OHL Preview: Western ConferenceThursday, September 19, 2013 by: Brad Coccimiglio
Thursday marked the official opening of the Ontario Hockey League schedule with four games set to kick off the season.
Thursday night’s season-opening games include a pair of Western Conference teams in action as well as the Windsor Spitfires host the Oshawa Generals and the Saginaw Spirit travel to Barrie to take on the Colts.
The Niagara IceDogs host the Mississauga Steelheads and the Peterborough Petes host the Kingston Frontenacs in a pair of Eastern Conference divisional games on Thursday night as well.
The London Knights, as host of the 2014 Memorial Cup, will be looking to cement their status as one of the Western Conference’s top teams.
After a team-by-team look at the Eastern Conference on Wednesday, following is a look at the Western Conference and how teams shape up as the new season opens
Even if they don’t win many games, the Erie Otters are going to be a fun team to watch. With young star Connor McDavid set to embark on his second OHL season with an increasingly-skilled group of forwards, scoring shouldn’t be much of an issue in Erie. Returning overage Dane Fox and newly-acquired overage forward Michael Curtis will be expected to chip in while import pick Andre Burakovsky and first round pick Dylan Strome should be solid additions as well.
Adam Pelech will lead a veteran blueline in front of returning goaltenders Oscar Dansk and Devin Williams. With a year in North American under his belt, Dansk should improve on a tough first season.
The Guelph Storm seemed to have solved what was their biggest issue heading into the new season when they acquired goaltender Justin Nichols from the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in exchange for a draft pick overnight Wednesday. Prior to the deal, the Storm had just seven games of OHL experience between goaltenders Jason DaSilva and Matthew Mancina. DaSilva, who suited up in seven games last season, was subsequently dealt to the Belleville Bulls after the Nichols deal.
Up front, the Storm has a group that is as solid as many of the OHL’s top teams. The Storm is primarily an older team at forward with two 20-year-olds, three 19-year-olds and five 18-year-olds. Despite losing Tanner Richard, who finished second in team scoring last season, to graduation, the Storm return the rest of their top five scorers, including leader Scott Kosmachuk. Kosmachuk is coming off back-to-back 30-goal seasons. Matt Finn anchors an experience blueline as well.
Experience isn’t what it has been up front for the Kitchener Rangers. The team boasts an experience and fairly skilled group among their to six forwards – Justin Bailey, Radek Faksa, Matia Marcantuoni, Ben Thomson and Eric Ming – but the team will need some of the youngsters to step in and have an impact early on.
Evan McEneny and Ben Fanelli will be heavily leaned upon to lead the defencemen while goaltenders Tyson Teichmann and Jack Moylan will be under a lot of pressure.
The ability to reload has been taken to a new level lately by the London Knights. A quick glance down their roster on opening day and the number of recognizable names is apparent very quickly. With their third-straight Memorial Cup appearance locked up as the 2014 tournament hosts, the Knights seemingly have the guns to get to the tournament through the preverbal front door. With the return of Max Domi, Bo Horvat and Chris Tierney up front among others, the Knights can play an offensive game with pretty much any team. Rookies Michael McCarron and Christian Dvorak should be able to make an easy adjustment to the OHL game.
The loss of Scott Harrington on the blueline hurts, but the team lost Jared Tinordi heading into last season and the defencemen as a whole stepped up. That will need to happen again this season. In goal Jake Patterson and Anthony Stolarz will once again battle for playing time.
Owen Sound Attack
With Jordan Binnington no longer in the mix between the pipes, the Owen Sound Attack now look to Brandon Hope to carry the workload in goal. To say Binnington was a good goaltender during his time in Owen Sound would be like saying Joe Thornton was pretty good during his time as a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. The loss leaves some big shoes to fill for Hope, who was brought in by the Attack via a trade with the Sarnia Sting.
The upside is that the Attack still have some key pieces back from last season to work with, including second-leading scorer Cameron Brace. Brace is coming off a 35-goal season for the Attack. Gemel Smith and Zach Nastasiuk will also be expected to improve on solid 2012-13 seasons.
Imagine losing Vincent Trocheck (59 points in 28 games, including 26 goals), Garrett Meurs (32 goals), Stefan Noesen (25 goals, 53 points in 51 games), Rickard Rakell (21 goals, 44 points in 40 games) and Mitchell Heard (17 goals, 36 points in 32 games). That’s the position the Plymouth Whalers are in as the 2013-14 season opens.
The good news is that the Whalers have Tom Wilson (58 points in 48 games), Ryan Hartman (23 goals, 60 points in 56 games) and Matt Mistele (32 goals, 65 points in 68 games) returning. For the team to have any sustained success this season, the Whaler will need goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic to improve upon a solid rookie season in which he took over the starting job from veteran Matt Mahalak, who was dealt to the Kingston Frontenacs during the off-season.
The Saginaw Spirit enter the 2013-14 OHL season with just two rookies – Kris Bennett and Mitchell Stephens – among 15 forwards. A return by overage forward Eric Locke from the Buffalo Sabres training camp would boost a group of forwards that features some skill in the likes of Justin Kea, Jimmy Lodge and Cody Payne.
The addition of Justin Sefton to a group of youngsters on the blueline will be of help as well. Jake Paterson and Nikita Serebryakov have both proven they can play at the OHL level and give the Spirit a solid tandem in goal.
Things are going to be very busy between the pipes in Sarnia for Brodie Barrick and newly-acquired Taylor Dupuis. The Sting gave up over 250 goals last season and that was with JP Anderson in goal. Barrick and Dupuis have seen limited action as starters in the OHL so how they handle the added workload will determine what success the Sting has this season.
Anthony DeAngelo and Craig Duininck will lead the blueline brigade while Nikolay Goldobin, Nickolas Latta and Brett Hargrave will be expected to pace the Sting offensively.
Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
After losing the likes of Nick Cousins, Brandon Alderson, Ryan Sproul and Colin Miller to graduation, the Soo Greyhounds will need some younger players to step into a leading role offensively. Up front, that means more pressure on the likes of Jared McCann and Sergey Tolchinsky to add to their already solid offensive totals. Overage forward Andrew Fritsch will also be expected to improve on his career numbers.
Without Sproul and Miller, the Greyhounds group of defencemen won’t be nearly as offensive as they were a year ago. Alex Gudbranson and Darnell Nurse, when he returns from the Edmonton Oilers, will anchor the blueline. With Justin Nichols being dealt to Guelph, Matt Murray taes the reigns as the starting goaltender with the red and white.
After missing the playoffs a season ago, the Windsor Spitfires did make one off-season move in adding Steven Janes from the Ottawa 67’s. Whether that deal is enough to put the Spitfires back in the OHL post-season is another story. The expectation is that young players like Josh Ho-Sang will develop, but every team in the conference is banking on similar things from their youngsters. A full season with Slater Koekkoek in the lineup will be a plus for the Spitfires.
How Jordan DeKort embraces being a starting goaltender in the OHL will also play a major role in the Spitfires getting back into the post-season dance.