OHL 2008 Eastern Conference preview

By Jason Menard

While the OHL‘s Western Conference may have the marquee teams, the league’s Eastern Conference may feature some of the most intriguing stories. From the retirement of an OHL coaching legend, to the draft-year performance of a projected top-overall draft pick, to the pre-season fifth-overall CHL ranking for the Belleville Bulls, the Eastern Conference should make for compelling watching both on and off the ice this season.

CENTRAL DIVISION


Barrie Colts

The Colts are hoping Alex Hutchings can build upon his impressive first full season in the OHL last year, in which he scored 29 goals en route to 54 points in 68 games.

The club enjoyed some unexpected post-season success, culminating with an upset of the heavily favored Brampton Battalion, but will require significant contributions from their overage pair of Daniel Michalsky and Cory McGillis to get back there.

Barrie has an experienced and deep blueline, led by Kyle van de Bospoort and Ryan Gottschalk. The unit will be infused with promising youth in the form of their first-round selection – Ryan O’Connor, who is expected to play a significant role. The last line of the club’s defense comes in the form of Michael Hutchinson, a Boston Bruins draft pick, who could challenge for the OHL’s top netminder honors this season.

Brampton Battalion

The big question for the Battalion is whether or not they’ll have the services of highly-touted forward Cody Hodgson. Selected with the 10th overall selection by Vancouver, the promising scoring forward will be given a good, long look at sticking on a talent-thin Canucks roster.

Speaking of losses, the Battalion also will have to deal with the departure of its starting netminder, Bryan Pitton, and an elite blueliner in Bob Sanguinetti. However, Patrick Killeen, who assumes the No. 1 role this season, did split duties with Pitton last year and has adequate experience. Up front, with or without Hodgson, the club will be counting on overager John Hughes to fulfill the promise that led him to being a former first-overall OHL selection.

The one place where stability reigns is behind the bench, where Stan Butler stands to take over the mantle of longest-tenured OHL coach upon the departure of Brian Kilrea.

Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors

After a tumultuous season last season, the club is looking to build upon its talented base of youth. And it will be required to step up right away to compensate for the loss of their Latvian scoring star Kaspar Daugavins and his 40 goals.

Netminder Chris Carrozzi will be required to show why he’s considered one of the tops in the conference, as he will be working behind a young blueline that may, on occasion, show its inexperience. That said, players like Colorado draft pick Cameron Gaunce showed that they may be ready to make the jump. Gaunce finished the season with 10 goals and 40 assists after a slow start and will be looking to improve on those numbers.

Niagara IceDogs

Youth will be served in Niagara this season as last year’s veteran-heavy squad will be nothing but a memory. Leading the charge will be the club’s former first-round selection, Andrew Agozzino, who will be counted upon to assume a premier point-producing role after chipping in 12 goals and 22 points in limited action last season.

This year’s first-rounder, Freddie Hamilton, and Italian forward Marco Insam will also be counted upon to play large roles for this young team.

Despite the youth up front, there is some depth on the blueline – potentially more depending on the fate of fourth-overall NHL selection Alex Pietrangelo. He joins Josh Day, Scott Fletcher, and Drew Schiestel at NHL camps, but Pietrangelo could stick with the Blues all year round.

The IceDogs are hoping to get the other three back because they’ll need the veteran savvy and support. A rookie netminding tandem of Mark Visentin and John Cullen are penciled in as the starters, but look for the IceDogs to investigate a trade – perhaps with goaltending-heavy Peterborough – to shore up their roster between the pipes.

Sudbury Wolves

Forget the third time – the Sudbury Wolves are hoping that the fourth time is the charm when it comes to the hockey factory that is the Staal family. Jared, the youngest brother, is in his third year in the system and will be looked upon to fulfill his promise and lead the team.

He’ll be joined by returning forward Eric O’Dell, who scored 14 goals and 32 points in 26 games with the club last season after a mid-season trade. O’Dell just returned to the line-up following camp in Anaheim and will be looking to key the Wolves’ offensive attack. Patrik Lusnak will also be counted on for offensive this season.

The Wolves have a promising netminding duo in veteran Andrew Loverock and goalie-of-the-future Alain Valiquette. And behind the bench, they have the steadying hand of Mike Foligno guiding his charges.

EAST DIVISION

Belleville Bulls

The Bulls are built from the goal out and have an impressive anchor between the pipes in the form of OHL goalie of the year Mike Murphy.

Despite the graduation of key players, the Bulls remain a veteran-laden, deep club, and will be counting on forwards like 41-goal scorer Bryan Cameron, Cory Tanaka, and Eric Tangradi to pick up the slack left behind in the wake of Shawn Matthias and Matt Belesky’s departure.

On the blueline, the club expects a monster season out of Montreal Canadiens‘ selection P.K. Subban, who will also be looked upon to anchor Team Canada’s World Junior team. He’s joined by Shawn Lalonde and Nick Pageau on a deep and responsible blueline corps.

The club finished first in the Eastern Conference last season, but lost in the OHL final and Memorial Cup semi-final to Kitchener. The club is poised to make a return to that lofty perch and, under the guidance of George Burnett, they hope to take the next step to OHL glory.

Kingston Frontenacs

The club will be led up front by Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Nathan Moon, who will look to build upon his 77-point output from last season. He’ll be joined by power forward Josh Brittain, 20-goal scorer Andris Dzerins, and overager Matthew Kang.

There is a pair of question marks between the pipes in the forms of 18-year-old netminders Mavric Parks and Anthony Peters. The Frontenacs could be another club in the market for a veteran presence, dependant upon how the early season progresses.

This season marks the first full campaign behind the bench for long-term General Manager Larry Mavety, who came in as a mid-season replacement last year.

Oshawa Generals

Has anyone mentioned John Tavares lately? The highly touted prospect for next June’s NHL entry draft will be able to focus strictly on hockey this season following a tumultuous campaign last year that resulted in a failed bid to gain early entry into the 2008 NHL draft and changing his representation. All the tumult had an impact on his overall game and hockey watchers will be interested to see if he can regain his OHL player-of-the-year status of two years ago.

On the blueline, the club features a pair of solid performers in Eric Regan and first-round NHL selection Michael Del Zotto (NYR). Between the pipes, the club brought in a veteran presence in overager Neil Conway. He’ll help tutor promising young netminder Kevin Baille and groom him for the future.

Ottawa 67’s

The story of the year will be the year-long farewell tour of "The Killer," venerable OHL coaching legend Brian Kilrea. However, there will still be some important stories on the ice, most of which should be penned by highly touted forward – and former first-round NHL draft pick – Logan Couture.

The club is anchored by a strong blueline contingent featuring Minnesota draftee Tyler Cuma, and veterans Julien Demers and Martin Paryzek. The 67’s will also benefit from a second year from their promising netminding tandem of Adam Courchaine and Chris Perugini, who performed admirably as rookies last year.

Peterborough Petes

The big question in Peterborough is who will be between the pipes between Trevor Cann and Montreal Canadiens’ draft pick, the towering Jason Missiaen. It would be a safe bet that one of the two won’t be with the club by the end of the season, and it would seem that Missiaen might be the better long-term investment.

The club imported Tony Romano from the London Knights in the off-season and he’ll work with Zach Harnden to pace the Petes’ offensive performance. Along with Yves Bastien, Pat Daley, and Zack Zassian, the club features a deep forward corps.

On the blueline, the club is anticipating the loss of Atlanta draft pick Zach Bogosian, which will leave the Petes young and inexperienced on the blueline. But with a solid last line of defense with the aforementioned goaltending tandem, the Petes should enjoy a great deal of success this year under the stewardship of rookie OHL coach Ken McRae.