Wednesday, September 27, 2023

2023/24 OHL Season Preview Part 3: Award Predictions

The conclusion to my three part season preview sees me look at potential award candidates for 2023/24.

Red Tilson Trophy - David Goyette (Sudbury Wolves)
The second leading returning scorer to the OHL this year behind Matthew Poitras. The only difference is that I expect Goyette to be surrounded by better talent on a better team. Thus...he's my pick. I think he has an absolutely monster year as part of a dominant first line with Musty and Delic. Poitras is obviously a candidate too. Does he see some time in the NHL? Colby Barlow is going to have a huge year for a great Owen Sound team. He should be right up near the scoring leaders too. How about Michael Misa as an underdog? Let us not forget that other exceptional status players took big steps forward as sophomores. Based on what I saw at the Hlinka/Gretzky, I think Misa has a huge season. Could we see an Import player take it? It doesn't happen often, but it does happen (two of the last four, in fact). Maybe Sale or Haltunnen come in and become immediate impact players?

Jim Rutherford Goaltender of the Year - Dom DiVnicentiis (North Bay Battalion)
We rarely have back to back winners, but it does happen. Mike Murphy was the last to accomplish it in 2008 and 2009. I just believe that DiVincentiis is clearly the best netminder in the league and the safest bet here. We have quite a few platoons heading into the year on good teams and that obviously decreases the odds of those players. One name that really sticks out as a potential winner is Andrew Oke. He wasn't as good last year, but he has proven previously to be a solid netminder and is clearly Saginaw's guy. Even though he has no prior experience in the league, Jakub Vondras in Sudbury has to be candidate given his situation and strength of team. Lastly, Michael Simpson has to be a candidate in London after the recent trade.

Max Kaminski Trophy - Ty Nelson (North Bay Battalion)
Nic Hague is the only other OHL defender to score 30 goals in the new millennium and I think Nelson joins him in accomplishing that feat. Nelson really took a nice step forward last year and returns to the league likely even stronger. The top candidate to stop Nelson is Guelph's Michael Buchinger. Yes, he's the highest returning scoring defender along with Nelson, but he's got the keys to Guelph's offense with Cam Allen out and he is one of the league's most underrated players. I look at Rodwin Dionicio, Hunter Brzustewicz, Beau Akey, and Zayne Parekh as other options.

Emms Family Award - Matthew Schaefer (Erie Otters)
It's a really strong rookie group entering the OHL this year. But for me, the most likely winner is Matthew Schaefer. As we saw in the preseason, he's going to contribute on offense immediately. He's in a great situation to succeed and I actually think he could join a pretty exclusive club among the U17 defenders to score 50 points. My second choice would be Barrie center Riley Patterson, who's an '06. He's incredibly talented and he's going to get a ton of ice time. Don't be surprised if he scores 80+ points this year. Otherwise, guys like Brady Martin, Jake O'Brien, Mattheas Stark, Tyler Hopkins, all had strong preseasons too.

Leo Lalande Trophy - Braeden Bowman (Guelph Storm)
Like any year, lots of good candidates here. But I think Bowman is in a great position to put up some huge numbers in Guelph this season, carrying over from his positive progression last year. Barrie defender Connor Punnett is another candidate that I really like. He's one of the league's most underrated two-way players. Kitchener's Mitchell Martin, Soo's Jack Beck, Owen Sound's Sam Sedley, Peterborough's Connor Lockhart, London's Michael Simpson and Windsor's Oliver Peer are others that I'm really looking at.

Matt Leyden Trophy - Dale Hunter (London Knights)
Despite some pretty good teams, Dale Hunter hasn't won this award in over a decade. I think it's his year. I think really highly of Chris Lazary in Saginaw and he's bound to be in contention. Greg Walters in Owen Sound and Ken MacKenzie in Sudbury are also great potential candidates.

Eddie Powers Trophy - David Goyette (Sudbury Wolves)
Basically, just take all the candidates for the Red Tilson and insert them here. I think Goyette is the top candidate and in fact, I wouldn't be shocked at all of Musty and Delic were in the top 6 or 7 of scoring too. I also mentioned Michael Misa. I think he's a great sleeper for this.

Goal Scoring Leader - Colby Barlow (Owen Sound Attack)
Without question, Barlow has to enter the year as the top candidate to lead the league in goals. As long as he stays healthy, I think he's a lock for at least 50. Other candidates that I like...Kasper Halttunen in London, Michael Misa in Saginaw, David Goyette in Sudbury, Nick Lardis in Brantford, and Gavin Hayes in Flint. 

1st Team All Stars
C - Matthew Poitras
LW - Colby Barlow
RW - David Goyette
D - Ty Nelson
D - Michael Buchinger
G - Dom DiVincentiis
Coach - Dale Hunter

2nd Team All Stars
C - Michael Misa
LW - Quentin Musty
RW - Kasper Halttunen
D - Beau Akey
D - Rodwin Dionicio
G - Michael Simpson
Coach - Ken MacKenzie

3rd Team All Stars
C - Martin Misiak
LW - Easton Cowan
RW - Eduard Sale
D - Hunter Brzustewicz
D - Zayne Parekh
G - Jakub Vondras
Coach - Chris Lazary

1st All Rookie Team
C - Riley Patterson
LW - Ryan Roobroeck
RW - Brady Martin
D - Matt Schaefer
D - Jakub Fibigr
G - Jack Ivankovic

2nd All Rookie Team
C - Tyler Hopkins
LW - Mattheas Stark
RW - Sam O'Reilly (although may qualify at center)
D - Cameron Reid
D - Ben Radley
G - David Egorov

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

2023/24 OHL Preview Part 2 - Western Conference

Part two looks at the Western Conference. Just like I mentioned in the East, parity is the name of the game here. Entering the year, the London Knights have to be the favourites, but you have some really good teams in the Conference who could easily push them when all is said and done.

1. London Knights (Midwest Division Champs)
At this point, how could you not go with London? Their defense should be the best in the OHL led by Oliver Bonk, Isaiah George, and top NHL draft prospect Sam Dickinson. The first line of Denver Barkey, Easton Cowan, and Finnish import Kasper Halttunen should be among the best trios in the league. Forward depth isn't as strong as usual, but expect London to address that at some point, especially with an open OA spot on the roster. The real concern is in net. Can Zach Bowen be the guy? He was at times last year, but consistency was a major issue. If he falters, I would imagine that London looks to bring in a netminder earlier, rather than later. 

Post Edit: London has acquired Michael Simpson solidifying their hold on preseason prognostications. 

2. Saginaw Spirit (West Division Champs)
We already know that the Spirit will be present at the end of the year as Memorial Cup hosts. Obviously, the strength of their roster was one of the reasons for their selection and I would expect them to add to that over the year. Like many teams in the OHL, goaltending is the question mark. Can Andrew Oke step up with Tristan Lennox finally out of the mix, leaving him the keys to the house? Like London, I would expect them to be active on the trade market if he struggles. Otherwise, look for Michael Misa to take a huge step forward as one of the OHL's leading scorers, and if the Matyas Sapovaliv from last years playoffs shows up, look out.

3. Owen Sound Attack
Look out London, this Owen Sound team will be right on you all season long. This is a veteran laden roster that was constructed for a deep run this year. Colby Barlow is the star, but this team is deep at every position, returning nearly every key player from a year ago. I'm very curious to see what they end up deciding at the OA spot, with four really good options and only three spots (Goure, Burroughs, Lawrence, and Sedley). The big thing that I'm looking for is who steps up to replace Nolan Seed, aiding Sam Sedley as a puck mover and minute eater on the back end.

4. Windsor Spitfires
How much will the Spitfires miss Matt Maggio? He was by far the team's best player last year, leading them to a division title. Thankfully, the framework of that same team returns. The roster has a solid mix of veteran talent, and good young players. I have little faith that this team will score goals. Dionicio, DeAngelis, and Cristoforo will anchor the backend. The forward group is deep. Expect Oliver Peer to have a monster OA year. Also expect Ryan Abraham to have a big year if he can stay healthy. I'd also expect Joey Costanzo to be more consistent this year, especially down the stretch.

5. Erie Otters
My surprise team in the Western Conference. I see this team as being super hungry to finally progress after five straight years at the bottom of the division. The Misiak addition should pay major dividends; look for him to be a difference maker. Ditto for rookie Matthew Schaefer. He is electric and gives the Otters two really good puck movers on both top pairings. Look for this team to really push the pace, which might seem weird to say given Stan Butler is their coach. However, because of Stan, they will also be highly detail oriented. I just have a good feeling about Erie this year.

6. Soo Greyhounds
I actually really wanted to put this Soo team higher. Especially after they picked up Jack Beck, a player I expect to be highly motivated to earn a pro deal as an OA. I really like the defensive make-up of this team and it helps to alleviate some concerns over their goaltending. Gibson, Kudryavtsev, Virgillio, and Karki is a heck of a top four. I think Bryce McConnell Barker has a monster season too. I'm just not necessarily convinced that this team has the high end depth at forward to truly compete in the Western Conference. Pace is going to be a bit of an issue too, as this forward group is not the most fleet of foot.

7. Kitchener Rangers
The early results under new coach Jussi Ahokas have been great this preseason. Important to's preseason. Erie was among the best in the Western Conference last year in the preseason and they selected first overall. That said, I have faith that Ahokas can bring a refreshing new outlook to the OHL and bring out the best in this group. They don't have the depth of some other Western Conference squads, but they do have some potential star talent. Carson Rehkopf looks poised for a big year. I'd expect the same from Mitchell Martin as he tries to earn a pro deal as an OA. 

8. Guelph Storm
I don't know what to think about the Storm. Part of me believes that they can contend in the Western Conference if all the chips align well. The preseason OHL power rankings poll (which I contributed to) definitely alludes to that with the Storm being quite high. But what if they don't? Matthew Poitras has been turning heads in Boston and they have some openings. Cam Allen will be out until Christmas. Michael Buchinger is a legit contender for the Max Kaminsky, but he can't do it all himself on the backend. In net, the Storm have pushed all their chips in on Import rookie Damian Slavik. It just seems like everything would have to go really well for this team to be a contender. 

9. Flint Firebirds
It feels weird to have the Firebirds this low, given that I really like certain players and components of their roster. Again, the parity in the league is real this year. What I'm concerned about is the lack of a primary play driver without Lombardi this year. I really like Hayes and Pitre, but I'm just not crazy about the team's centers this year. Ditto for the defensive depth behind Tristan Bertucci. According to InStat, Flint doesn't have a defender returning outside of Bertucci who played more than 17 minutes per game last year. That's asking a lot of some of these younger guys.

10. Sarnia Sting
I know, I know. They had a tremendous preseason. But, like I said earlier, so did Erie last year before they ended up picking first overall. The Sting are losing their top six scorers from last year, which amounts to almost 200 goals. For those keeping track, that's over 60% of the teams production from last year. That's just never a good sign for success in the cyclical OHL. It's time for a rebuild in Sarnia and they do have some nice trade chips, including Ben Gaudreau if they can get him playing well. The one guy that I'm most curious about is Sandis Vilmanis. He impressed me a lot last year and I think he can do a lot more with significant ice time and responsibility this season.

Monday, September 25, 2023

2023/24 OHL Preview Part 1 - Eastern Conference

The start of the 2023/24 OHL season is right around the corner. That means it is time to make some predictions and to preview each conference. As always, prognosticating the OHL (and the CHL in general) is extremely difficult. You never know which players surprise and make the NHL or the pro level. You never know which are surprisingly returned. In fact, I would say that this year is one of the most difficult to predict in recent memory due to the likely parity in the league. There are are lot of strong teams, but none without perceived weaknesses. Lots of veteran laden rosters hoping that this year is their year. Lots of younger teams hoping to take that next step in their development. 

First up is the Eastern Conference. I see the Central Division as clearly superior heading into the season. It's going to be a dogfight, which could hurt the records of some teams given inter divisional play. That's probably good news for Ottawa as they try to repeat as East Division champions. 

1. Barrie Colts (Central Division Champs)
Yes, the Colts have lost their top two scorers from last year, in addition to their best player in the second half (Brandt Clarke). But, adding Eduard Sale and Riley Patterson was huge for this club who still has terrific depth. Cole Beaudoin looks ready to take a huge next step too. This group does have an OA problem, depending on certain players returning from the pro level. But that's a great problem to have and maybe they can flip one for a talented '04 who can play a role this year. Look for the Beau's to have huge years (Jelsma and Akey). The only real question is in net. Ben West was excellent in preseason action, but he's an OA in an already crowded '03 group. 

2. Ottawa 67's (East Division Champs)
Let's not forget how good the 67's were last year in the first half before they made some moves to bolster their roster. So while I am concerned about depth following some roster losses, especially after moving a disgruntled Jack Beck, I do have faith that this young team can put together another really good season in a weaker East Division. They return their strong goaltending platoon of Donoso and MacKenzie, and they should be able to roll out two very good scoring lines. Their young defense is solid, but I am most concerned with the loss of Jack Matier, forcing the likes of Henry Mews and Frankie Marrelli into significant roles in their draft years. Their plenty talented, but we saw what that pressure did to Cam Allen last year. I'd look for the 67's to dip into the OA market early from teams facing a roster crunch.

3. Sudbury Wolves
This Sudbury team should be really, really good if they can get good goaltending from either Nate Krawchuk or Import Jakub Vondras. They are one hundred percent a contender for an OHL Championship this year. The line of Musty, Goyette, and Delic should be one of the best in the league and all three could be top ten in OHL scoring. However, their scoring depth is solid too, especially if Nathan Villeneuve takes that next step like many expect. One of the keys for this team is undoubtedly Jakub Chromiak. He needs to be much better than he was as an OHL rookie, giving this team four really solid defenders in he, Mania, Anania, and Collins. Losing Toure to the pro level (after signing a deal with the Senators) hurts, but it does solve their OA problem.

4. Mississauga Steelheads
The Steelheads have a chance to be this year's truly surprise team. They're very young, but boy are they talented. Getting Jakub Fibigr to report was huge for them as he will provide an offensive spark on the blueline that was missing. He's looked great in the OHL preseason and should transition seamlessly. Up front this team is three lines deep and has so many talented play drivers. Porter Martone is going to be a go-to guy and is a darkhorse to finish top ten in OHL scoring IMO. However, Luke Misa and Jack Van Volsen are probably the key to the Steelheads having a successful year. Both have to take that next step in their NHL draft years...and I think they will.

5. Kingston Frontenacs
Kingston is the best bet to be the second best team in the East Division IMO and they could even challenge Ottawa if everything goes according to plan. I hate to put a ton of pressure on one player, but this needs to be a breakout year for Paul Ludwinski, now that he is healthy. There is good depth, especially at forward, but he needs to be the straw that stirs the drink and finally reach his upside. Look for Tyler Hopkins to have a great year as a rookie too. Big fan of this young man and he should fit in seamlessly, as he showed in the preseason. Other than that, the key is getting healthy (with Frasca already banged up), and staying healthy.

6. North Bay Battalion
If you've got the best defender (Ty Nelson) and the best goaltender (Dom DiVincentiis) in the OHL heading into the season, you should be a playoff team. Granted, I'm a bit concerned about whether this offense will be dynamic enough after losing their top four scorers at the forward position; there really isn't a dynamic play driver. Yet, the depth is solid. And if there's anything that I've learned from covering the OHL the last few decades, it's that star power can carry you pretty far. Would North Bay consider moving Nelson or DiVincentiis for a King's ransom if they find themselves in the middle of the pack?

7. Oshawa Generals
I still see the Generals as being one year away from being considered among the best teams in the OHL. They're set up nicely for a monster run next season with so many good '05's, 06's, and 07's in the mix. That said, I do think a lot would have to go perfectly for them to find themselves in the hunt this year. First, and foremost, Cal Ritchie needs to heal up and return from shoulder surgery last year. A Ritchie/Kumpulainen one/two punch down the middle could be among the best in the OHL in the second half once one gets healthy and one adjusts to the OHL. The development of NHL draft eligible defenders Ban Danford and Luca Marrelli is definitely one of the keys to success. The Generals need them to be two-way anchors.

8. Brantford Bulldogs
I really wanted to put the Bulldogs higher, but I just don't know what to expect from this team. I really disliked the way that they handled the Import Draft this year. Taking Adam Jiricek was a waste of a pick. He wasn't going to come and it was an opportunity to add a high end player to this roster that I see lacking depth at some positions. Badinka may still come at some point, but right now it's a huge miss. Throw in the fact that this team is moving cities and playing in a new environment; that can be tough. Nick Lardis and Patrick Thomas should continue to cook as a feared twosome, but who will be their Panwar this year? Will one of the team's three netminders step up and emerge as a solid starter? Rookie Jake O'Brien was great in the preseason, but it seems unfair to be counting on him to be one of the team's largest offensive weapons.

9. Niagara IceDogs
I might have been one of the only people out there who didn't hate some of the recent moves by the Dogs. You've got some good young players on this roster and you want to make sure that they are surrounded by high character, veteran players. Ryan Humphrey is that. Gavin Bryant is that. You want this Niagara team to be competitive enough to win some games and keep most games close. I actually really love the look of the team's first line of Kevin He, Alex Assadourian, and Ryan Humphrey. That is a line that brings speed, skill, and competitiveness. I actually wouldn't be shocked at all if this team makes the playoffs if they can get good goaltending.

10. Peterborough Petes
By far the most difficult team to prognosticate this year. If they keep their current roster, they have enough star power (Owen Beck, Connor Lockhart, Sam Mayer, Michael Simpson) to be competitive and in the playoff hunt. I would actually expect that through the first part of the year. I don't think we'll see any truly bad teams in the Eastern Conference this year. But, with a bare cupboard from playoff runs, the Petes need to sell off the above assets to try to rebuild. And once that happens, they'll easily be the worst team on paper in the Conference and should fall below the others in the second half...thus my last place prediction.