With the first round of the OHL playoffs in the rear view mirror, I rank the eight teams who are left, and look into what chances they have at winning the J. Ross Robertson Cup. I also provide a team by team break down of their second round match up, how they fared against each other during the regular season, and highlight the teams top three scorers from the first round.
1. Erie Otters
First Round: Sarnia in four (6-3W, 9-3W, 5-3W, 9-3W)
Second Round: London (won season series 4-2)
Leading Scorers: Alex DeBrincat (2g 11a), Dylan Strome (6g 5a), Taylor Raddysh (3g 8a)
Sarnia had no answer for Erie’s high powered offence, with the top line of DeBrincat, Strome and T. Raddysh leading the way in the scoring department. Troy Timpano will have a tougher test against London, he struggled at times in the Sarnia series, which can happen when your outshooting the opposition as much as Erie did. The Otters had eight players average a point per game in the first round, which is to be expected when the team combines for 27 goals in four games. Erie was the only OHL team to score more than 300 goals this season, and with only 182 goals against they also had the best goal differential of +137. Plenty of history between the Otters and Knights, Erie ended London’s season in the second round in 2015, while London returned the favour last year in the Western Conference Final. Erie’s only OHL Championship came in 2002, they happened the face London in the second round that year as well.
2. Owen Sound Attack
First Round: Kitchener in five (9-1W, 2-1L, 4-0W, 7-4W, 6-2W)
Second Round: Sault Ste. Marie (won season series 2-0)
Leading Scorers: Petrus Palmu (6g 5a), Nick Suzuki (4g 6a), Santino Centorame (3g 5a)
Despite being in the same conference, Owen Sound and Sault Ste. Marie only met twice in the regular season, with the Attack winning 6-1 in both their meetings. They were one of the hottest second half teams in the OHL, and that continued into the playoffs with a convincing round one victory over Kitchener. It’s been a coming out party for both Suziki and Palmu, Suzuki has seen his stock rise substantially for the NHL draft (as his younger brother Ryan will be one of the first few names called Saturday at the OHL draft). Palmu, undersized and undrafted in the NHL, has proven himself as one of the league’s elite scorers and should find himself with a handful of invites to pro camps for next season, he also may return as an OA. Michael McNiven wasn’t relied upon too heavily in the Kitchener series, but that will change going forward as he’ll likely have to steal a game or two if the Attack want to go on a lengthy run.
3. Peterborough Petes
First Round: Niagara 4-0 (5-2W, 6-3W, 4-3OTW, 6-2W)
Second Round: Kingston (won season series 6-2)
Leading Scorers: Jonathan Ang (5g 1a), Steven Lorentz (4g 2a), Zach Gallant (0g 6a)
The Petes were my pick to win the East, and they didn’t do anything in the first round for me to think that could change. They swept Niagara in four games, despite a quiet series from Nikita Korostelev and Logan DeNoble. Dylan Wells continued his strong play, stopping 149 of 159 shots he faced in the first round. The Petes made it through the first round for only the second time in the last decade. They haven’t won a second round game since 2006, when they went on to win the OHL Championships. That will more than likely change this season.
4. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
First Round: Flint 4-1 (5-2W, 6-3L, 3-1W, 5-2W, 6-1W)
Second Round: Owen Sound (lost season series 0-2)
Leading Scorers: Boris Katchouk (5g 3a), Tim Gettinger (3g 2a), Jack Kopacka (2g 3a)
Joseph Raaymakers has regained the starters role after Matthew Villalta had been the guy down the stretch, and started the first two games of the Flint series. Raaymakers has been lights out since taking over, stopping 89 of 93 shots and winning all three games he started. The ‘Hounds depth was on display against Flint, with six players with at least a point per game. Not bad considering that list down’t include Zachary Senyshyn or Bobby MacIntyre, their top two scorers in the regular season.
5. London Knights
First Round: Windsor 4-3 (4-3OTL, 5-2W, 3-1L, 3-2OTL, 2-1W, 5-3W, 3-2W)
Second Round: Erie (lost season series 2-4)
Leading Scorers: Janne Kuokkanen (4g 4a), Robert Thomas (3g 5a), Mitchell Vande Sompel (og 5a)
The Knights climbed out of a 3-1 series deficit to eliminate the Memorial Cup hosting Windsor Spitfires in what was by far the most entertaining first round series. London will need to find their scoring depth to have success against a very strong Erie team. Despite scoring 37 goals in the regular season, Sam Miletic failed to find the back of the net in his five games against the Spits’. Dante Salituro also failed to score, while captain JJ Piccinich only had three points and leading scoring during the regular season Cliff Pu finished with a goal and three assists. Tyler Parsons is more than capable of stealing a game, maybe even a series, and he might have to do so against Erie. The Knights and Otters have met seven times in the post season, with London winning three of those series.
6. Mississauga Steelheads
First Round: Ottawa 4-2 (6-2W, 4-0L, 2-1W, 6-4W, 5-3L, 5-1W)
Second Round: Oshawa (lost season series 0-2-1-1)
Leading Scorers: Michael McLeod (6g 5a), Spencer Watson (4g 5a), Nathan Bastian (5g 2a)
Michael McLead may have been one of the OHL’s hottest players down the stretch, scoring 19 goals and adding 21 assists in his final 24 games. He continued that into the playoffs, leading his team in scoring with nearly two points per game. 16-year-old Jacob Ingham played every minute in net for the Steelheads, ahead of overager Matt Mancina who struggle during his final OHL season. Ingham was impressive for a rookie, but asking a young goalie like that to lead a lengthy playoff run could be a lot to ask. Alec Nedeljkovic was the last 16-year-old goalie to lead his team to a Conference Final, he back stopped Plymouth during the 2012 playoffs.
7. Oshawa Generals
First Round: Sudbury 4-2 (5-2L, 5-1W, 3-2L, 4-2W, 4-1W, 3-1W)
Second Round: Mississauga (won season series 4-0)
Leading Scorers: Jack Studnicka (3g 4a), Joe Manchurek (3g 3a), Renars Krastenbergs (3g 2a)
The Generals won three straight games to close out the Sudbury series, which was one of the more heated matchups in the OHL’s first round. Oshawa is hoping to make the Eastern Conference final for the third time in four years, I’m not sure if they have to firepower to beat a high scoring Mississauga club. After trading Cirelli and Vande Sompel at the deadline, the Generals were clearly putting themselves in a position to succeed next year, and the series victory over Sudbury is valuable experience for the players who didn’t excperience the Generals 2015 Memorial Cup run.
8. Kingston Frontenacs
First Round: Hamilton 4-3 (2-0L, 5-4L, 4-2W, 5-2W, 4-2W, 5-2L, 3-2OTW)
Second Round: Peterborough (lost season series 2-3-2-1)
Leading Scorers: Jason Robertson (4g 8a), Linus Nyman (4g 4a), Nathan Dunkley (4g 3a)
Kingston needed overtime in game seven to beat the Hamilton Bulldogs, and do something the franchise hasn’t done in 30 years, make it past the first round in back to back years. The then Kingston Canadians eliminated Oshawa in 1986 and Belleville in 1987. The Fronts are good defensively and have one of the better goalies in Jeremy Helvig, so an upset over the Petes isn’t exactly out of the question, but it will take all hands on deck to do so.