They stand to lose just a pair of players off their roster to graduation.
For the Soo Greyhounds, returning 21 players next winter is a positive when the 2020-21 Ontario Hockey League regular season opens.
The biggest question will be what kind of expectations are realistic for this team when the season does get underway?
Greyhounds general manager Kyle Raftis wasn’t shy about what he felt the team could be when asked earlier this year.
When the team announced their intention to bid on the 2021 Memorial Cup in February, Raftis agreed when asked if he saw the 2020-21 version of the club as a contender.
“Year-to-year is always tough to gauge at this level, but the way we’re trending over the last little bit and seeing the group that we’re hopeful to return and seeing that step in maturation with a lot of these players, it’s an exciting group that we can build off of,” Raftis also said at the time.
There’s no question that when the Greyhounds were at the top of their game in 2019-20, they were fun to watch.
This was a team that played well in games against the OHL’s best.
The team won two of the three meetings with a tough Kitchener Rangers team while sweeping a two-game season series with the Oshawa Generals.
That being said, the team struggled against its own division as well to the tune of a 6-17-1-0 record against West Division opponents. A year of experience could help in that department.
The ups and downs of a long season are another thing the returning group will take with them.
In interviews during the course of the season, players talked about the Greyhounds’ struggles in October and November and how much they learned from the experience and felt they were better for going through it.
Looking down the roster, the team got career years offensively from the likes of Zack Trott and Joe Carroll and that will be among the biggest keys to the Greyhounds take a step next season.
Trott went from a 13-goal, 37-point season in 2018-19 to a team leading 66-point season where he also picked up 25 goals.
Carroll went from a nine-goal season to 25 in 2019-20.
Rory Kerins scored nine times in his rookie season with the Greyhounds and proceeded to score 30 in year two.
“It’s up to the player and their mindset,” Greyhounds coach John Dean said of the year-to-year development. “Over the course of my short career with North Bay and the Sault, you see some players really take a jump and others don’t. A lot of it is mindset and being able to handle the year before mentally. These things don’t just happen automatically. You don’t just get better because you’re a year older.
For the Greyhounds to become a title contender next season, that’s the sort of year-to-year development the team will need.
And it’s no secret that one summer can make a big difference for a teenage hockey player development-wise.