Saturday, September 24, 2022

2022/23 OHL Season Preview Part 3: Award Predictions

The conclusion to my three part season preview sees me look at potential award candidates for 2022/23.
Red Tilson Trophy - Brandt Clarke (Barrie Colts)
It has been over a decade since a defender won the Red Tilson. Ryan Ellis was the last in 2011. But if Brandt Clarke returns to the league in good time, I like him as my preseason favourite. I think he's ready to take that next step as a completely dominating force. Plus, I expect the Colts to be one of the best teams in the OHL. I also expect Wyatt Johnston to return and you can never discount the previous year's Red Tilson trophy winner. What happens if Shane Wright comes back to the OHL? I expect him to be dealt to a contender and that likely pushes him to the top of this list. What about a goaltender? If the Sting end up being one of the better teams in the Western Conference, one of the reasons will be Ben Gaudreau and that would have to make him a contender. Brennan Othmann in Flint, Tucker Robertson in Peterborough, Francesco Pinelli in Kitchener, Danny Zhilkin and Sasha Pastujov in Guelph, Matvey Petrov in North Bay, and Luca Del Bel Belluz in Mississauga are all going to be serious contenders too IMO.
Jim Rutherford Goaltender of the Year - Ben Gaudreau (Sarnia Sting)
Considering that I mentioned him as a candidate for the Red Tilson, it should come as no surprise that I'm going to list Gaudreau as my preseason pick for the Rutherford. Not only do I expect him to have a phenomenal year for Sarnia, but I think he ends up as Canada's starter at this year's WJC's too. Other strong candidates include Anson Thornton, Will Cranley, Jacob Oster, Dom DiVicentiis, and of course returning OA Brett Brochu. Brochu is obviously a big wild card as the returning Rutherford winner. But I don't expect the Knights to be great. That could mean they end up moving him to a contender at some point.
Max Kaminski Trophy - Brandt Clarke (Barrie Colts)
If he's the Red Tilson winner like I've predicted, then he's obviously going to be the Max Kaminski winner. Again, I do think Clarke comes back at some point and I think he really takes that next step as one of the league's elite on a strong Barrie team. If you read my work, you know how much I love Pavel Mintyukov so it would be foolish of me not to mention him here. I think draft eligible defender Cam Allen has a monster season for the Storm and that will put him in Kaminski contention. Last year's winner was an OA and look for Gavin White, Mitchell Smith, and Lleyton Moore to all have strong years. Ethan Del Mastro should have a monster year for the Steelheads. Christian Kyrou likely puts up a ton of points for the Otters. Ty Nelson likely has a big bounce back year. Heck, even rookie Hunter Brzustewicz could be a contender with the Rangers. It's a really strong year for defenders in the league.

Emms Family Award - Malcolm Spence (Erie Otters)
I think Spence is in a good position to be the league's top rookie this season. He's one of the most physically mature 2006's entering the league and he's going to be given a ton of ice time and responsibility. Look for him to be an immediate point per game player. Michael Misa should have a good year for the Spirit too for similar reasons to Spence. There are a whole bunch of quality 06's entering the league and many are being put in great situations. However, I do want to highlight some of the great '06 defenders who had great preseasons like Zayne Parekh, Anthony Cristoforo, in addition top the likes of Sam Dickinson, Henry Mews, etc. It's a very strong rookie crop. 

Leo Lalande Trophy - Ethan Cardwell (Barrie Colts)
The best thing for Cardwell's development would be for the Sharks to send him back to the OHL for his OA year and I believe that is the most likely scenario. And if that is the case, I think he's going to be a 100 point scorer and a candidate for many of the league's top awards. Logan Morrison is also an extremely strong candidate here if he returns. Ditto for teammate Gavin White. I also like defenders Mitchell Smith and Lleyton Moore here. Goaltender Brett Brochu is an obvious candidate even if where he ends up finishing the year is a bit of a mystery. Matthew Maggio is going to be a serious candidate too if he returns to the OHL. Lastly, can James Hardie pop 45+ this season for the Steelheads? Lots of good candidates.

Matt Leyden Trophy - Ted Dent (Flint Firebirds)
I expect the Firebirds to finish the year with the best record in the OHL, so that would make Ted Dent a top candidate for coach of the year. Marty Williamson in Barrie, Scott Walker in Guelph, Rob Wilson in Peterborough, and Chris Dennis in Kitchener are all strong preseason candidates. 

Eddie Powers Trophy - Ethan Cardwell (Barrie Colts)
I actually had Cardwell winning this award last year...which obviously wasn't a great prediction given his disappointing year. But...I'm back again. Look, Barrie is going to be one of the league's top offenses this year and Cardwell will be right in the middle of that pending his return. He's not going to miss time like many of the other top candidates (due to extended NHL stays, WJC appearances, etc). Take your pick of many of the other players I listed as Red Tilson candidates too.

Goal Scoring Leader - Brennan Othmann (Flint Firebirds)
At this point, I'd be pretty shocked if Othmann doesn't end up leading the OHL in goals this year. The stars are aligned for him to have a pretty special season. I expect Matvey Petrov, James Hardie, Wyatt Johnston, Tucker Robertson, Matthew Maggio, and Sasha Pastujov to be right up there too. Colby Barlow could have a pretty special draft year too.

1st Team All Stars
Center - Wyatt Johnston
Left Wing - Brennan Othmann
Right Wing - Ethan Cardwell
Defense - Brandt Clarke
Defense - Cam Allen
Goaltender - Ben Gaudreau
Coach - Ted Dent

2nd Team All Stars
Center - Luca Del Bel Belluz
Left Wing - Matvey Petrov
Right Wing - Sasha Pastujov
Defense - Ethan Del Mastro
Defense - Pavel Mintyukov
Goaltender - Dom DiVicentiis
Coach - Marty Williamson

3rd Team All Stars
Center - Tucker Robertson
Left Wing - Colby Barlow
Right Wing - Matthew Maggio
Defense - Hunter Brzustewicz
Defense - Gavin White
Goaltender - Jacob Oster
Coach - Rob Wilson

1st All Rookie Team
Center - Michael Misa
Left Wing - Malcolm Spence
Right Wing - Porter Martone
Defense - Zayne Parekh
Defense - Sam Dickinson
Goaltender - Nathaniel Day

2nd All Rookie Team
Center - Joey Willis
Left Wing - Beckett Sennecke
Right Wing - Jett Luchanko
Defense - Anthony Cristoforo
Defense - Henry Mews
Goaltender - Mason Vaccari

2022/23 OHL Preview Part 2 - Western Conference

Part 2 of my season preview is a look at the Western Conference.

Much like the Eastern Conference, I see the West being extremely competitive this year. The only team that I think is heading into the year as a true rebuilder is the Soo Greyhounds. That's bad news for them because the rest of the Conference will be gunning for a title. I'm particularly interested in how the Midwest Division shakes down. Will this turn into a rebuilding season for London or will they find another way to remain competitive? Given the strength of the Storm, Rangers, and Attack, they will be hard pressed to find consistent wins.

1. Flint Firebirds (West Division Champs)
Believe it or not but Flint (by my count) has the most goals returning of any team in the OHL. Yeah, OK, there is some concern that new goaltender Will Cranley will not be able to provide the stability that Luke Cavallin did. But, I'm not sure they need their goaltender to be anything more than simply adequate. This Firebirds team is going to score a boat load of goals. Look for Amadeus Lombardi and Riley Piercey to have huge breakout seasons. Yeah, the defense isn't extremely sexy either. But, I think the Firebirds will address that by adding a veteran fairly early in the year. They know that this is their year and I think they will push their cards all in pretty quickly. I have the Firebirds finishing first because I think that the West Division is a tad easier than the Midwest. Strength of schedule will be the difference.

2. Guelph Storm (Midwest Division Champs)
On paper, the Storm might actually be the third best team in the division behind Kitchener and Owen Sound, but I'm trusting my gut on this one. Part of it is my high opinion of Cam Allen and how I anticipate him becoming one of the league's elite defenders as a draft eligible player. Part of it is how I love the makeup of this roster. There's depth. There's creativity. There's speed. There's grit. The top two lines of the Storm are as good as anyone in the OHL. I also think Jacob Oster takes a nice step forward in the crease. Something else to watch for (and no offense meant to Profaca, McFarlane, and Walker): this Storm team could upgrade their overage group with so many talented OA players on the trade block currently. That would improve their outlook even more. 

3. Kitchener Rangers 
It was a heck of an offseason for the Rangers. They brought in Hunter Brzustewicz, who looks like he can be a top pairing defender for the team. It looks like they hit on both of their Import swings from the last two years as Hamara will definitely play and it all but seems Mesar will too. This team is incredibly talented. The question is...what kind of goaltending will they get? Jackson Parsons and Marcus Vandenburg are relatively inexperienced. Parsons has high end upside as a starter in the league, but is he ready for that role already? Would the Rangers be a potential landing spot for someone like Marco Costantini (at the expense of OA Jack Harper)? Unquestionably, the strength of this team is up front. I have no problem saying that the Rangers have the best top nine of any team in the OHL heading into the season. Carson Rehkopf looks like he's ready to take that next step. Serpa and Valade will be motivated OA's. Pinelli will be trying to establish himself as an OHL star finally. The addition of Mesar would be huge. This team could easily end up as the cream of the crop this year.

4. Sarnia Sting 
I must admit, I am a little bit weary putting the Sting this high. It would be quite the jump for them compared to last year in a very tough Conference. Yet, here I am. It starts in net. Ben Gaudreau is going to prove himself a star this year and he will prove himself to be the OHL's best netminder. The defense isn't going to wow you, but they are a veteran group and that goes a long way in the OHL. Up front, the Sting, by my count, are right up there in most returning goals in the OHL from a year ago. Ty Voit should have a breakout year. They brought in two potential impact imports in Vilmanis and Limpar Lantz. Porter Martone has the skill to be an immediate impact player. You are returning talent and adding to that. 

5. Windsor Spitfires
This prediction is built entirely around the assumption that Wyatt Johnston and Matt Maggio will return. If that's the case, those two should tear apart the league again and the Spitfires have enough secondary talent to support them. On defense, I like Sobolev to have a breakout year. At forward, I like Oliver Peer to do the same. They will have veteran goaltending. But all of this revolves around Johnston and Maggio. If Johnston sticks in Dallas and Maggio ends up playing in the AHL, then things could get ugly and the Spits could be joining the Greyhounds at the bottom of the Conference. This is also a good time to mention that I think the Attack are a better team than Windsor...but again strength of schedule will be important and that Midwest division is tough.

6. Owen Sound Attack
There's some volatility here. This isn't the most experienced team in the league. They enter the year with only two OAs, top defender Nolan Seed, and starting netminder Nick Chenard. However, they are not devoid of talent. How about Colby Barlow? He could easily score 50 this season in his NHL draft year. Then he's surrounded by a group of hard working, competitive players (would you expect any less from an Owen Sound team) like Burroughs, Bryant, Goure, Petrovsky. The real wild card here is Kaleb Lawrence. He's finally healthy and the Kings draft pick will be looking to be a quality top six forward. My only only concern? This team's defense is not big. Can they withstand the constant barrage of the division's top offenses?

7. London Knights
How this season ends up going for the Knights is a huge mystery. Up front, this is not your typical London team. It lacks top end fire power. Denver Barkey has a real chance to lead the team in scoring as a draft eligible player. However, preventing goals should be a team strength. They still have Brett Brochu in net. They have one of the deepest defensive groups in the entire league. Would it be shocking if Dale Hunter embraced this team's identity as a staunch defensive team, bringing them into the top four of the Conference? Not in the least. However, I do think that this is a bit of a rebuilding year that could see London deal Brochu, their other OA's, and other 03's to help them usher in a new era built around Barkey, Dickinson, Testa, Bonk, and perhaps Kasper Halttunen if they can convince him to come over at some point this year. 

8. Saginaw Spirit
The Spirit might just be the most difficult team to predict this season. There's no question that this team is more talented than they showed last year when they were among the league's worst. Injuries decimated them all year long and they didn't have the depth to recover. They can't possibly have that bad of luck again can they? I like the group of '05 and 06's on this team and I think that really helps them this year in terms of handling adversity. Josh Bloom should have a big year. Sapovaliv should too. Goaltending should be a strength with a motivated Tristan Lennox in the fold with Andrew Oke. I think Mitchell Smith has an outstanding overage season in support of Mintyukov. They might be a little young to push up further than a bottom playoff spot, but who knows. Will the real Spirit please stand up?

9. Erie Otters
If Erie wasn't in the Midwest division, I'd feel a lot better about their playoff odds. This isn't a bad team by any means. I just don't think that they are in the same category as the others in that division and that could be trouble. Goaltending is a big time mystery. Who will step up as a go-to offensive player? Is it Malcolm Spence in his rookie year? Is it Terrance in his draft year? Is it returning leading scorer Elias Cohen? The defense is the strength, especially in terms of puck movement. But, again, I just don't see a team that can compete in the Midwest Division. Another year at the bottom of the standings wouldn't be the worst thing. Another top pick to pair with Spence would be huge.

10. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
The Hounds are losing seven of their top eight scorers from last year with only Bryce McConnell-Barker (#6) returning. Only two players on this roster have ever scored more than 15 goals in the OHL. That's just not a recipe for success. Look, the Hounds are due for a true rebuilding year. This team has been competitive for so long under Dubas and Raftis. But it eventually catches up to you in the OHL and this is the year that it does for the Soo. They can deal the few veterans they have for some further assets and they can end up with someone like Roobroeck or William Moore at the draft.

2022/23 OHL Preview Part 1 - Eastern Conference

The start of the 2022/23 OHL season is right around the corner. That means it is time to make some predictions and to preview each conference. 

First up is the Eastern Conference. I don't think we head into the year with a clear cut favourite. However, I do see two clear tiers. I see a top tier with Barrie, Hamilton, Peterborough, North Bay, and Mississauga. And I see a second tier with Ottawa, Niagara, Kingston, Oshawa, and Sudbury. Within those tiers, I think we could see anything happen. I'll try to describe this in greater detail in the team write ups.

1. Barrie Colts (Central Division Champs)
Yeah it's preseason, but we've seen how explosive this offense is going to be this season. There are certainly some will captain Brandt Clarke be back? How will they sort out their OA situation? But this team is returning among the highest number of goals scored of any OHL team this year and that always bodes well for success. I have confidence in new starting netminder Anson Thornton being a competent starter. They have a solid defense, even without Clarke. And their forward unit is three lines deep. If all three end up returning, the Colts could ice an all OA line of Cardwell, Vierling, and McDonnell, which could be fantastic. I expect Hunter Haight and Beau Jelsma to take nice steps forward this year too. Since I'm predicting the Colts to finish first...I do think that Brandt Clarke will return. I think he certainly gets some games in with the Kings, but given the Kings' young prospect depth, they can afford to be patient with him. Let him return to the OHL for another year to dominate, which I think he would do upon coming back.   
2. Peterborough Petes (East Division Champs)
The Petes seem to be the sexy pick right now as the top favourite in the East. And I can get on board with that. There is lots to like. This team's forward group is lightning quick. Bringing in Connor Lockhart was a great trade for them. The Petes will have no trouble putting pucks in the net as their forward group is as deep as any in the league. Jax Dubois is a sneaky breakout candidate. He's someone I was impressed with late in the year last season and he could be a big net front presence for them. But I am a little concerned with the team's ability to keep pucks out of their net. Michael Simpson was great in the preseason, which is very encouraging. However, traditionally, goaltending stats and performance in the preseason has meant very, very little. One of the real keys here is the progression of Donovan McCoy IMO. If he can elevate his play with the puck and become a strong offensive presence, it would help the Petes significantly. I think that there is also no question that this team will be all in to win this year which means making the necessary moves to put them over the top as division champs.

3. North Bay Battalion
Just a really well balanced team. Returning import Matvey Petrov should have another terrific year and the Battalion have some really nice depth at the forward position after drafting well in recent years. Obviously, there are some questions. Can Liam Arnsby take that next step as an offensive player? Can McDonald and Jackson be impact OA's? How good will Justin Ertel be? But this team has the makeup of one that will be difficult to play against. When you combine that with a solid defense and a good starting goaltender (DiVincentiis), they should also be tough to score against. In particular, I look for Ty Nelson to have a nice bounce back year as he no longer has the pressure of being a draft eligible player hanging over his head. 

4. Hamilton Bulldogs
This team still has to figure out what to do with all of their OA's, but if everyone ends up coming back, a trio of Logan Morrison, Avery Hayes, and Gavin White would be among the best OA groups in the entire OHL. Heck, even if the Stars put White in the AHL, or Hayes/Morrison sign in the AHL, George Diaco and Mark Duarte are still good options. Not to mention returning starting netminder Marco Costantini. But I do half expect Costantini to be dealt, ushering in the Drobac era. I've seen quite a few preseason predictions that have the Bulldogs near the bottom of the East and I just don't get it. This team still has a ton of talent. Ryan Winterton should be due for a massive breakout (if he can stay healthy) and they have a bunch of other high end 03's who should be able to handle more responsibility. Of course, if by some terrible luck all of Morrison, Hayes, and White all stick in the pros, and Winterton gets injured again, this could become a rebuilding year quickly. But as is, I think that gets delayed one more year.

5. Mississauga Steelheads
Much like the Petes, the Steelheads should have no trouble scoring goals. But I am a little concerned with their ability to prevent them. Swiss netminder Alessio Beglieri was brought in to be the starter and he could very well be excellent in that role. But it's a gamble. I also really liked the Steelheads bringing in Isaac Enright this offseason to give Del Mastro, Chas Sharpe, and Charlie Callaghan some help in the top four. But how much will the losses of Larsen and Holm be felt? This is no longer a massive, smothering defensive unit. They will have to change the way they play. However, as mentioned, we've got some fantastic options up front. The Luca Del Bel Belluz, Owen Beck, and Luke Misa combination down the middle is incredible depth. The team really needs a few wingers to step up and take that next step to support James Hardie. Lavoie? Vecchia? Uberti in his OA year? There are options. 

6. Ottawa 67's
I'm probably most worried about this prediction of any in this Eastern Conference write up. A lot would have to go right for the 67's to finish 6th. But, I think they have a few things going for them. The first is being in an easier division of the other "second tier" East teams that I mentioned. The second is that I really like the young make up of this team. The defense is young, but talented. I think Jack Beck has a monster season and that Tyler Boucher can be a consistent difference maker. They will be competitive and tenacious up front. Max Donoso is one of the most underrated netminders in the OHL too. The real question is, can the 67's get strong play down the middle? Can Cameron Tolnai take that next step as a top flight center in his OA year? Is Vinzenz Rohrer a center or will he be a winger (where he is better suited IMO). Will they continue to use Luca Pinelli down the middle as they have this preseason and can he excel in that role? Can someone like Gardiner or Barlas take that next step in their NHL draft years? I believe in this group.

7. Sudbury Wolves
Even with all the young talent on this roster, I think they're still a year away from being true competitors in the Eastern Conference. Bringing in the local (relatively) Joe Ranger to start was a savvy move. He was solid for the Steelheads last season and he should provide stable goaltending. I have made my love for Matthew Mania known on this blog and on social media and I expect him to have a big year on the blueline. On offense, I still think things will be wildly inconsistent. Musty will likely be up and down. Goyette too. The support pieces are all solid options too, but there's just that stability that is missing from the forward group. They will be very exciting to watch for NHL draft evaluators, but that doesn't always translate to on ice team success.

8. Niagara IceDogs
What a face lift for this franchise heading into the season. Tons of turnover here as Niagara made a ton of trades this offseason to bring in the likes of Pasquale Zito, Nolan Dann, Matthew Papais, and several others. What will the identity of this team be? It's really tough to say at this point. Is there someone on the roster who can step up and be a consistent difference maker? Is Pano Fimis ready for that role? What about one of the new additions? Can someone like Rodwin Dionicio take a huge step forward to become a top defender in the OHL? Will one of the three goaltenders on the roster become a quality starter? All three have the talent to be, that's for sure. However, as I stated, I just don't see the kind of star power needed to be at the top of the standings. 

9. Oshawa Generals
I think many people are expecting the Generals to be pretty bad this year. However, I actually think this team is better than many are claiming them to be. There is top end talent on this roster. The thing is...I think that rather than float in the middle, I see the Generals being sellers this year and that means trading away the likes of Brett Harrison and Lleyton Moore at some point. And because I see this second tier group in the East being so close, that would mean that Oshawa finishes the year a little more poorly. Even if they finish 9th, I don't think Oshawa is that far under .500. But building around the likes of Ritchie, Sennecke, and Danford just makes sense. 

10. Kingston Frontenacs
Someone has to finish last in the Conference. I think the best bet is Kingston. Look, Shane Wright could return and then a last place finish might not be in the cards. However, I also believe that if Wright returns, Kingston will deal him for a king's ransom in order to help accelerate their rebuild. There is some nice talent here. But like Oshawa and Niagara, I don't think there are truly enough play drivers. Of course, Paul Ludwinski could be this year's Wyatt Johnston. Ivan Zhigalov could steal the show in the crease. But more likely sees the team deal some quality veterans like Arcuri, Roger, Belanger, etc, in order to recoup assets spent to make runs the last few years.