For the Soo Greyhounds, the 2019-20 Ontario Hockey League season saw some players take a step forward in their development.
A pair of veteran forwards and a pair of sophomores saw their offensive games develop throughout the year and that development gives the Greyhounds hope for the future if it continues into next season.
Veteran Zack Trott had one of the bigger jumps offensively among the Greyhound forwards, setting career highs offensively with 25 goals and 66 points.
During the season, Trott spoke of getting “lots of opportunities and I’m scoring on my chances” when discussing his offensive success.
Greyhounds coach John Dean said on more that one occasion during the season that Trott was “the pulse of our team.”
“The biggest thing for Trotter is being prepared game in and game out and even for practice,” Dean said after the season. “We know the skill set is there with Zack. I’m not going to put him in the elite of the elite, but there aren’t a lot of players that have his playmaking ability and his skill set in tight areas to protect the puck and make a sneaky little play. He put up a ton of offence for our team and we’re going to expect him to do the same next year. For him, it’s a matter of consistency. I still think there’s more to give and I still think that Zack Trott has a lot more in him. I credit him. He took a lot of steps this year and he got a lot more opportunity because of it. Now that he’s played a year in that role where he’s the go-to-guy and there’s pressure on him to perform, he’s going to be even better prepared for next season to take on that responsibility of leading goal-scorer and being leaned on to put points up.”
In the second half of the season, it was Joe Carroll who saw his offensive improve.
The 19-year-old scored 18 times in 27 games after the calendar moved into 2020 and that wasn’t the only improvement Dean saw.
“Joe’s interesting because you mention his offensive game, but I give him a lot of credit,” Dean said. “He spent a lot of time with Jamie Tardif going over video and things that can advance his game for the better. The big thing for Joe is he’s an unbelievable skater; he’s a big body; and he’s got really high-end skill for a big guy. Once he gets that engine going, he’s a tough guy to stop. People don’t realize how much time he put in in the first half of the year settling into his game and what his identity was. It paid off in the second half and it looked like it just happened overnight. His pace of play increased so much in the second half of the year and he started to realize just how good he is when he plays with that pace that not a lot of players can in the Ontario Hockey League can stop. That translated to a really high offensive output (in the second half).”
“He went from not being on any special teams to forcing my hand,” Dean added. “It started with the penalty kill and moved to the power play amd by the end of the year, we had to have him on the ice for 6-on-5 specialty faceoffs. It’s a credit to him and we hope that it keeps rolling into next season.”
Then there was Rory Kerins.
Year two in the OHL saw the 18-year-old improve from nine goals in his rookie year to 30 in 2019-20.
“We all knew his intelligence and his skill set and he didn’t get a lot of opportunity in his rookie season,” Dean said. “He got enough, but not enough for everyone to see just how good he is. It starts with the offseason he had. He got a lot more explosive and you could see it in his skating. It was significantly better this season. Rory is a very confident kid. He’s very confident in his skill set. What I liked about him this year was, we all know what a great playmaker he is and how smart he is positionally and his high hockey I.Q., but he started really demanding the puck in the second half of the season and he chose to shoot pucks a lot more. That made him a double-threat when the puck was on his stick.”
Much like Kerins, Tye Kartye saw a big improvement after a four-goal rookie season in 2018-19.
Kartye proceeded to score 25 goals in his second season in the league and had a 29-point jump with 53 points in 2019-20.
“Tye represents everything we want to be as a group,” Dean said. “He’s dedicated to his craft. He puts in the extra time and he gets rewarded for it on a consistent basis. We want to be a team that’s known for our offensive creativity but also for how tenacious we are both on and off the puck. Tye was such a great example of that every single night. Even nights when he was off, he was getting rewarded just based on some of those intangibles and that work ethic. I was really excited about Tye’s game and we think there’s a lot more room for him We still think there’s a lot of space for him to grow.”
In talking about the ability to take a step offensively, Dean spoke of how much confidence plays into it.
“More than half the battle in this game is confidence in yourself and when guys have successful seasons like some individuals did, even though the team outcomes weren’t as favourable as we would have liked, when guys have those seasons where they find themselves being productive and having the impact on the game on a consistent basis, it really snowballs and you get a little bit more confidence in the offseason thinking about what you accomplished the year before and you start to set bigger goals for yourself,” Dean said. “Winning is a habit and success is a habit as well. Once you get a taste of it, it grows.”
And grow it did for the likes of Trott, Carroll, Kerins, and Kartye.
While his offensive numbers stated relatively consistent from the 2018-19 season, third-year forward Cole MacKay did see improvements in other aspects of his game in 2019-20.
“What really impressed us as a group is we challenged him to become more explosive as a skater so he could have more of an impact on the game shift-in and shift-out,” Dean said. “To his credit, he had a really big summer where he substantially improved his skating. He scored a good number of goals where his separation speed was the difference. We all know about his elite shot and his scoring ability, but skating added to that this year. He’s another player that, going through video (in the off-season), had a lot of opportunities to increase his production and was a little bit snake bitten. Cole’s the type of kid that wants to be the difference-maker in a game and wants to have an impact.”
“He’s got an opportunity this summer to add a couple more things to his game,” Dean added. “He had a big focus on skating (last summer) and this off season he’ll have a couple of new focuses. I’m really excited. He’s in a really good mental space and his skill set is really starting to round out. I suspect we’ll see some increased production next year.”
Playing his first full season with the Greyhounds after joining the team midway through the 2018-19 season, import forward Jaromir Pytlik had what Dean called “a fantastic year.”
“Jaromir had a fantastic year,” Dean said. “He’s dominant physically. He’s one of those guys that carries the pace of play. When you’re looking up and down your bench and you’re in tough or you need something to happen for your team, you want to know guys that can carry the pace of play and carry a shift and he’s one of those guys.”
“When he wants to be, he’s very dynamic with the puck,” Dean added. “He plays a pretty strong physical game, but he can also bring some finesse as well so it’s an interesting combination.”
Dean also called Pytlik “a natural leader.”
“He’s just one of those guys that, for such a young age, is in tune to what it takes to be successful at this level and the next,” Dean added. “He brings that to his game every day. The interesting part about Jaromir is he had a pretty productive season and I think his opportunities could have made him even more productive and I think he got a little bit snake bitten this year. He’s one of those guys who I thought his numbers could have been inflated even more if he got a couple more bounces and a little bit of luck.”
Playing his first full season with the team after being acquired from the Barrie Colts in a trade during the 2018-19 season, overage forward Jaden Peca also took on a leadership role with the team in his final season along with contributing offensively.
“He’s one of those guys that you can’t help but fall in love with his personality,” Dean said. “He’s a larger-than-life, caring guy. He loves his teammates. He’s a guy that taught a lot of lessons to the young guys like when going through adversity, how do you respond and what it’s like to care for a teammate and what it looks like to go the extra mile on the ice.”
“He’s a character kid with an underrated skill set and underrated talent,” Dean added. “I’m excited to see what he does moving forward.”
Alex Johnston, a former sixth round pick by the Greyhounds, found himself being used in a lot of different scenarios in 2019-20.
The second-year centre found himself on a number of different lines throughout the season, depending on the situation.
“We call him a little buzzsaw,” Dean said. “He works hard and competes so hard game in and game out. The one thing I like about him is he can go up and down the lineup and he can play on the penalty kill. He’s starting to get a really good feel for what we want from him and who he is as a player. There are games where he looks like he can score 60 goals and there are games where he would probably want a little bit more from himself. The thing for him is, if he can give us close to 68 games, he’s going to have a really productive season. The way he plays is very hard to play for 68 games because he works so hard and he’s always going through guys hands and he’s always involved. There are a lot of stops and starts. It’s not easy to play that way for 68 games but if he gives us some consistency and really hones in on his fundamental skills, he can become a very important player for us.”
For Cullen McLean, it wasn’t an easy season at times, but Dean spoke of a consistency in the second half of the season that came at a tough time in the year.
“The interesting thing about Cullen is his skill set and his skating is really high end,” Dean said. “Cullen was an interesting guy. We thought he got off to a little bit of a slow start and I’m sure he’d say the same thing, but as we challenged him more and he challenged us, I thought in the second half of the season, he brought a certain consistency to his game.
“Unfortunately, the timing of his evolution where we were fighting for a playoff spot where every single game counted pretty early on for us because of that tough stretch (in October and November), despite his improved play and him taking a step forward in the second half, he still saw limited opportunity,” Dean also said. “With some more opportunity next season and him growing from the second half in his consistency starting to show what he’s capable of, he’s another guy that can have an impact.”
There was a lot to like from rookie forward Tanner Dickinson in 2019-20.
Joining the team as a free agent last summer, Dickinson proceeded to finish fifth in rookie scoring with 40 points.
“He’s an impressive player to watch,” Dean said. “He’s one of those guys who your eyes are automatically drawn to him because of what he’s capable of doing with the puck. He has elite vision and an incredible skill set where he can slow down the game or speed it up when he needs to. He draws players into him before making passes. He just has some of those things as a player that you can’t teach. He’s got a few God-given talents that are, quite frankly, a lot of fun to watch and he can grow on.”
“He’s going to need to put on some size and strength, which I believe he will over the course of the summer,” Dean added. “I was impressed because we challenged him quite a bit this season. We challenged him to be hard on his stick. Despite his needing more strength to be aggressive and tenacious and get through guys hands and finding ways and second efforts to get pucks, he was very responsive and that’s exciting as a coach.”
For Marc Boudreau, a third round pick by the Greyhounds in the 2019 OHL Priority Selection, the 2019-20 season was a learning experience for the 17-year-old.
“Boudy started off really hot and he just came in not sure what to expect and played his style of game without thinking,” Dean said. “His style is aggressive, physical, and in-your-face but he’s got some sneaky skill sets too. The interesting thing about him is the Soo Greyhounds style of play is that we really want to command the middle of the ice and that’s a place where he’s very comfortable. Usually it’s something we need to teach, but for him it was an area that we didn’t have to. Early on in the season, it was nice to see him jump right in and take the bull by the horns. It looked like he was having a lot of fun.”
“Over the course of the season, like with many first-year players, it became a long year; the days are long and it’s a stressful season and we saw a little bit of inconsistency but the exciting part about him, this is going to be your classic player’s player,” Dean said. “He’s gritty. He works hard. He loves to have fun in the dressing room. He’s got a lot to prove to everyone next season in just how capable he is.”
Dominic Mufarreh and Kalvyn Watson saw limited action with the Greyhounds in 2019-20, but it wasn’t without some bright spots and something the build on.
“Dom Mufarreh is really incredible on his edges,” Dean said. “Going through some video and watching him play in the offensive zone, he loves the little mohawk play with his skates opening up ice for himself. For a young guy, he really commanded the offensive zone when he wanted to. He was also one of our few players who was very skilled on the half wall when he wanted to be and breaking with his feet moving and making some pretty skilled problem-solving plays to exit the zone. With Dom, there’s a massive amount of potential there and there’s a huge skill set there that I don’t think can be taught. It just comes to him naturally. He just needs to make sure he brings it every single day. He started to realize in the second half just how hard it is to be successful at this level. There’s no doubt he’s capable, he just needs to bring it every day.”
“Watty was a first-year player with a really high-end skill set,” Dean also said. “He’s got an incredible shot. The thing with Watty is we have to get him moving his feet a little bit more. With his high-end skill, (in 2018-19) I think he was capable of making some pretty special plays with a little bit slower pace and he wants to slow the game down. Over the course of the year as we starting working with him and he really started working hard in practice and moving his feet and commanding the puck right away and then using his skill set second, then he became a player that can impact on any given night. He’s another guy that, with a big off-season and a really good idea of what to expect from the league and what it takes, is a lot of fun to work with.”