korostelev (if he returns) are all players that I expect to have terrific offensive seasons. But the guy I'm going with is Logan DeNoble. The Petes are going to score their share of goals this year and DeNoble will be a guy counted upon to reproduce his 34 goals of last year and then some. I actually think he has a chance to be a 45+ goal scorer this year, as his shot is one of the best in the league. As such, that's who I'm going with.

Matt Leyden Trophy - Drew Bannister (Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds)
Lots of coaching turnover this year in the league, and voters can often be swayed to vote for coaches who have been around for a few years. I expect the Greyhounds to be a top 3 team in the entire OHL this year and the top candidate for the West title. As such, Bannister gets my vote here. James Richmond in Mississauga is another candidate cut from the same cloth (as a returnee). I expect the Guelph Storm to be the league's most improved team this year and that automatically qualifies George Burnett. If the 67's surprise people and end up as a top 5 East team (as I have predicted) Andre Tourigny could be a candidate too. Todd Gill in Owen Sound could be another new face (to his team, not the league) who garners consideration.

Eddie Powers Trophy - Nick Suzuki (Owen Sound Attack)
Tough call this year. As always, a lot of the league's top players will miss some time due to late starts returning from the NHL, and from the WJC's. Quite often the guy who takes the Eddie Powers is the one who can squeeze in close to a full season (ie, gets cut from the NHL early, gets cut from his WJC team). Like Alex Debrincat last year. Or Dylan Strome a few years ago. Occasionally we see an OA lead in scoring too for the same reasons. Was close to going with Ryan Moore for that reason as I see him putting up points. But ultimately I went with Nick Suzuki as I seem him carving up the league as part of that dominant first line in Owen Sound. As mentioned earlier, I think he's up over 110 points on the year. Adam Mascherin and Jordan Kyrou will be right there too IMO. Additionally, Robert Thomas and Cliff Pu could be close as Knights.

Goal Scoring Leader - Owen Tippett (Mississauga Steelheads)
Last year, Alex Debrincat ran away with this one. I expect this year's race to be much closer. I'm going with Owen Tippett who probably scores 50+ this year in Mississauga. Or at least they'll need him to, to capture the East like I've predicted. Adam Mascherin would be my second choice. Dude is going to have a monster season now that he's healthy (something I think I've mentioned several times already). Jonah Gadjovich, Boris Katchouk, and Logan DeNoble are three other names that I think will be right up there. All possess great shots, will be playing with great playmakers, and all play fearlessly and score a lot from in close. Lastly, even though I don't think Sudbury has a great year, you have to mention Dmitry Sokolov here. Highest scoring returning player to the league and he's another year stronger (and hopefully quicker).

1st Team All Stars:
LW: Adam Mascherin
C: Nick Suzuki
RW: Owen Tippett
D: Victor Mete
D: Ryan Merkley
G: Jacob Ingham
Coach: Drew Bannister

2nd Team All Stars:
LW: Jonah Gadjovich
C: Robert Thomas
RW: Jordan Kyrou
D: Conor Timmins
D: Nic Hague
G: Dylan Wells
Coach: George Burnett

3rd Team All Stars: 
LW: Boris Katchouk
C: Ryan Moore
RW: Taylor Raddysh
D: Markus Phillips
D: Cam Dineen
G: Matthew Villalta
Coach: Todd Gill

1st All Rookie Team:
LW: Nicholas Porco
C: Ryan Suzuki
RW: Andrei Svechnikov
D: Merrick Rippon
D: Nikita Okhotyuk
G: Jordan Kooy

2nd All Rookie Team:
LW: Ethan Keppen
C: Cody Morgan
RW: Arthur Kaliyev
D: Thomas Harley
D: Nico Gross
G: Luke Cavallin

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

2017/18 OHL Season Preview: Western Conference

Part two of my season preview examines what to expect from the Western Conference. I think that the Conference is very top heavy this year with a few teams at the top being considerably better than the rest. That's not to say that I believe the rest of the Conference to be poor, just that I really like the make-up of a couple teams near the top.

1. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (West Division Champs)
A weaker division leads me to believe that the Greyhounds should be the top team in not only the Western Conference, but the entire OHL. This is a tremendous team and they could very well be playing in the league's weakest division this year too. Usually a recipe for success. Offensively, this team is super deep and they play the game extremely hard. A top 6 of Morgan Frost, Boris Katchouk, Jack Kopacka, Tim Gettinger, Barrett Hayton, and Hayden Verbeek should be among the best in the league. I look at Hayton, in particular, as a big time breakout candidate in his draft year. Conor Timmins, Noah Carroll, and Mac Hollowell make up a veteran top 3 on the back-end, with one of Anthony DeMeo or Jacob LeGuerrier sliding into the top four. Timmins should have another monster season. And lastly, the Hounds enter the season as one of the few contenders in the Conference without a question mark in goal. Matthew Villalta will be the starter and should build off of a solid rookie season last year. Joseph Raaymakers continues to hold out at home, awaiting a trade. With the number of teams needing a starter in the league, I'm actually shocked that he hasn't been moved yet. I wonder if the Hounds can get a veteran defender back for him.

2. Owen Sound Attack (Midwest Division Champs)
Should be another strong season for the Attack. Owen Sound is returning the vast majority of their forwards from last season, including their entire first line of Nick Suzuki, Jonah Gadjovich, and Kevin Hancock. Another year wiser, and stronger, that top unit should absolutely tear apart the OHL. Some combination of Alan Lyszczarczyk (who was a great pick up), Ethan Szypula, Maksim Sushko, Aidan Dudas, and Matthew Struthers will provide the secondary scoring for what should be one of the highest scoring teams in the league. I suppose the one question I have is how well will they keep pucks out? I'm not convinced that Zack Bowman can be the top line starter that they need him to be. And I'm also not convinced that the team won't feel the loss of Santino Centorame. Markus Phillips is a guy who will need to play at the level he was at in the second half last year. He needs to emerge as one of the league's elite defenders to bring this team to the top of the Conference. I also look to Jacob Friend to stay healthy and contribute more on the offensive end. Even with a few minor question marks, I'd be shocked if this team wasn't one of the best in the league.

3. Kitchener Rangers 
Maybe a bit of a bold prediction. But this is a strong team on paper and I just have a gut feeling that it will translate to a terrific performance this year (and the exhibition season indicated that as well). Healthy, I see Adam Mascherin having a beastly season that could see him as a Red Tilson candidate. He's supported by a very deep group of forwards like the underrated Connor Bunnaman and the highly motivated Greg Meireles. Also feel that the two imports Kitchener brought in (Hugg and Liska) are going to be impact players. Additionally I really like the way Kitchener's defense is lining up. A ton of size. A ton of truculence. This should be a tough unit to line up against. I suppose there are some questions as to who moves the puck, but Logan Stanley, Connor Hall, Doug Blaisdell, and Gio Vallati are a terrific top four. The question mark is in net, but many of the West contenders are entering the season with similar concerns (London, Guelph, Owen Sound). With all the guys that Kitchener has brought in to the fold (like OA Anthony Dumont-Bouchard), you have to think one guy can step up to provide quality goaltending. Ultimately, I think that guy is Luke Richardson, but I guess we'll see. Again, I just like the make up of this team and have high expectations.

4. London Knights
Hard to imagine London struggling this year, even with some major graduations from last year's team (especially Tyler Parsons). This is still a very talented team. I wouldn't be shocked if Max Jones spends time in the NHL this year and is returned late, but Cliff Pu, Robert Thomas, Alex Formenton, Jesper Bratt, and Sam Miletic will hold down the fort and should give the Knights a consistent scoring attack. And Victor Mete and Evan Bouchard are an excellent guaranteed top 2 on the back-end, and it looks like Olli Juolevi could be back thanks to a poor training camp in Vancouver. Certainly not as good of a defense as in year's past, but those three could all see 30+ minutes a night. And in net, Tyler Johnson and Jordan Kooy should provide a decent 1/2 punch. Bottom line, this London team is going to have to score goals to win hockey games without Tyler Parsons back there and they've got the offensive talent to do that.

5. Guelph Storm
Big jump for the Storm this year but they're talented enough to do it. Their talented youngsters are another year older and are now supported by the likes of Alexei Toropchenko, Cam Hillis, Owen Lalonde, and Mark Shoemaker. Up front, I absolutely love this team and I can't wait to see what they can do at full staff. Givani Smith, Isaac Ratcliffe, Nate Schnarr, James McEwan, Toropchenko, and Hillis is an excellent top 6 and one that should be very exciting to watch. But the depth on the 3rd and 4th lines should be better now with the addition of Zach Poirier and improvements from Liam Hawel and Nick Deakin-Poot. This team will score goals. Defensively, the addition of Owen Lalonde was huge and just what this team needed. Merkley, Lalonde, Samorukov, and Garrett McFadden. That's a defensive unit that can create offensively. Again, this team will score goals. Don't take penalties against this team as their powerplay should be deadly. The huge question mark is in net and it makes or breaks this team as a potential top 4 team in the Conference. Ultimately, I think they go out and get a goalie (Raaymakers?), but until then Popovich and Daws will hold down the fort. Because of the high risk/high reward style I expect Guelph to play, goaltending will be critical.

6. Saginaw Spirit
Hey, look, someone else from the West Division is going to need to play well and end up as a middle of the Conference team. Quite frankly, it could be any of Saginaw, Sarnia, Flint or Windsor. But here's why I think Saginaw is the best bet. Defense and goaltending. Even though Evan Cormier hasn't really established himself as one of the league's elite yet, it's his overage year and he's fighting for a contract. So he needs a big year. And on defense, you've got a solid top four of Marcus Crawford, Keaton Middleton, Hayden Davis, and Caleb Everett. Preventing goals with a similar unit was an issue last year, but hopefully that's corrected this year with more motivated players. Offensively, this is an underrated team. No true star, but a lot of quality top 9 forwards who can bring speed and tenacity. Brady Gilmour should be better this year. You've got some talented 2000's in their draft year (Giroux, Grondin), and I actually think recently drafted 2001's Nick Porco and Aiden Prueter could have big seasons. With the right mind set and game plan, this is a team that could find success in a weak division. And if they don't, and disappoint again, ownership needs to come up with a new game plan.

7. Erie Otters
This team could be a lot better than people are giving them credit for. If they played in the West Division, I'd have them much higher in the Conference. But I'm not sure they've got the depth this year to consistently beat the likes of Kitchener, Owen Sound, London, and even Guelph. Someone has to finish at the bottom of that division. I also think that at some point this season, the Otters deal off talent (even if Dave Brown says otherwise), to recoup assets lost over the last few years. It's certainly rare for all five teams in a division to end up with winning records and a playoff birth, but it happens, and it happened in the West as recent as 2014/15. Up front, Erie should be able to put the puck in the net with two solid scoring lines and a quality powerplay unit led by Taylor Raddysh and Ivan Lodnia. The defense is a veteran laden group (although less so when they figure out their OA situation, likely) led by Jordan Sambrook. And in net, Troy Timpano is good enough and consistent enough to get this team to the playoffs yet again. You win on the back of your stars and Erie has those. At least until January, I expect this team to be pretty solid.

8. Sarnia Sting
If I was a betting man, I'd put my money on one of Saginaw or Sarnia to be that other team from the Midwest to make a bit of noise. But they're very different teams. Sarnia has top end talent but little depth, which is different than the deep/balanced team I analyzed earlier in Saginaw. The Sting will score goals, just as they did last year. Jordan Kyrou is going to have a monster year (so long as he returns from Blues camp). Drake Rymsha will be better. Adam Ruzicka will be better. Anthony Salinitri will be better. Ryan McGregor will be better. This team will put the puck in the net. But will they keep the puck out? I'm just not sure. A very young defense in the Western Conference can be a dicey proposition. You could be in trouble if you're relying on a guy like Nick Grima to be a top 2 defender and one of your veteran leaders on the back end. And I just don't think Justin Fazio is a good enough goaltender to carry a young defense to a significant record. I suppose the real question is, if Sarnia ends up near the bottom of the Conference again (which seems inevitable to me), do they move Kyrou to a contender for a King's ransom? I think the answer to that has to be yes.

9. Flint Firebirds
Slight step backward here for the Firebirds after a tremendous season last year. I have full belief in this team moving forward. They've drafted well and they have a great coaching staff. But I just don't see them being able to make a consistent impact this year. A super young defense (although talented) and weak goaltending (even if Cavallin will be great one day) will mean a lot of pucks in the back of the net. Lots of rumours out there about Dennis Busby suffering an injury that will keep him out for at least the first month and that only makes matters worse. Although the Nic Mattinen acquisition does help a bit, I don´t think it will help enough. Nick Caamano, Ryan Moore, and Luke Kirwan form a great veteran back bone offensively, but I'd expect Caamano to be dealt at some point this year so that Flint can further support their rebuild. 

10. Windsor Spitfires
Yes, I know that they've had a great preseason. But the preseason means very little for team performance in the OHL. And you guys know how much love I have for Mike Dipietro. He's a stud and he's going to steal some games for this team. But here's what you have to ask yourself. Who's scoring goals and who's playing defense? Gabe Vilardi sounds like he's out for some time again after hurting himself in the offseason. When does he start up? Sounds like Ottawa intends to give Logan Brown every opportunity to make their roster and at the very least, he may get a 9 game look and not return until January. Mikhail Sergachev recently stated that he's done with the OHL and wants to be loaned to a European team should he not make the Lightning. And even with those guys, the depth just isn't there to compete consistently in the Western Conference. Now, of course, if all three of those guys return, certain guys step up, and Dipietro stands on his head, I could look like a fool here. But that's a lot of if's and buts that I just don't see happening.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

2017/18 OHL Season Preview: Eastern Conference

Tis the season again. The 2017/18 OHL season kicks off this coming Thursday night (the 21st). It´s time to make some predictions.

The Eastern Conference should be quite interesting this year. We have a few teams that look very strong on paper (Peterborough, Mississauga, Hamilton, for example). Also have some young, up and coming teams like Niagara and Ottawa who could surprise and compete earlier than expected. Even a team like Barrie could be better than people are giving them credit for. Basically what I am saying is that I see this as a very tough year to predict. But I´m going to try anyway!

1. Mississauga Steelheads (Central Division Champs)
Just going on a hunch here. I feel like the Steelheads are the most balanced team in the Eastern Conference with a quality goaltender, a solid top 5 defense and depth (and talent) up front. The other teams have some question marks for me. Of course, Mississauga has to worry about a few of their players making the NHL/AHL this year. With the Travis Zajac injury, I would actually be shocked to see Michael McLeod back to start the year. I think (at minimum) he gets a 9 game look which would mean that Mississauga will have to go at least a half a season without him (similar to Erie last year with Strome). Nathan Bastian appears to be 50/50. From a recent article, Devils coach John Hynes stated that they'll give him every opportunity to make the AHL, but if he's not ready, he'll return to the OHL for an OA year. At the very least, he won't be starting the season with the club. But I don´t see Tippett making Florida. Combine that with an emerging talent like Ryan McLeod, and veterans Trent Fox, Jacob Cascagnette, and Brandon Harrogate and you have the depth to cover Mikey´s (and possibly Bastian's) promotion. Jacob Ingham looks to be solid heading into his NHL draft season and will likely be one of the league´s best this year. And the addition of Merrick Rippon should really help an already quality blueline (consisting of Hague, Moverare, Gibson, and Osmanski). Again, this is a well balanced team built around veterans and that is usually a recipe for great success in this league. They just can´t afford to start as slowly as they did last year.

2. Peterborough Petes (East Division Champs)
The East Division is going to be super competitive this year. And all of them have some question marks too. Quite honestly, I would not be surprised at all if any of the 5 teams end up as division champs. So why Peterborough? Admittedly they´ve been very shaky this exhibition season with an inexperienced back-end. But, with Dylan Wells in net and maybe the deepest forward unit in the entire OHL, I have faith that they will figure it out (although I could see them starting slowly like Mississauga did last year). Without question Wells is the back bone and they will need him to be huge this year. The improvements he showed last year will need to be built upon as he will have to consistently bail out an inexperienced blueline that has seen a lot of turnover. Timms and Alex Black should form a nice top pairing, but they will need a guy like Declan Chisholm or Cole Fraser to really step up as a solid number 3; solidifying their second unit. Aforementioned, their offense should not be an issue. This team will score goals. This is especially true if Nikita Korostelev returns from NHL camp without a pro contract. I expect OA Logan DeNoble and veteran Jonathan Ang to have huge years.

3. Hamilton Bulldogs
Really the only question mark I have about this team is in net. I am not worried about Hamilton´s forward group. Will Bitten and Matthew Strome lead a very talented group that will play hard for coach Gruden. Good mix of veterans and youth. In particular, I think Artur Kaliyev has to be considered a favourite for rookie of the year. I am also not worried about Hamilton´s defense. This is a veteran laden group, led by the likes of Justin Lemcke, Cole Candella, Ben Gleason, and Connor Walters. This group has been through a lot the last few years and I expect them all to have good seasons. Where I am worried is in goal. Kaden Fulcher could be a quality goaltender in this league, but as of yet he hasn´t taken that next step forward to be a consistent starter. The defense should make things easier for him this year, but he will still have to come up with some big saves and a few off nights could be the difference between first and third in a very tough/evenly balanced division. If Fulcher takes that step forward, this Bulldogs team could not only take the division, but also the Conference.

4. Oshawa Generals
Oshawa is set to be a pretty solid overall team this year on paper. Not overly dominant in one area, but well rounded. Up front, they've got a solid young group of forwards led by new captain Jack Studnicka and supported by the likes of Allan McShane, Domenic Commisso, Danil Antropov, and Serron Noel. OA's Mason Kohn and Kenny Heuther could be big producers too. On defense, I look for Riley Stillman to take that next step as one of the better two-way defenders in the league this year. And the group, as a whole, is big and mean and will make life difficult for opposing forwards in the offensive end. I'm curious to see how highly touted Swiss defender Nico Gross adapts and performs as a rookie. I guess the one real question I have is how well Kyle Keyser performs as a starter this year. I think he's going to be solid, but it is his first year being handed a starter's role so you never know how he'll handle it. Look for the Generals to be in the middle of the pack in the Conference this year with an aim at being at the top for 2018/19.

5. Ottawa 67's
Big believer of this solid young team. The 67's have drafted exceptionally well the last few years and the rebuild of this storied franchise is in full swing. On paper, there's certainly some question marks. Who will step up to be a dominant and reliable scorer? Sasha Chmelevski? Austen Keating? Travis Barron? Tye Felhaber? Four guys who were highly touted but haven't delivered the goods consistently yet. However, they are supported by a host of quality young players (rookie or not). While not all of these guys will work out, odds say that only a couple need too for the 67's to have a half decent offense moving forward. I look for Kody Clark to have a breakout year, in particular. It's the young defense that I really like on this team. Noel Hoefenmayer and Kevin Bahl could make for a fantastic young pairing. And Russian Nikita Okhotyuk is the real deal. This is a potential superstar in the league. Also curious to see how Carter Robertson and Peter Stratis develop this season. In net, with OA Leo Lazerev finally moving on, the keys have been given to Olivier Lafreniere, with newly acquired Olivier Tremblay there as a mentor and fall back option. There will be some hiccups with this team, but I think they have enough talent to be a middle of the pack team this year.

6. Niagara IceDogs
Look, someone else from the Central Division is going to have to be a solid team. We're not going to have Mississauga at the top and the rest at the bottom. I think the upstart IceDogs are best positioned to be that team. Even though he's been a bit shaky this preseason, Stephen Dhillon was an absolute work horse last year, emerging as one of the more consistent netminders in the Conference. While his defense might not be as good as last year, I do like the acquisitions of Elijah Roberts and Zach Shankar and I think both fit in well with this team (Roberts as a puck mover and Shankar as a people mover). The defense is certainly a question mark though. And that means the offense is going to need to score goals. I think they can do that. Akil Thomas should have a huge draft year and is supported by breakout candidates like Kirill Maksimov, Ben Jones, rookie Philip Tomasino, and veteran Johnny Corneil. I think a healthy Matthew Philip is a sleeper breakout candidate too. Even with a questionable preseason performance, I like this team to be a playoff team in 2017/18.

7. Kingston Frontenacs
Quite often it's hard to be bad in this league if you've got star talent. 2-3 outstanding players can be enough to make you a playoff team and that's what I see in Kingston this year. Really, they're a similar team to the one that finished with home ice advantage in the first round last year (finishing 4th). But I think the Eastern Conference is better and deeper this year and that pushes this Fronts team down a peg or two. Jason Robertson is a legit offensive talent and he's going to have to do the majority of damage by himself yet again. Nathan Dunkley and Linus Nyman are solid supporting characters, but this was a team who finished dead last in goals scored last year and I don't see there being a ton of improvement coming. So that begs the question, can their defense be as good as it was last year? I'm just not sure. Rasanen, Paquette, and Liam Murray form the backbone, but I think this Kingston team will miss Stephen Desrocher and Nathan Billitier. In net, Jeremy Helvig is a solid veteran presence, but he's going to have to have an other worldly year to get this team back into the top four of the East IMO.

8. North Bay Battalion
Did you really expect me to predict a Stan Butler team to miss the playoffs two years in a row? Honestly though, it's going to be a close battle for the final few spots in the East, just as it was last year. I could easily see this Battalion team finishing last in the Conference, or I could see them as high as 5th or 6th. So why North Bay for the 8th and final spot? I like their defense. A healthy Cam Dineen. A year older Brady Lyle. A year more experienced Adam Thilander. A motivated Riley Bruce. A veteran Jesse Saban. This is a quality defense and potentially one of the better ones in the Eastern Conference. Will they be able to cover up massive question marks in net? I think definitely some nights. And others, likely not. Offensively, Brett McKenzie returns as an OA and he could have a big year. Also look for Adam McMaster to have a breakout season offensively. That's a solid 1/2 punch down the middle and should give the Battalion enough to crack the playoffs.

9. Sudbury Wolves
Probably not the prediction Wolves fans wanted to see from this article, but here's my thinking. This is a team that gave up 265 goals last year which was among the league's worst. And quite frankly, I think the defense is worse this year. Gone are veterans Patrick Sanvido, Aiden Jamieson, Kyle Capobianco and youngster Owen Lalonde. Jacob McGrath and Marshall Frappier are two quality young goaltenders who will be quality players in this league, but I'm just not sure they're good enough to prevent a puck turnstile in Sudbury's net. In order for this team to make the playoffs, they will need a potentially solid offense to really step up. Dmitri Sokolov should be in store for another excellent season. And Macauley Carson is a solid contributor. But the team needs former high picks David Levin and Michael Pezzetta to step up and become consistent offensive stars to give Sudbury a two line attack. I'm just not sure that I'm a believer. Tough times in store for Sudbury fans this year I think.

10. Barrie Colts
No doubt, this Colts team should be better this season. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised at all if this team was in the top 6 of the Conference. But, as mentioned earlier, I think it's also important to note that the Eastern Conference has improved as a whole. Let's talk about an explosive offense first. Andrei Svechnikov. Alexei Lipanov. Ryan Suzuki. Kiril Nizhnikov. Those are some pretty damn good players. Even if they don't win games, this Colts team will be infinitely more entertaining to watch this year. The Leo Lazerev acquisition was a smart one too as it gives Christian Propp a great mentor to take some pressure off of him. Defensively though, this team will not be strong and neither Lazerev nor Propp are good enough to overcome that, at least IMO. Quite frankly, as much as fans probably wouldn't want to admit it, finishing near the bottom of the league again would be best for this franchise. Lipanov and Svechnikov are likely gone next year (Lipanov can play in the AHL early), which means that another top 3 pick would really help this team in their rebuilding efforts. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Sunday Top 10 - Performers of the 2017 Preseason

The 2017 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. Kingston Frontenacs (2-0-1) - .833%
2. Hamilton Bulldogs (3-1) - .750%
3. Mississauga Steelheads (2-0-2) - .750%
4. Sudbury Wolves (2-1-1) - .625%
5. Barrie Colts (3-2-1) - .583%
6. North Bay Battalion (3-2-1) - .583%
7. Ottawa 67's (1-1) - .500%
8. Peterborough Petes (2-3-1) - .417%
9. Oshawa Generals (1-2-1) - .375% 
10. Niagara IceDogs (1-3) - .250%

Western Conference
1. Owen Sound Attack (5-0) - 1.00%
2. Windsor Spitfires (4-1) - .800%
3. Saginaw Spirit (2-1-1) - .625%
4. Erie Otters (3-2) - .600%
5. Guelph Storm (3-2) - .600%
6. London Knights (2-2) - .500%
7. Sarnia Sting (2-2) - .500%
8. Kitchener Rangers (2-3-1) - .417% 
9. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (1-3) - .250%
10. Flint Firebirds (1-4) - .200%

Here are your top 10 OHL preseason performers, with several HM's and a team by team breakdown of some other standouts. 

1. Alan Lyszczarzyk - Owen Sound Attack
Quite the Owen Sound debut for the Polish National, after an offseason trade from Sudbury. Lyszczarczyk had a disappointing season with the Wolves last year, but the Attack will be counting on him to be a big contributor as a secondary scoring option behind the big three (Suzuki, Gadjovich, Hancock) this year. Not only did he lead all OHL players in preseason scoring, but he also led in shots on goal (with 24) and in game winning goals (with 2). Lyszczarczyk seems to have developed instant chemistry with Matthew Struthers and Chase Campbell to form a terrific 2nd/3rd line.

2. Jordan Ernst - Sarnia Sting
The former transfer from Bowling Green and overager is going to be counted on hugely in Sarnia this year, to lead an inexperienced blueline. He had a decent rookie season, but will need to be even better this year. If his play this preseason is any indication, he should be in for a big year. Ernst finished the preseason with 5 goals in 4 games, finished 2nd among all players with 23 shots on goal and was a +5. This year's Ryan Mantha?

*EDIT - It appears that Ernst was being used as a forward this preseason. This is interesting considering how inexperienced Sarnia's blueline already is. Given this information, I'd likely move Ernst down several spots on this list, but he had a strong preseason none the less.

3. Ethan Szypula - Owen Sound Attack
Not easy to go perfect in the OHL preseason because of how many players you lose to NHL camps, but the Owen Sound Attack did just that and that's why they have 3 players on this list. The most promising part about Szypula's production this preseason? The fact that he did it while playing on a different line than Lyszczarczyk. Syzpula's 9 points in 3 games (three, three point games) came while playing with Aidan Dudas and Maksim Sushko. So the Attack have positioned themselves nicely to have three terrific scoring lines heading into the season and beyond.

4. Lucas Chiodo - Barrie Colts
Easy to get lost in the shuffle when your team has brought in a potential top 3 pick in the next NHL draft (Svechnikov), a recent 3rd round NHL pick (Lipanov), and the most recent 1st overall OHL pick (Suzuki) this past summer. But returning player Lucas Chiodo rose to the occasion and made sure people didn't forget that he's the highest scoring returning player from last year's squad. Chiodo tied with Lyszczarzcyk and Syzpula for first in preseason scoring with 9 points, also contributing two game winning goals. The winger will likely line up with one of Suzuki or Lipanov down the middle and his performance is vital to getting Barrie back to the playoffs this year.

5. Matt Woroniuk - North Bay Battalion
Things weren't so rosy in the puck stopping department last year for the Battalion. Veteran Brent Moran battled some injuries and struggled when he did play. Rookies Julien Sime and Matt Woroniuk also saw time and weren't fantastic. In order for North Bay to get back to the playoffs this year, they're going to need to do a better job keeping the puck out. This preseason, Woroniuk did just that. He was a workhorse, stopping 104 of 113 shots over four games, winning two of them. On paper, the tandem of Sime and Woroniuk seems scary, but the preseason indicates that maybe North Bay may just be alright heading into the year.

6. Pavel Gogolev - Peterborough Petes
The 8th overall pick in the 2016 OHL Draft struggled last year, posting only 5 goals in a depth role for the Petes. But if the preseason is any indication (it usually is for NHL draft eligible players), he's really improved and could be a breakout candidate. Gogolev posted 4 goals and 4 assists in 6 games, leading the Petes in exhibition scoring. This is a deep Peterborough team up front, but it looks like Gogolev is ready for an increased role.

7. Ryan Merkley - Guelph Storm
There are a lot of eyes on Merkley heading into the 2017 season. After a solid (although inconsistent) rookie year and a good performance at the Hlinka, the former first overall pick has positioned himself as a potential lottery selection at this year's NHL draft. Scouts will be out to watch him (and the Storm) in full force this season. Merkley had a terrific preseason with 2 goals and 4 assists in 4 games, including a 4 point exhibition finale. Upping his intensity in the defensive end and cutting down on sloppy penalties will be just as crucial as his offensive production though. 

8. Andrei Svechnikov - Barrie Colts
Pretty impressive debut for the Russian winger and reigning USHL rookie of the year. The potential top 3 selection at this year's NHL draft came as advertised, posting 4 goals in 5 games, and from the reports I've read and been told, he probably could have had 4 more. The explosive offensive winger is going to be a treat to watch in the league this year.

9. Sean Durzi - Owen Sound Attack
With the graduation of former captain Santino Centorame, someone will need to step up in Owen Sound, eating his minutes and replacing his offensive production from the back end. The leading candidate for that was veteran Sean Durzi and his preseason performance would indicate that he's ready for that. Durzi had 8 points in 3 games for the undefeated Attack, with four of those points coming with the man advantage. Durzi broke out in a big way last year, more than doubling his offensive production from the year before (16 to 38 points). He could be in for another jump this year as part of a dynamic offense.

10. Troy Timpano - Erie Otters
The defending OHL Champions are definitely a different looking team this year, with many of last year's players graduating to the pro level. With so many players in new roles, Erie is going to need strong goaltending to stay afloat and veteran Troy Timpano is that man. He had a solid preseason, winning 2 of the 3 games he played in, posting a .926 save percentage. 

Honorable Mentions

Luke Burghardt - North Bay Battalion
Another face on a new team making an impression, after coming over from Guelph. With some upgrades to skating and puck skill, and added strength, it was only a matter of time before he started scoring more consistently. Burghardt had 4 goals in 5 games for the Battalion, who will be desperate for some additional scoring help this year.

Giovanni Vallati - Kitchener Rangers
Solid preseason offensively for the hyped 2018 NHL Draft prospect. Vallati didn't have a great summer (being cut from the Hlinka team), but 7 assists in 5 preseason games is a good way to start the year for him. Could have a huge year for a solid Rangers team.

Morgan Frost - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
5 goals in 4 games for the Flyers first rounder. Frost will be the top line center for one of the OHL's elite teams this year. An 80+ point season is definitely likely IMO. Hopefully it's with better team results than we saw in the preseason though (however, important to note that the Greyhounds were among the OHL's leaders in players attending NHL camps).

Igor Larionov - Windsor Spitfires
The son of former Red Wing great, Igor Larionov, junior is a transfer from the QMJHL where he played with Quebec last year. Not a ton was expected from him as an FA invite, but he was terrific in the preseason with 5 points in 5 games for the 4 win Spitfires (a great result for them in what should be a rebuilding year).

Kyle Rhodes - Sudbury Wolves
Another cast off from the Guelph Storm, Rhodes was fantastic for the Sudbury Wolves in the preseason with 3 goals and 3 assists and a +4 rating. Sudbury is desperate for someone on their blueline to step up as a prominent player and if the OA can do that, it would really help Sudbury to have a good year.

Jacob Ingham - Mississauga Steelheads
Par for the course for this talented youngster after a tremendous rookie season where he bailed out the Steelheads while Matt Mancina was struggling through the first half of 2016/17. It's his team now and he looks ready for the starting gig, stopping 62 of 66 in preseason action. Going to be a good year for this 2018 NHL pick.

Team by Team Breakdowns

Barrie Colts
Ryan Suzuki (1 goal, 5 assists)
Kirill Nizhnikov (1 goal, 2 assists - in two games)

Erie Otters
Patrick Fellows (4 goals, 1 assist)
Chad Yetman (1 goal, 3 assists)

Flint Firebirds
Ethan Keppen (3 goals, 2 assists)
Hunter Holmes (2 goals, 3 assists)

Guelph Storm
Garrett McFadden (1 goal, 5 assists)
Barret Kirwin (5 goals)
Isaac Ratcliffe (2 goals, 3 assists) 
Anthony Popovich (.914 SV%, 2 wins)

Hamilton Bulldogs
Ben Garagan (1 goal, 4 assists)
Arthur Kaliyev (2 goals)

Kingston Frontenacs
Jason Robertson (2 goals, 1 assist)
Cody Morgan (2 goals, 1 assist)

Kitchener Rangers
Joseph Garreffa (1 goal, 6 assists)
Riley Damiani (4 goals)

London Knights
Liam Foudy (2 goals, 2 assists)
Evan Bouchard (3 goals)
Tyler Johnson (57 of 60 saves)

Mississauga Steelheads
Owen Tippett (3 goals, 1 assist)
Thomas Marley (3 assists)

Niagara IceDogs
Ondrej Machala (3 goals, 2 assists)
Johnathon Schaefer (4 assists)

North Bay Battalion
Brad Chenier (1 goal, 4 assists)
Daniel Walker (3 goals, 1 assist)

Oshawa Generals
Renars Krastenbergs (3 goals, 1 assist)
Allan McShane (1 goal, 2 assists)

Ottawa 67's
Graeme Clark (2 goals)

Owen Sound Attack
Chase Campbell (2 goals, 3 assists)
Mitchell Russell (3 goals, 1 assist)
Matthew Struthers (3 goals, 1 assist)

Peterborough Petes
Adam Timleck (4 goals, 2 assists)
Cameron Supryka (1 goal, 2 assists)

Saginaw Spirit
DJ Busdeker (2 goals, 2 assists)
Nicholas Porco (2 goals, 1 assist)

Sarnia Sting
Drake Rymsha (3 goals, 3 assists)
Hugo Leufvenius (2 goals, 3 assists)

Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Zack Trott (3 goals, 1 assist)
Keeghan Howdeshell (2 goals, 2 assists)

Sudbury Wolves
David Levin (2 goals, 3 assists - in one game)
Dawson Baker (3 goals, 1 assist)

Windsor Spitfires
Aaron Luchuk (3 goals, 1 assist)
Matthew MacDougall (3 goals)
Brock Baier (.926 SV%, 2 wins)