Central Division Preview

The Barrie Colts have won the East Division two of the last three years and could be poised to finish on top again this year. It could very well be one of the tougher divisions in the league after two of the teams failed to make the playoffs last year. Better seasons are expected in Sudbury and Mississauga, but they will be in tough competing against Niagara and Barrie, who could be two of the top teams in the OHL. Also the Battalion return for their 3rd season in North Bay, and after two strong seasons up north, another strong campaign should be expected this year.

Barrie Colts (41-24-1-2) 85 points – 2nd in Eastern Conference

WHAT WE KNOW: Scoring won’t be a problem, as the Colts will likely return four players who scored 30 plus goals last season. Throw in the addition of import Julius Nättinen, a 2nd rounder in the NHL draft, and this could be one of the most dynamic offenses in the league. Mackenzie Blackwood is back in net, and after already establishing himself as one of the OHL’s best last year, this upcoming season could be a dominant one. Rasmus Andersson will ensure that Barrie has one of the leagues top power play units again.

WHAT WE DON’T KNOW: Depth could be a problem for Barrie outside of the top 6, the forward corps isn’t terribly experienced. The defence lacks a puckmover after Andersson, and is rather unspectacular. An injury to Blackwood in net would leave Barrie very thin, as backup Ruan Badenhorst has only played four career games.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Forwards Andrew Mangiapane and Kevin Labanc both had 100-point seasons. They are dynamic, quick forwards who make up for their lack of size with their offensive ability. If Brendan Lemieux’s 41 goals last year didn’t get your attention, his pesky demeanour on the ice certainly will. After a slow start, D-man Rasmus Andersson was fantastic; expect more of the same this year. And of course there is Mackenzie Blackwood, who is already one of the best goalies in the league.

WHO’S GONE: The biggest loss is Joseph Blandisi, as the New Jersey Devils rewarded his 112-point season with a contract. The Colts should have the scorers to replace him. Other notable losses include Ben Harpur, who moves on to the Binghamton Senators of the AHL, and Garrett Hooey, who had 44 points and 103 penalty minutes last season.

EXPECTATIONS: After coming second in the conference last year, and not losing too many of their key players, the Colts are set up to make a deep run into the playoffs. They boast one of the most powerful offences in the league, and elite goaltending. Barrie has to be looked at as one of the favourites to win the Eastern Conference, and a championship isn’t out of the question for the Colts.

Mississauga Steelheads (25-40-2-1) 53 points – 9th in Eastern Conference

WHAT WE KNOW: The Steelheads will be an interesting mix of experienced players and youth, having collected many high draft picks in recent years. Bryson Cianfrone and Josh Burnside are experienced scorers, and will lead the way for 17 year olds Nathan Bastian, Alex Nylander and Michael McLeod. McLeod’s brother, Ryan, and Owen Tippett were the 3rd and 4th overall picks in the OHL draft and should play big roles. The Defense remains mostly the same, with the top four having played together last season.

WHAT WE DON’T KNOW: The goaltending is a big question mark with the presumed graduation of Spencer Martin. Cameron Zanussi and Leif Hertz are going to try to replace him, but Zanussi had a GAA over 4.00 in 23 games last year, and Hertz has only played in 2 games. As promising as their forwards are, we won’t actually know how good they are until they hit the ice. The Steelheads also lack a true go-to scorer.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: It starts on defence with Sean Day. He heads into his 3rd season since receiving exceptional status, and will be surrounded by the most offensive talent he’s ever had, so expect a breakout season. After missing out on his brother, Leafs 1st rounder William, the Steelheads were able to get Alexander Nylander signed. The projected NHL 1st rounder is a dynamic scoring talent. Michael and Ryan McLeod are top prospects for the NHL draft in 2016 and 2018, respectively. Big things are expected from the brothers.

WHO’S GONE: The Steelheads will struggle to replace goalie Spencer Martin, who is expected to play pro next season. Also graduating is Jimmy Lodge, who scored over a point per game in Mississauga and now heads to the pros, and defenceman Brandon Devlin, who is headed to the CIS after a 20-goal season. 3 year Steelhead Sam Babintsev is heading back to Europe.

EXPECTATIONS: The Steelheads go into the year looking for progression from their players. They’ve spent time collecting draft picks, and now is when they will expect some results. While it’s too early to expect a deep run out of these guys, they will be expected to make the playoffs and gain some positive momentum for the team to build upon in the 2016/17 season.

Niagara IceDogs (37-27-2-2) 78 points – 5th in Eastern Conference

WHAT WE KNOW: The IceDogs may have the most dynamic pair of forwards in the league with Brendan Perlini and Josh Ho-Sang. Both have been 1st round picks in the NHL, and head into what is likely their final seasons in Niagara with great expectations. The rest of the forward corps is strong too, with four of the rest of the returning forwards having scored more than 40 points last season. The defence is big, deep, experienced, and has a solid blend of puck movers like Vince Dunn and Blake Siebenaler, and defensive defencemen like Aaron Haydon, Ryan Mantha and Alexander Mikulovich.

WHAT WE DON’T KNOW: One of the big question marks lies in net, where Brent Moran’s performance has been all over the place. He has all the tools to be a great goalie, but consistency continues to elude him. After a 2-13 start to the season last year, will this team struggle out of the gate again?

PLAYERS TO WATCH: It all starts with Perlini and Ho-Sang. Perlini has the speed to skate by you and the size to run you over. When Ho-Sang is on the ice, he’s impossible to miss, unless you’re an opposing defender. The electric playmaker will be trying to silence critics after arriving late to Islanders camp in the off-season. Graham Knott could be due for a breakout after playing well for Canada at the Under-18’s. Vince Dunn had 56 points from the backend as a 17 year old. With Niagara’s offensive talent, his 18-year-old season can be even better. Keep an eye on OHL 1st rounders Ben Jones and Hayden Davis.

WHO’S GONE: Leading scorer Carter Verhaeghe has graduated to the pros. He will be suiting up for the Islanders AHL or ECHL team this season. The team will hope for continued development to replace his scoring. Brandon Hope and Billy Jenkins will be moving on to the CIS, while Cody Payne also graduates.

EXPECTATIONS: Niagara has a shot at being one of the top teams in the OHL by season’s end. The IceDogs have a ton of top end talent, and a strong, experienced supporting cast compliments them. With depth at every position, the goaltending only needs to be average for this team to go deep in the playoffs. As long as they aren’t let down in net, Niagara should win the East.

North Bay Battalion (37-20-6-5) 85 points – 3rd in Eastern Conference

WHAT WE KNOW: They’re going to make the playoffs. It’s a Stan Butler team, and he’s brought the Battalion to the playoffs every year since 2003. This year’s group is lead by Mike Amadio, who returns after leading the team in scoring. The defence should be strong, with a mature group that has played together for a while, led by Miles Liberati, Kyle Wood and Riley Bruce. The goaltending should be excellent with Jake Smith returning in net after winning 28 games last season.

WHAT WE DON’T KNOW: Where are the goals going to come from? While the Battalion have never been known for their offence, they lost a lot of production to graduations and after Amadio, don’t have any apparent answers on the current roster. It shouldn’t be a problem, but if Smith misses time or is injured, backup goalie Jake Kment only has 8 games of experience

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Mike Amadio had 71 points to lead the Battalion in scoring, but he won’t have the supporting cast he’s used to this season. He’ll be expected to lead the forwards and make his linemates better. Miles Liberati returns for an overage season. He’s a two-way defenceman, and one of the only Battalion D-man who can move the puck, making his presence a key to North Bay’s offence. And Jake Smith will be looking to continue his stellar play in net after gaining experience with the New York Rangers

WHO’S GONE: Of all the losses, Nick Paul hurts the most. The star forward graduates to the AHL this year, and was the offensive leader last season. Joining him in the pros will be forwards Ryan Kujawinski and Nick Moutrey, as well as defenceman Brendan Miller, who had 55 points from the backend. Marcus McIvor, who captained the Battalion last season, moves on to the CIS.

EXPECTATIONS: It would be a shock if this team didn’t make the playoffs. While they are weaker than last year’s team, they have enough veterans to at least get out of the first round. However, they may find themselves lacking firepower, and that puts a cap on how much success they can achieve.

Sudbury Wolves (12-54-1-1) 26 points – 10th in Eastern Conference

WHAT WE KNOW: It’s the beginning of a youth movement in Sudbury, so we know that winning isn’t the priority. The Wolves do have two of the most intriguing rookies in the OHL this year, with #1 pick David Levin, and 3rd overall import pick Dmitri Sokolov. Kyle Capobianco, Pavel Jenys and Matt Schmalz will be looked to for leadership. Troy Timpano saw a lot of rubber last year, and will be trusted with goaltending duties again this season.

WHAT WE DON’T KNOW: Just about everything. With so many young, unproven players, the Wolves are difficult to get a read on. A lot of their young players were high picks, but now will have to start playing like it. Capobianco, Patrick Murphy and Jonathon Duchesne are solid, but it’s question marks after that. After Schmalz and Jenys, none of Sudbury’s returning players scored more than 20 points, and it’s unlikely that Levin and Sokolov alone will fill that void. A backup goalie is needed, considering Timpano’s inexperience.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Obviously the reigning #1 pick David Levin is a player to watch. After only arriving in Canada at 12 years old, his success so far has been remarkable. Now he’ll be counted on to kick-start the Wolves rebuild. Based on the success of recent #1 picks (which you can read about here) expectations will be high. Dmitri Sokolov will get the attention of NHL scouts, with some sources already listing him as a potential top 10 pick in the upcoming draft. Kyle Capobianco could put up strong numbers, now that he has a better supporting cast.

WHO’S GONE: The Wolves lose defenceman Jeff Corbett, who will move on to play for Brock University in the CIS. The Wolves also lost forwards Jacob Harris, and Danny Desrochers.

EXPECTATIONS: The Wolves figure to miss the playoffs, but that’s okay, as this season will be about giving their young players plenty of game experience. There’s reason for hope in Sudbury, but it will only be seen in glimpses this year. If Sudbury can simply be competitive on a nightly basis, the season will be a success