OHL Preview: Eastern ConferenceWednesday, September 18, 2013 by: Brad Coccimiglio
The Ontario Hockey League regular season opens on Thursday night with four games on the schedule.
With the OHL holding an extra spot in the 2014 Memorial Cup, many Eastern Conference teams are hoping to meet the tournament-host London Knights in the OHL final and earn an automatic entry into the national championship.
Should the Knights not get to the league final, the Eastern Conference has a few teams who could make some noise come playoff time.
Following is a team-by-team look at the OHL’s Eastern Conference:
The toughest thing for the Barrie Colts as the new season opens up is trying to replace a group of players that includes Mark Scheifele, Anthony Camara, Ryan O’Connor and Mathias Niederberger. Scheifele and Camara were keys offensively while the steady blueliner O’Connor and goaltender Niederberger were also major pieces on a Colts team that narrowly missed representing the OHL in Saskatoon at the 2013 Memorial Cup.
Up front, big things will be expected from veterans Andreas Athanasiou, Mitchell Theoret and Zach Hall while Aaron Ekblad will anchor a blueline that still has some veteran holdovers from last season. Alex Fotinos takes over the starting job in goal and will be a major focus in any success the Colts have this season.
A change in goal will give the Belleville Bulls a new look. Gone is Malcolm Subban while 18-year-old Charlie Graham takes over the starting role. Graham has suited up in 37 games over the past two seasons but posted a solid 15-5-1 record last season with a save percentage of 0.922 and a 2.59 goals against average. Whether Graham can translate that into a full workload remains to be seen but he will be given plenty of opportunity with a rookie backup.
Some experience on the blueline will help Graham as the Bulls open the season with a pair of overage blueliners in Jake Worrad and Brady Austin on the roster. Add in Jordan Subban, Adam Bignell and sophomore Daniel DeSousa and the Bulls blueline has plenty of veterans. The return of Alan Quine by the New York Islanders would be a big boost offensively, as would a return by Brendan Gaunce from the Vancouver Canucks camp.
If there’s one thing the Kingston Frontenacs have, it’s an offensively-skilled group of young forwards to build around. Ryan Kujawinski has made a name for himself around the OHL since being dealt to Kingston by Sarnia midway through his rookie season. The 18-year-old posted a point-per-game in 30 games with the Frontenacs after the trade before the 2012 OHL trade deadline. Despite averaging less than a point-per-game last season, the now-third year forward still set career highs in all offensive categories. With solid rookie seasons from Sam Bennett and Spencer Watson, things can only get better up front in Kingston.
In goal, overage Matt Mahalak, picked up in a summer trade with the Plymouth Whalers, will look to rebound after losing the Whalers starting job to Alex Nedeljkovic.
Goaltender Spencer Martin will again be looked to as a difference-maker for a Steelheads team that lacks offensive depth. Overage forward Dylan Smoskowitz is expected to lead the offensive charge for the Steelheads. Brett Foy will also be expected to chip in more offensively in his third season with the team.
Sean Day, granted exceptional status to be eligible for the OHL Priority Selection in the spring, will have all eyes on him as well. He became the first player to be granted such status and not be selected with the top pick.
The IceDogs have a number of veterans that will be expected to play big roles this season. Depth may be a bit of a concern, specifically on the blueline. Luke Mercer and Jesse Graham will lead a group of defencemen that lack experience at the OHL level. The only other IceDogs defenceman with OHL experience is sophomore blueliner Aaron Haydon, who played 42 games as a rookie with Niagara last season. The lack of experience on the blueline will mean Christopher Festarini and Brent Moran will be leaned on heavily between the pipes.
Carter Verhaeghe and Anthony DiFruscia will help lead a forward group that has added experience. Jordan Maletta and Brendan Perlini are also expected to chip in more offensively.
North Bay Battalion
The Battalion received some god news when forward Barclay Goodrow was returned to the team from the Detroit Red Wings training camp. Goodrow adds an offensive threat to a team that has some forwards that will be tough to contain as a group. With bigger things expected from Brandon Robinson and sophomore Blake Clarke, the Battalion will be a solid team up front.
The team also had the luxury of a veteran blueline, led by Marcus McIvor and Dylan Blujus. Of the seven defencemen set to start the season in North Bay, 16-year-old Riley Bruce is the only one who has yet to suit up in an OHL game. Jake Smith will carry the workload in goal early on in the season.
Gone are Lucas Lessio, Tyler Biggs and Boone Jenner up front which means higher expectations for Scott Laughton, Cole Cassels and Michael Dal Colle offensively. The team added Josh Sterk from the Kitchener Rangers for some depth but the Generals lost a number of key parts to graduation. Colin Suellentrop will anchor the Generals blueline, which lacks experience.
The lack of offensive punch and experience on the blueline will mean veteran goaltenders Daniel Altshuller and Ken Appleby will be busy.
Things can’t get much worse in the nation’s capital than what 67’s fans went through last season, can they?
If the Calgary Flames chose to keep Sean Monahan in the National Hockey League this season, it will be tough for things to get much better. Should Monahan stick, and at this point, it seems as though it’s a distinct possibility, the 67’s will need some veteran forwards to step up in his absence. Ryan Van Stralen, Joseph Blandisi and Dante Salituro will be expected to chip in offensively to lead the team. The 67’s will also be looking to a quick development for top pick Travis Konecny to chip in offensively as well.
The blueline is relatively unchanged from last season and will need to see a steep increase in their development for things to get better in Ottawa. Jacob Blair and Clint Windsor will also be looking to keep the team in games.
There are some aspects of the Petes that are intriguing. Eric Cornel, Nick Ritchie and Michael Clarke lead a group of forwards that features 11 players with OHL experience. Jonatan Tanus and Greg Betzold will be expected to chip in offensively as well.
On the blueline, the Petes bring back five veterans, including a pair of 20-year-olds in Steven Trojanovic and Nelson Armstrong along with 19-year-old Brandon Devlin. Connor Boland is a solid piece to the blueline as well. Overage goaltender Andrew D’Agostini will see a lot of work early on but the Petes could choose to give backup Michael Giugovaz some more time as the season progresses.
Up front, there’s a lot to like about the Sudbury Wolves this season. The addition of Connor Crisp adds to a solid group of forwards. Brody Silk, Nicholas Baptiste and Nathan Pancel give the Wolves some solid depth and that’s before mentioning Mathew Campagna and import forwards Dominik Kahun and Dominik Kubalik.
Jimmy McDowell, who came over in the trade with Erie along with Crisp, gives the Wolves blueline a face so-to-speak. The group doesn’t have any so-called big names but the group is solid. Franky Palazzese in goal is playing for a professional contract and will be the backbone to this Wolves team.
Check back on Thursday for team-by-team look at the OHL's Western Conference