In a new segment to Around the OHL this season, I’ll take a weekly look at 12 things peeking my interest in the world of junior hockey. It might be OHL related, sometimes it might not.
Here we go…
- Personnel Changes – Nine OHL teams started the season with a new Head Coach, eight have hired a new General Managers while several others teams have made changes among their assistant coaches. That’s a lot of change over, even for junior hockey standards. It will be interesting to see what impact the new coaches have, and more important, how long they stick around.
- Is the East finally better than the West? – It’s no secret that the West has been the superior conference over the last few seasons (maybe even longer) with most of the top teams coming from the West (with a few exceptions). A Western Conference team has won the OHL Championship 10 of the past 11 years, with the 2015 Oshawa Generals as the only exception. Is this the year where the top dog comes from the East? Maybe even those Generals that won the J. Ross Robertson Cup three seasons ago. If all goes according to play, the Generals, Steelheads and Petes could all be in contention.
- Where will Raaymakers end up? – Recently released from his tryout with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Raaymakers is currently awaiting a trade from the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Entering his fourth OHL season, the veteran goalie has a handful of potential landing spots. He’s one of several guys I’ll be keeping an eye on.
- How much will Guelph and Barrie improve? – The Colts and Storm finished at the bottom of the OHL standings last season, but as the young teams get older, how much better will they be this season? I expect both teams will be good enough for the post season, but just how high is the ceiling for the young top prospects. They could be two of the more exciting teams to watch this year.
- Changing of the guard in London – The season looks a bit brighter now that Max Jones and Robert Thomas has returned, but Alex Formenton sticking with Ottawa (for now) and Victor Mete with Montreal (or now) the Knights aren’t quite as stacked with superstar power as they’ve been in past seasons. This is especially tru after Olli Juolevi elected to go back to Finland after not making the Vancouver Canucks. London is also notorious for players breaking out in a big way during their second OHL season, that could be the case for a guy like Jacob Golden.
- Raddysh, Lodnia and Sambrook? – After three straight 50 wins season, the Erie Otters are in a position they haven’t been for a couple years as the defending OHL champs will likely be sellers, rather than buyers, this season. Early indication is that Erie will hang on to the trio as long as possible to try and stock pile wins before unloading at the trade deadline.
- Who will be going to Regina? Five teams I’m keeping an eye on early…Peterborough, Mississauga, Owen Sound, Kitchener and Sault Ste. Maire. All five look like they have the pieces for a run.
- OHLers most likely to stick in the NHL – Every season a small handful of young players attempt to end their junior careers early by cracking an NHL roster as a teenager. Michael McLeod (Mississauga) is currently injured but is still up with New Jersey, the Steelheads also await the potential return of Owen Tippet from the Florida Panthers. Second round pick Alex Formenton (London) is still with Ottawa, so is Memorial Cup Champion Logan Brown (Windsor). It appears Victor Mete (London) will get some games with Montreal to start the season. Luke Opilka (Kitchener) is still with St. Louis, but could return to the Rangers for his overage season. Nikita Korostelev (Peterborough) has rejoined the Petes after camp with Toronto.
- Who will be the first OHLer taken come draft day? – Andrei Svechnikov (Barrie) has had a great start to his OHL career, and will very likely be the first player from the OHL selected. Akil Thomas (Niagara) and Ryan McLeod (Mississauga) are two other forwards who could end up as mid first round picks, maybe even earlier. Three defenceman to keep an eye out for, Evan Bouchard (London), Barrett Hayton (Sault Ste. Marie) and reigning Rookie of the Year Ryan Merkley (Guelph).
- Mississauga Steelheads – How good can the Steelheads be this season? A lot of their success is hinging on Michael McLeod and Owen Tippet returning to the club. If that doesn’t happen then things could be a very different hockey club. In my mind, they remain one of the deeper teams in the Eastern Conference, but getting some help back from the NHL could help them return to the OHL Finals, and maybe even get over that hump.
- Flint Firebirds – I know it’s still early but the Firebirds are the only OHL team to win every game they’ve played so far. After making the playoffs for the first time in franchise history last season, could the Firebirds be ready to take that next step. They were an honourable mention in the latest CHL Top Ten Rankings, which I believe is another first for the franchise.
- Who Will Lead The League In Scoring? – With seven points in his first three games, Jordan Kyrou is a guy I could see lead the league come seasons end. His linemate Drake Rymsha is also a candidate, he is currently tied for the league lead. Owen Sounds’s Nick Suzuki has the skill to put up big points, and should get plenty of opportunity to do so on a strong team. Kitchener’s Adam Mascherin is at a point per game to start the season but has the skill to finish near the top of the league again this season.