Wednesday, September 19, 2018

2018/19 OHL Season Preview: Award Predictions

The conclusion to my three part season preview sees me look at potential award candidates for 2018/19.

Red Tilson Trophy - Nick Suzuki (Owen Sound Attack)
Coming off a 100 point season last year, Suzuki seems like a pretty safe bet to return to Owen Sound for his 19 year old season. He'll be able to play alongside his longtime running mate, Kevin Hancock, one last time. As such, he's going to put up a ton of points (even with a likely appearance for Canada at the WJC's) and the Attack are going to win hockey games. Sounds like a recipe for a Tilson vote. Obviously, Morgan Frost is a serious candidate too. 2nd leading scorer from a year ago and should be better this year. Problem is that the talent surrounding him won't be quite as good. Jack Studnicka is a serious candidate for me too. If he cracks the 100 point mark and the Generals are as good as I think they'll be, Studnicka could get a lot of votes because of how he impacts the game in so many different ways. What about Michael Dipietro if he can get the Spits to the top of the Western Conference? Sasha Chmelevski is a nice darkhorse candidate many aren't talking about right now, as I think he could be a top 5 scorer in the league this year. Ben Jones, Kyle Keyser, Isaac Ratcliffe, and Akil Thomas are others who I could see getting consideration.

Goaltender of the Year - Kyle Keyser (Oshawa Generals)
I went against Dipietro last year, against my better judgment. And it looks like I'm doing it again. I must be insane. Here's the thing. I think the Generals are going to be really good. And I think Kyle Keyser is going to put up some really strong numbers. His game has really come a long way. That said, I wouldn't be shocked if Dipietro won it again. He is going to be so crucial to Windsor's success, so even if his numbers aren't the best, he is still going to get votes. OA's Joseph Raaymakers and Stephen Dhillon could be considered candidates heading into the year. Ditto for the Soo's Matthew Villalta. But what about Ivan Prosvetov in Saginaw? The Spirit are going to be very strong defensively and Prosvetov could put up some very solid numbers.

Max Kaminski Trophy - Joey Keane (Barrie Colts)
A candidate last year, I think Keane is going to have a very big year in Barrie. Because of how solid he is at both ends, Keane attracts attention from voters. His goal scoring numbers will need to be better this year though. If Evan Bouchard returns, he's a near shoe in IMO. Sean Durzi, once he returns from pro camp, is a serious candidate again. He's going to put up insane offensive numbers this year on that Owen Sound powerplay with Suzuki. Matt Brassard, another OA, should also be a candidate once he returns from pro camp (assuming he does). He had a terrific second half and will be in a position to be a point per game player. How about Adam Boqvist? Hard to imagine that he's not in the running once he joins the OHL from Blackhawks' camp. Ryan Merkley is going to put up a TON of points, but I'm not sure voters will give him a serious look if his defensive game remains an enigma. How about a darkhorse candidate? Mac Hollowell is one of the highest scoring returning defenders and he's going to be riding shotgun on the Hounds powerplay with Morgan Frost and Barrett Hayton.

Emms Family Award - Quinton Byfield (Sudbury Wolves)
I'm all in on the Byfield train. This kid was dominating the OHL preseason by the end and is going to have some talent surrounding him in Sudbury. He could be the first 16 year old to be over the 70 point mark since Travis Konecny. Ottawa's Import Marco Rossi is someone I could see putting up a ton of points and being a serious contender here too. He performed well in the preseason and is considered a potential top 5 pick for 2020 (late birthday). Another import who will be put in a good spot to put up points is London's Matvei Guskov. Just recently named to Bob McKenzie's preseason draft ranking, Guskov looks like the real deal. A few other 16 year olds to keep an eye on are Will Cuylle, Jamie Drysdale, and Cole Perfetti.

Leo Lalande Trophy - Sean Durzi (Owen Sound Attack)
Man, this is a tough one. There are some REALLY good OA's playing in the OHL this year. Wouldn't be surprised if 3-4 of the top 10 scorers are OA's, and 3-4 of the top 10 defenseman scorers are OA's. Durzi just seems like the logical choice here, pending he returns (which I think he does). Should be well over a point per game on a strong team. Teammate Kevin Hancock would actually be my second choice as I see him as a potential top 5 scorer in the OHL this year, riding shotgun with Suzuki. Up front, Justin Brazeau and Tye Felhaber are candidates. As is Brandon Saigeon, who was just returned by the Avalanche (much to the surprise of many). On the back-end, so are Mac Hollowell, Matthew Timms, and Matt Brassard. And in net, Joseph Raaymakers and Stephen Dhillon should be right there. Many other names that I'm not mentioning too. Just a really solid OA crop this year.

Matt Leyden Trophy - Greg Walters (Oshawa Generals)
I've mentioned that I'm bullish on the Generals this year and I think that makes Walters a big time front runner for this award. The Generals jump from 5th to 1st in the East and become serious Championship contenders. 2nd choice here would be Troy Smith in Saginaw. Again, big jump here from 8th to a division title (potentially) and that could earn him the attention from voters. If the London Knights are as good as everyone expects, Dale Hunter can obviously throw his hat in the ring. Some others to consider as preseason candidates include Billy Burke (Niagara), George Burnett (Guelph), Todd Gill (Owen Sound), Andre Tourigny (Ottawa), and Cory Stillman (Sudbury). If Stillman can get the Wolves back to the top 4 of the East, he could be someone who really deserves this award.

Eddie Powers Trophy - Nick Suzuki (Owen Sound Attack)
I chose him for the Tilson, so I'm sticking with him for the scoring title. He's going to miss time for the WJC's, this is true. But so will other top candidates like Morgan Frost, Sasha Chmelevski, Jason Robertson, and Jack Studnicka. Does that open the door for another OA such as Kevin Hancock or Tye Felhaber, who are surrounded by a ton of talent and should put up a ton of points? Or what about Ben Jones or Akil Thomas in Niagara, since I'm not sure either end up suiting up at the World Juniors. They could put up a ton of points on a strong Niagara team. But if I'm a betting man, it's one of the guys I mentioned in the opening sentences of this paragraph. I didn't mention Robertson as a Red Tilson candidate, but if he gets dealt, sooner rather than later, he could end up taking this one home.

Goal Scoring Leader - Isaac Ratcliffe (Guelph Storm)
Had 40 last year and I think he hits the 50 goal mark this year. I'm also not sure he ends up playing at the WJC's, which will help him lock this down. Guelph's powerplay is going to be fantastic this year and Ratcliffe's size and shot will be a big time asset. Niagara's Kirill Maksimov is another guy that I think could be a 50 goal scorer. Love his game. What about Nick Suzuki, my pick for the Powers? Along with Morgan Frost, he's the highest scoring returning player. Again, Robertson is someone worth a mention. How about big overager Justin Brazeau or fellow OA Brandon Saigeon? They could easily be a 50 goal scorers too. Last name I'll mention is Sasha Chmelevski. A guy who hasn't received enough love for the improvements that he has shown.

1st Team All Stars:
LW - Isaac Ratcliffe
C - Nick Suzuki
RW - Jason Robertson
D - Sean Durzi
D - Joey Keane
G - Kyle Keyser
Coach - Greg Walters

2nd Team All Stars:
LW - Kevin Hancock
C - Morgan Frost
RW - Kirill Maksimov
D - Matt Brassard
D - Mac Hollowell
G - Michael Dipietro
Coach - Troy Smith

3rd Team All Stars:
LW - Matthew Strome
C - Jack Studnicka
RW - Justin Brazeau
D - Adam Boqvist
D - Ryan Merkley
G - Ivan Prosvetov
Coach - Dale Hunter

1st All Rookie Team:
LW - Cole Perfetti
C - Quinton Byfield
RW - Kaleb Pearson
D - Jamie Drysdale
D - Daniil Chayka
G - Jet Greaves

2nd All Rookie Team:
LW - Will Cuylle
C - Marco Rossi
RW - Ty Tullio
D - Jake Murray
D - Robert Calisti
G - Kari Piiroinen

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

2018/19 OHL Season Preview: Western Conference

Part two of my season preview brings us to the Western Conference.

At this point, I think we have to consider the London Knights as the front runners, even if the state of their roster is extremely contingent on NHL training camps. I expect Saginaw and the other teams in the Midwest to push them. Owen Sound could be extremely dangerous if they get good goaltending. And Guelph, well they should be great but they also give off a vibe that makes me somewhat nervous still. A lot of the West teams had terrific preseasons (dominating the East), but I'm just not sure that we can use those results to say that the West is that much better.

1. London Knights (Midwest Division Champions)
Evan Bouchard. Adam Boqvist. Alex Formenton. Brady Tkachuk. The Knights could get all of them, or none of them. And the timetable surrounding that decision is also of importance. If all four get NHL playing time to start the year, it could be November until we see them back. London can't afford to get off to the start it did last year in the first two months. But this year's team is most definitely deeper and should be able to withstand the uncertainty. The addition of Matthew Timms was a really savvy move to make sure that the team's powerplay and offense still clicks with Bouchard and Boqvist unavailable to start the year. And they still have Regula, Perrott, and Golden to keep them afloat (although I could see Golden being dealt at some point). Up front, Matvei Guskov was recently named to Bob McKenzie's early draft list and produced well in the preseason. And it's now a full year of guys like Foudy, Moskal, Dunkley, McMichael, etc, playing key roles that they excelled at in the second half last year. Did I mention that London also drafted extremely well this past year and added 3 fantastic young forwards (Stranges, Evangelista, Panwar) into the fold. The depth is there and the top end talent will eventually show. Between Kooy and Raaymakers, the goaltending should be solid. Even if London can go a few games above .500 for the opening month or two, once they get themselves to full squad (even if it's 3/4 of the above), they should still have enough to surge and take the Conference.

2. Saginaw Spirit (West Division Champions)
What a terrific offseason for General Manager Dave Drinkill and the Spirit. This was already a solid team coming into the year, but they managed to add Albert Michnac, Bode Wilde, Ivan Prosvetov, and Cole Perfetti into the fold. The results this preseason spoke for themselves. This is going to be a tough team to beat this year. At forward, the team doesn't have any stars, but what they do have is depth and heart. This team can roll three scoring lines that can match up against the opposition's best. In particular, I really think that Cole Coskey is an underrated player and he could emerge as an OHL star this year. And there's no way that Brady Gilmour can be as ineffective as he was last year. The defense though, that's the highlight. Like Oshawa in the East, size is a big time strength. Wilde, Middleton, Everett, Davis, Webb. They're all over 6'2. I'm very intrigued to see Wilde play. Also excited to see Ivan Prosvetov manning the pipes, as I've heard great things from those who watched him in the USHL. If London really does get off to a slow (or average) start, this Spirit team could have a chance to take this Conference.

3. Owen Sound Attack
Last year, the lack of goaltending really hurt this team, whose offense was fantastic; and quite frankly wasted. This year, goaltending is still a question mark, with the Attack banking on Mack Guzda to be a capable starter in his draft year. It's a safe bet IMO, as I'm a fan of Guzda and I obviously think he'll do just fine considering where I have the Attack ranked. I'm also operating under the assumption that Sean Durzi returns and solidifies a defense which is, IMO, one of the strongest in the OHL with him in the lineup. Durzi, Lyle, Phillips, Robertson/Bourque (if they keep Bourque as an OA) is very solid. And at forward, this team returns a lot of key players including Nick Suzuki who could be a front runner to lead the league in scoring. The Hancock/Suzuki pairing returns for a final kick at the can and they will be unstoppable. But Dudas and Sushko form a quality 2nd line that gives Owen Sound a terrific one/two punch. The team's preseason performance was very encouraging, especially given the performances of some players who would have otherwise been considered scoring depth (Robinson, Groulz, Pearson, Wilson, etc). All signs are pointing to this team being elite, yet again.

4. Guelph Storm
I'm doing it. Against my better judgment, I'm taking this team to have home ice in round one. I'm getting flashbacks to Mississauga and Peterborough of recent years, going off what should happen on paper. But I'm doing it. This Guelph team has been built to make this run; to make this the year that they compete for a Championship. A solid group of 99's, complimented by quality 2000's and you have a team that should be extremely competitive. Scoring goals will definitely be this team's strength. Ratcliffe, Hillis, Schnarr, Toropchenko, Hawel, Ralph, Bertuzzi, Poirier. That's 8/9 pieces to a terrific top three scoring lines. Ratcliffe is coming off a 40 goal season and you have to think he'll improve upon that even more. On the back-end, Ryan Merkley helps to elevate that terrific offense even more. But can they keep pucks out? Will Merkley round out his game? Will Samorukov take that next step? Is Chayka ready to play a key role? The Jack Hanley addition was a very good one as he provides stability to a back-end that was erratic at best last year. In net, Anthony Popovich is the man. And I like him. He had issues with consistency last year, but he stole some games for Guelph and has that game breaking ability. I see him improving and really being the solid backstop that this team needs (given the high risk style they are bound to play).

5. Windsor Spitfires
Proof that quality goaltending really can carry you a long way. Reigning OHL goaltender of the year Michael Dipietro returns and will be the veteran rock that this young team needs yet again. Will they or won't they trade him? That's the million dollar question. Until then, you have to operate under the assumption that this team will be competitive yet again. Their young talent stood out last year and now they're all a year older and stronger. And Will Cuylle and Jean Luc Foudy have been added into the mix. Cuylle was a standout in the preseason, taking little time to adjust to the league and should be a future star. Kind of like Barrie in the East, this forward group will scrape and claw it's way to goals and victories. Defensively, I'm most intrigued to see the improvements from Lev Starikov and Nathan Staios, as they will likely be responsible for primary puck moving duty. The Spitfires just recently picked up Sean Allen too, who is a nice addition because of the physicality he brings. This team will go through ups and downs because of the age of their key players, but that's where having Dipietro really comes in handy because the team doesn't have to be at their best to win. Not every team in the Conference can say that. In fact, very few can.

6. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Honestly, don't count this team out folks. See lots of people writing this team off, assuming that they will inevitably falter due to the rebuild carousel that is the CHL. But the Greyhounds still have star power and they've drafted so well in recent years that it is safe to assume that guys like Joe Carroll, Cole Mackay, LeGuerrier, Calisti, Roth, Trott, etc, are all capable of stepping up and finding success with larger roles. This team still has Morgan Frost. It still has Mac Hollowell. It still has Barrett Hayton, Jordan Sambrook, Matthew Villalta, and Keegan Howdeshell. Star power can carry you a long way in this league, especially if you have it at every position. I look down the middle and see Frost and Hayton, two of the best players in the OHL and have a ton of faith in their ability to elevate the production of their wingers, regardless of who they end up being. And while Villalta has his detractors, he's still a talented goaltender who is entering his 19 year old season. I guess the question I have is...if this team does find themselves in the middle of the pack, do they start looking at dealing Frost, Hollowell, Villalta, etc, to bring back the assets that they lost in recent years during their Championship runs (only one second in the next four drafts)?

7. Kitchener Rangers
Honestly, I found it really tough to put the Rangers at #7 because I still like their make-up and think that they're a quality team. IMO 3-7 on this list are pretty interchangeable heading into the season and I wouldn't be surprised at all if they finished only a few points from each other. Parity is great for the league. So why do I have Kitchener as the worst of the best? Ultimately I'm not convinced that this team has the offensive firepower to compete, day in and day out, with the big guns of the West. And I'm not convinced (even with Luke Richardson's terrific preseason performance) that this team will get the consistent goaltending that they will need to win lower scoring games. And while I like the size and physical make-up of their defense, I don't see someone who can be the primary puck mover and powerplay QB that this team will need. Michael Vukojevic could be that one day, but it would be a lot to ask of the talented draft eligible defender this year. Now, if Axel Andersson reports, then it's a different story. But that looks far fetched at this point. Up front, it will be on the likes Joseph Gareffa, Riley Damiani, Greg Meireles, and Rickard Hugg to be the primary focal points. The only issue is that their average height is about 5'9 (and none are above 5'10). Height doesn't measure heart, this is true. But having some support would be a big help and this is just a small forward unit overall. Could be tough for them to compete, night in, night out in a tough Western Conference. We'll see.

8. Flint Firebirds
They should be better this year, but are they a slam dunk as a playoff team? Likely not. I do have faith that they'll squeeze in because of a solid defense and some scoring up front. Ty Dellandrea is obviously the star here and this team only goes as far as he carries them. But I'm a big fan and I think he's up to the challenge. Look for some of his support wingers to have better years like Connor Roberts, Ethan Keppen, CJ Clarke, etc. I'd also expect a healthy Hunter Holmes to bounce back. As mentioned, this team's defense is a key component and is underrated IMO. I think Fedor Gordeev is going to have a big year. He looked very good the second half of last year and his size and skating ability should allow him to dominate at both ends. Dennis Busby, Riley McCourt, and Nilsen/Gretz rounds out the top 4 and all can move the puck and start the breakout. The acquisition of Emanuel Vella was a very smart one this offseason as he will help ease Luke Cavallin into the starter's role. There will be some nights that aren't pretty. This team is still rebuilding. But they're trending upwards.

9. Sarnia Sting
On paper, this team is probably better than Flint. But I do see them making some deals this year (guys like Ruzicka, McGregor, Leufvenius, Eliot, etc) to start the rebuild and help the team get back assets that they lost last year in trying to make that run. That could mean a rougher second half depending on when that trade frenzy starts. This team does start the year with a terrific group of overagers though and that can take you a long way in this league. In fact, the group is too strong as one will have to be moved between Mitch Eliot, Theo Calvas, Franco Spoviero, and Anthony Salinitri. This team does have some talent at forward with guys like Ruzicka, McGregor, Leufvenius, Jamieson Rees and the OA's. They all play the game hard and will at least make this team tough to play against. But preventing goals could be an issue. Not extremely confident in an Aidan Hughes/Ethan Langevin combo, especially considering that I'm also not confident in the team's defense to limit premium scoring chances. That said, this team does have heart and veteran leadership. I could see them getting into the top 6-7 in the Conference if their veterans all improve (similar to a Barrie situation last year).

10. Erie Otters
After some absolutely amazing years near or at the top of the Western Conference standings, the time has come for this team to find the bottom. It's the inevitable cycle that is the Canadian Hockey League. It already started with the Ivan Lodnia deal, but expect the exodus to continue through the season as the Otters try to bring back the assets that this team lost over that four year run. Overager Kyle Maksimovich is the big fish here, about as consistent as you can be offensively and would make a great addition to any team's top 6 for a playoff run. He'll lead the offense until he is dealt, along with Hayden Fowler, the big name acquired last year by the team. On defense, the best player may actually be 16 year old Jamie Drysdale, who will jump right into a key role and earn a ton of minutes, which will be great for his development. In goal, Daniel Murphy and Noah Battaglia will likely platoon, taking turns on who takes the barrage on any given night. Nothing to be ashamed about here though. This is the nature of the OHL and with some good trades, in addition to savvy drafting and recruiting, this team will be back in the playoff hunt again in a couple years. At this point, the Otters have to be considered the favourite in the Shane Wright lottery sweep stakes (assuming he does end up gaining exceptional status).

Monday, September 17, 2018

2018/19 OHL Season Preview: Eastern Conference

It's that time again! The 2018/19 season starts this week so it's time to make some predictions. 

At this point, I see the Eastern Conference as a three horse race between Oshawa, Niagara, and Ottawa with Oshawa as a front runner. Barrie and Sudbury could surprise and contend, especially as they push Niagara for the division. But I think the Generals, IceDogs, and 67's are the cream of the crop right now because of their depth and the veteran talent they have at their disposal. 

1. Oshawa Generals (East Division Champions)
Fresh off a perfect preseason performance that saw them play mostly without their big guns, the Generals look poised to take a serious run at an OHL championship this year. No question, Oshawa is the most well rounded team in the Conference, perhaps even in the entire OHL; star talent and depth at every position. It starts in net with Kyle Keyser, who emerged as one of the league's elite last year and with a better team in front of him, he has to be considered a front runner for the Goalie of the Year award. Their defense is scary, especially if Matt Brassard returns for an overage year (which I assume he will). Nico Gross is the smallest player at 6'1 and nearly every defender brings an element of physicality to the table. Up front, captain Jack Studnicka is the star and should be one of the top players in the OHL this year; his final one in the league. But they've got great depth and a lot of really underrated players (like Kyle Maclean, who I think could have a big year now that he's finally healthy). New import Nando Eggenberger looks like a beast too, as one of the top goal scorers this preseason. Now, if Studnicka makes the Bruins and Brassard doesn't return, things become more complicated, but I see that as being far fetched.

2. Niagara IceDogs (Central Division Champions)
I really like how this IceDogs team has come together heading into the season. Bringing in Ivan Lodnia gives the team a much needed veteran injection into their top 6 and should give them two terrific scoring lines centered by Ben Jones and Akil Thomas. I also expect Kirill Maksimov to have a massive year where he could contend for the goal scoring title as a potential 50 goal scorer. In net, Stephen Dhillon returns as an OA and I would expect him to continue to improve his consistency and be a rock for the Dogs as he searches for an NHL contract. My only true question mark is the size of their back-end. They are relying on a lot of undersized defenders in key roles, with no guarantee that a guy like Daniel Bukac becomes a dependable rock. But this isn't 1999. Puck movement and mobility on the back-end are critical in today's game and Niagara will be able to play an uptempo style that puts pressure on the opposition and keeps it out of their end. A guy like Liam Ham is such an unheralded player, as he's a reliable force at both ends. The powerplay also needs to be better this year, which means that guys like Ham, Constantinou, Roberts has to step up as a top flight point man. But I like this team as a favourite for the Central Division, even with a few minor question marks,

3. Ottawa 67's 
The depth that this team has accrued is insane. They have drafted very well the last couple of years and it has made them four lines and three pairings deep. Let's not forget that Ottawa has a thousand second round picks at their disposal should they want to upgrade at some point. While young talent up front is exciting (Graeme Clark, Marco Rossi, Jack Quinn, Cameron Tolnai, etc), it's veteran leaders like Chmelevski, Felhaber, Kody Clark, and Austen Keating that are the lifeblood here. In particular, I think Chmelevski and Felhaber are going to have huge years and I would expect both to be top 10 in scoring  or close to it. The improvement that Chmelevski showed last year as a three zone player was staggering. Defensively, they're going to need a big year from Noel Hoefenmayer who is playing for an NHL contract. But I also expect a big step forward from Nikita Okhotyuk in his second year in the league. The real question mark is in goal. Most people have linked the 67's to a guy like Michael Dipietro or another trade target. And that may end up needing to be the case. But Cedrick Andree was sensational this preseason and he'll be given every chance to prove he can be the guy. Management just can't allow this season to go like Owen Sound's did last year, where goaltending was a constant lingering issue yet never truly addressed and prevented a talented roster from going deeper than they could have.

4. Barrie Colts
No Andrei Svechnikov, no problem. This team returns most of it's core and has added two premium imports in Matej Pekar and Maksim Zhukov. Ryan Suzuki looks poised for a huge draft year after a strong Hlinka and preseason. But I just love the lunch pail mentality of their forward group; the same one who surprised last year (thanks to guys like Willms, Peca, etc). Not sure they'll get Zach Magwood back, but that would be a huge boost too. The defense largely returns intact too, led by Joey Keane, who IMO is a front runner for the Max Kaminsky this year. Nathan Allensen should be able to replace what TJ Fergus brought to the top 4 too, as he will be hoping to be an impact player in his draft year. In goal, the Colts have a logjam which is a great problem to have. Between Zhukov, Jet Greaves, and returnee Kai Edmonds, goaltending should not be an issue. The Colts are flying under the radar right now because they're not the prettiest bell of the ball, but I think they'll be an effective group with a clear team identity and some strong top end talent in place. Don't be surprised if this team quietly pushes for the division.

5. Sudbury Wolves
Am I crazy? Predicting the Wolves to finally break out of their funk and be firmly in the playoff picture? Not this year, even if their preseason record wasn't pretty. Quinton Byfield is for real and that first line with Carson and Levin looks like it will be deadly. But a second line anchored by Blake Murray and supported by the Pilon twins could be equally as dangerous and give the Wolves a serious one/two punch. The depth may not quite be there yet up front, but a solid one/two punch is often good enough to make you a solid playoff team in this league. This team will score goals but will they be able to prevent them? The defense is still a little rough. Cole Candella needs to be an anchor as an OA and a guy like Liam Ross needs to take a big step forward too. But the real difference maker will need to be Ukko-Pekka Lukkonnen. Team defense will be a weakness here so he is going to need to be able to stand on his head at times and shut the door when needed. No guarantee he does that, but I like the dynamic make-up of this team and I think they'll get better as the season goes on.

6. Hamilton Bulldogs
No question, losing Ben Gleason hurts, as the talented blueliner signed on with Dallas last week. He was set to be the rock of a pretty decent defensive core. Not only have they now lost their rock, but they've also lost their powerplay QB in what I figured would be a major strength for them this year. This is going to put a lot of pressure on Nic Mattinen as a returning veteran as he will now be looked upon to play a ton, and in all situations. This is even more troubling considering the Bulldogs look like they'll lose Kaden Fulcher to the pro ranks and have to roll with Donofrio or Roy as their starter. They struggled in the preseason. But this team still has a ton of firepower up front with Matthew Strome, Mackenzie Entwistle, Arthur Kaliyev, Isaac Nurse, and a few young players ready to step into larger roles. It won't be pretty at times, but I could see them figuring out how to put it together at some point.

7. Peterborough Petes
I honestly don't know what to expect from Peterborough this year. I could easily see them finishing out of the playoffs. Or I could see them surprising and finding their way into the top 4/5 of the Conference. Predicting them 7th seems like a solid middle ground. Up front, there is talent. This team will score goals. Der-Arguchintsev, Gogolev, Gallant, Robertson, Paquette, Timleck, and more. I think Nick Robertson is in for a big year as a draft eligible player. But goaltending and defense are major question marks. Can Hunter Jones be a top flight starter? He struggled last year and wasn't great this preseason, but he's their goalie of the future and they need to ride him to see what they have. On defense, the same players who struggled last year, return. Chisholm, McNamara, Beraldo, Supryka. These are guys that this team needs more from this year. Ditto for their veterans in Cole Fraser and Austin Osmanski. Hamilton and Peterborough are pretty interchangeable for me here, as both will not struggle to score. Ultimately whoever figures out how to keep pucks out is going to be a potentially solid playoff team.

8. North Bay Battalion
A lower prediction for them than what I've seen so far. Again, I think that the 5-10 spots in the Eastern Conference are pretty wide open and interchangeable. So why is North Bay on the bubble for me? This defense is just so young and there are going to be some major rough patches. Cole Cameron was a terrific pick-up though and he's going to be a great influence on this team, especially on the penalty kill. The goaltending should be pretty reliable with Christian Propp, but I'm just not confident that they can stop the offensive firepower of Niagara, Barrie, and Sudbury within their own division. On the flip side, Justin Brazeau looks poised for a monster year and the combination of he and Matthew Struthers is going to be an absolute load for the opposition to handle, especially on the powerplay. Brandon Coe should also take a nice step forward. But I'm not sure this team has the depth or defensive ability to win consistently. A true toss up though.

9. Kingston Frontenacs
A lot of people seem to have the Frontenacs as a shoe in for the bottom of the Eastern Conference. It's certainly possible, but I don't see it as a slam dunk. On the blueline, their top 3 consists of OHL veterans Jacob Paquette, Jakob Brahaney, and Mitchell Byrne, all of whom were big components of a strong Frontenacs team last year. They can serve as great role models to talented youngsters like Evan Brand and Jake Murray. And let's not forget that this team still has Jason Robertson, one of the most talented forwards in the OHL, AND could still get Gabe Vilardi back thanks to his back flaring up again. But it's not just those two. Solid group of 98's and 99's here up front with guys like Ryan Cranford, Matt Hotchkiss, Tyler Burnie, and Brett Neumann. That's a lot of veteran talent for a last place club in this league. That said, goaltending is going to be a major issue in all likelihood. And depth is a real issue too. Plus, I see this team having a massive firesale at some point with guys like Robertson, Paquette, Cranford, etc all being shipped off to recoup assets. Kingston doesn't have a 2nd until 2026 and they don't even have a 3rd rounder until 2021. If it's the choice between finishing 7th and 10th, this team badly needs to replenish the system by dealing off the veterans that they do have. Until that happens though, they could be a half decent team.

10. Mississauga Steelheads
Just way too much pressure on Jacob Ingham heading into this year IMO. He struggled in his draft year with consistency and now he's going to be faced with the task of being the last line of defense behind a blueline that is weaker than last year's. Reagan O'Grady is a solid OHL defender, but if you're asking him to be your team's number one, I think you're going to be in a bit of trouble. Owen Tippett is a major wild card. IF, he returns to the OHL (which is a big if), it likely won't be until November (IMO). And then he's likely dealt soon after to help the Steelheads with their rebuild. That leaves Ryan McLeod as the go to leader and I think that's a lot to ask of him. And he's a likely trade candidate too. The 2001 and 2002 crop for the Steelheads looks quite strong and it's time for the team to start the rebuild and gather assets to surround that age group. Like Kingston, the Steelheads need to trade off veterans to get back the draft picks that they've used over the last few years to stay competitive (only one 2nd rounder in the next 5 drafts).

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Sunday Top 10 - Performers of the 2018 Preseason

 The 2018 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. Ottawa 67's (5-0) - 1.00%
2. Oshawa Generals (3-1) - .750%
3. Barrie Colts (3-2) - .600%
4. North Bay Battalion (2-3) - .400%
5. Peterborough Petes (2-3) - .400%
6. Niagara IceDogs (1-3) - .250%
7. Mississauga Steelheads (1-3) - .250%
8. Sudbury Wolves (1-5) - .166%
9. Kingston Frontenacs (0-3) - 0.00%
10. Hamilton Bulldogs (0-4) - 0.00%

Western Conference
1. Saginaw Spirit (5-0) - 1.00%
2. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (2-0) - 1.00%
3. Windsor Spitfires (4-1) - .800%
4. Kitchener Rangers (4-1) - .800%
5. London Knights (3-1) - .750%
6. Owen Sound Attack (3-1) - .750%
7. Guelph Storm (3-1) - .750%
8. Flint Firebirds (2-3) - .400%
9. Erie Otters (2-3) - .400%
10. Sarnia Sting (1-3) - .250%

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

1. Justin Brazeau - North Bay Battalion
Entering his overage year, the behemoth winger will be gunning for an NHL deal. He has improved every year in the league so far (from 6 goals, to 22 goals, to 39 last year) and will need to do so again to get that ELC. As he tries to hit the 40 goal mark for the first time, Brazeau has gotten off to a terrific start. He's been an absolute beast in the preseason with 5 goals and 5 assists in 3 games. He will definitely be an interesting player to track this year, and at this point looks like he could be one of the most in-demand CHL free agents come January.  

2. Quinton Byfield - Sudbury Wolves 
The reigning Jack Ferguson Trophy recipient as the first overall pick, Byfield did not disappoint this preseason. He had 3 goals and 6 assists this preseason, which is extremely impressive for a 16 year old, hyped or not. With Byfield (and Blake Murray) having great preseasons, perhaps the Wolves have finally turned a corner and can work to establish themselves as Eastern Conference contenders yet again.

3. Will Cuylle - Windsor Spitfires
Scoring 5 goals in 4 games is tough enough for any 16 year old breaking into the league for the first time. But the fact that Cuylle missed pretty much all of training camp as he awaited a trade from Peterborough, makes this even more impressive. The big winger is going to be a massive piece for the Spitfires moving forward and as of right now, he has to be considered a front runner for the Enns Family award (ROY).

4. Greg Meireles - Kitchener Rangers
The Rangers are going to really need Meireles to step up this year with so many graduations from their forward group of last year. Meireles is coming off a season that saw him take a step back offensively, but he's going to get all the ice time he can handle in 2018/19 which should allow him to breakout. He had 4 goals and 3 assists in 5 games while wearing the "C" this preseason for Kitchener. The former highly touted priority selection should be a point per game player this year.

5. C.J. Clarke - Flint Firebirds
An underrated component to Flint's offense, Clarke was the team's 4th leading goal scorer last year and the 2nd leading powerplay goal scorer. But if the Firebirds want to take that next step as a legitimate playoff team this year, they'll need to see big improvements from all their support players like Clarke, now entering his 4th OHL season. In the preseason, Clarke was among the OHL's leading scorers with 4 goals and 5 assists in 5 games, including three multi point games. A potential breakout candidate?

6. Matthew Struthers - North Bay Battalion
The second Battalion forward to crack the list, as Struthers and Brazeau formed a heck of a 1-2 punch this preseason. Struthers had 5 goals and 3 assists in 3 games and the big center is hoping to have a big year to prove to NHL teams that he should have been drafted this past year.  

7. Cedrick Andree - Ottawa 67's
Who says the 67's need a goaltender? The second year goaltender struggled mightily as a rookie last year in a back-up role to Leo Lazerev. But the former late round pick has apparently looked quite impressive in camp this year and that has carried over to the preseason where he is 3-0 in three games with a .944 save percentage. This is HUGE for the 67's, if Andree can prove to be the guy and a breakout star.

8. Luke Richardson - Kitchener Rangers
Kitchener was one of a few OHL teams with some questions surrounding their goaltending heading into the 2018/19 season. Entering his 4th OHL year, Richardson has yet to post a save percentage over .900 and consistency issues have been a major reason. But he was sensational this preseason as he looked to prove that he could be the starter that the Rangers needed. He won all three games that he participated in and posted a stellar .929 save percentage. 

9. Macauley Carson - Sudbury Wolves
Last year was such a disappointment for Carson, dropping from 30 to 11 goals and struggling to stay in the lineup due to injury. The veteran needs to have a big year for the Wolves and be the presence who helps alleviate pressure from youngsters like Byfield and Murray. This preseason, he's developed fantastic chemistry with Byfield to the tune of 3 goals and 6 assists in 9 games. I guess the only concerning thing is that Sudbury went 1-5 despite getting such good production from some of their forwards.

10. Tag Bertuzzi - Guelph Storm
Injury issues plagued Bertuzzi's rookie season in the OHL last year. The former 2nd overall pick really struggled to be a factor for the Storm, even if he was only receiving 4th line minutes when healthy. But he wouldn't be the first (or last) sophomore to explode after a disappointing start to his OHL career. Heading into his NHL draft year, Bertuzzi had 3 goals and 3 assists in 4 games and looks to be headed in the right direction. Historically, when NHL draft eligible players appear on this list, it bodes well for their success in the coming year.

Honorable Mentions

Ryan Suzuki - Barrie Colts
Speaking of NHL Draft eligible players, Suzuki heads into the year as the top ranked OHL for the 2019 Draft. After a terrific performance at the Hlinka, Suzuki had an equally terrific preseason that saw him post 4 goals and 2 assists in 5 games. The increase in goal scoring is encouraging as this was an area of focus for Ryan heading into the year. If he can prove to be every bit the goal scorer as he is a playmaker, Suzuki could climb into the Top 10 come June.

Mason Millman - Saginaw Spirit
An OHL rookie after a solid year in the GOJHL, Millman had a fantastic preseason for the Spirit as he fights for playing time and looks to secure a consistent spot in the lineup. Millman was on my annual unheralded rookies list (here), and could be one to watch for the NHL Draft. He had 2 goals and 1 assist to go with a league best +9 this preseason. Pretty impressive start.

Nico Daws - Guelph Storm
While Anthony Popovich has to be considered the starter in Guelph, Daws had a terrific preseason for the Storm, stopping 79 of 80 shots over parts of three games. Popovich was great in his one game of action too which suggests that maybe the Storm are in good hands this coming year.

Connor Roberts - Flint Firebirds
Likely fueled by a bit of anger from not being selected at this year's entry draft, Roberts has had a very strong preseason with 4 goals and 2 assists. The big power forward could be in for a big year flanking Ty Dellandrea.

Antonio Stranges - London Knights
Another youngster, 16 year old to have a terrific preseason. Was such a steal for the Knights to get him in the second round since if he had made his intentions clear, he would have been a potential top 5 pick. Keep 'em coming London. 4 goals in 3 games for the future star this preseason.

Cameron Lamour - Saginaw Spirit
While Ivan Prosvetov is all but assured the starter's job, Lamour had a terrific camp and has earned the back-up job with a .936 save percentage this preseason. The former high pick may still be the starter of the future.

Luke Kutkevicius - Windsor Spitfires
8 points this preseason for the gritty, overage center. This year's Spitfires team is young, but if veterans like Kutkevicius can lead by example, they could surprise a lot of people as a top team in the West.

Billy Constantinou - Niagara IceDogs
Defenseman scoring wasn't exactly high this preseason, but the second year IceDogs defender did lead the league with 4 points. If you read by preseason draft rankings, you know that I'm a huge fan of his potential.

Hayden Davis - Saginaw Spirit
A former IceDogs defender, Davis is a rock in the defensive end going +5 this preseason for the Spirit, who looked good. But he also chipped in with 4 points and could be ready to step up as a top flight two-way defender in the league.

Cade Robinson - Owen Sound Attack
Unheralded acquisition from Erie last year who will look to provide scoring depth for the Attack this year in a top 9 role. Robinson had a terrific preseason with 2 goals and 5 assists in 4 games.

David Levin - Sudbury Wolves 
Looks like the Wolves might have their first line with Levin teaming up with Byfield and Carson this preseason and having great success. 7 points for Levin, who needs to have a big year so badly to prove that he can still be a focal point of this Wolves' resurgence.

Team by Team Breakdowns

Barrie Colts
Jason Willms (4 goals)

Jet Greaves (1 win, shutout in only appearance)

Erie Otters
Hayden Fowler (2 goals, 2 assists)

Kyle Maksimovich (1 goal, 3 assists in 2 games)

Flint Firebirds
Jack Wismer (2 goals, 3 assists)

Hunter Holmes (1 goal, 4 assists)
Riley McCourt (2 goals, 1 assist)

Guelph Storm
Daniil Chayka (2 goals, 1 assist)

Hamilton Bulldogs
Arthur Kaliyev (1 goal, 4 assists)

Matthew Strome (3 goals, 1 assist in 2 games)

Kingston Frontenacs
Ryan Cranford (2 goals, 1 assist)

Ian Derungs (2 goals, 1 assist)

Kitchener Rangers
Rickard Hugg (2 goals, 4 assists)

Justin MacPherson (1 goal, 3 assists)

London Knights
Matvei Guskov (1 goal, 5 assists)

Tim Fallowfield (4 assists)

Mississauga Steelheads
Filip Reisnecker (2 goals, 1 assist)

Niagara IceDogs
Oliver Castleman (3 goals)

North Bay Battalion
Brad Chenier (2 goals, 4 assists)
Brandon Coe (3 goals)

Oshawa Generals
Nando Eggenberger (4 goals)

Ty Tullio (1 goal, 4 assists)
Ottawa 67's
Marco Rossi (2 goals, 2 assists)

Quinn Yule (2 goals, 2 assists)

Owen Sound Attack
Kaleb Pearson (3 goals, 3 assists)

Daylon Groulx (5 goals)
Griffin Wilson (3 goals, 1 assist)

Peterborough Petes
Adam Timleck (2 goals, 2 assists)
Nick Robertson (1 goal, 3 assists)

Saginaw Spirit
DJ Busdeker (4 goals, 1 assist)
Cole Perfetti (5 assists)

Sarnia Sting
Jamieson Rees (1 goal, 2 assists)

Ethan Langevin (.951 save percentage)

Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Zack Trott (2 goals, 1 assist)
Ryan O'Rourke (1 goal, 1 assist in 2 games)

Sudbury Wolves
Blake Murray (3 goals, 2 assists)

Windsor Spitfires
Cole Purboo (3 goals, 2 assists)

Lev Starikov (2 goals)
Curtis Douglas (3 goals, 1 assist in 2 games)