The Niagara IceDogs opened the season as the third-ranked team in the CHL Top Ten Rankings, and the highest-ranked OHL club in those rankings. The IceDogs return a good number of top talents for a potential run at an OHL title, but the team is by no means a shoo-in to come out on top.
The Central also features the top pick from the 2015 OHL Priority Selection, forward David Levin of the Sudbury Wolves. As talented as he may be, though, it seems a certainty that the Wolves will struggle again in 2015-16.
Below is preview of the 2015-16 season for the OHL’s Central Division.
The strength of this year’s Barrie Colts franchise lies between the pipes – the only OHL goaltender selected in last year’s NHL Draft was Mackenzie Blackwood. And Blackwood, a second-round pick of the New Jersey Devils, will be back manning the crease for the Colts as a 19-year-old. At 6’4” and 220 pounds, Blackwood cuts an imposing figure between the pipes and has a proven track record, which adds confidence to the Colts’ defensive corps.
A couple of NHL prospects will lead the charge again for the Colts. Brendan Lemieux and Andrew Mangiapane make a powerful one-two punch for the Colts, having scored 41 and 43 goals last year, respectively. Mangiapane is a dynamic offensive talent who finished last season with 104 points and will be expected to crack the 100-point plateau again this year. If Kevin Labanc returns, Barrie’s top-three forwards are as good as any team in the league.
Rasmus Andersson anchors the defense and will be counted upon to repeat his 12-goal, 64-point performance last season, and serve as the power-play quarterback. Brandon Prophet, Chad Bauman, and Michael Webster will play the lion’s share of the minutes from the blueline, as the club works to integrate a younger defensive corps into the mix.
You can forgive Mississauga Steelheads fans for falling in “Brotherly Love” this year, thanks to a pair of recent additions who will be counted on to play a big role for the club.
Michael McLeod returns to the Steelheads and was already going to be asked to pick up some offensive slack. But he is going to be joined by brother Ryan – a third-overall selection in the 2015 OHL Priority Selection, who the Steelheads obtained from the Flint Firebirds for six picks. They’ll join Nathan Bastian and Josh Burnside up front to provide a solid offensive core for the squad.
The defense will be a point of focus for the Steelheads – especially amongst the scouting community. Sean Day, who entered the league under the Exceptional Player designation, will be playing for a future job as he enters his draft year. He will have to step up in light of the departure of 20-goal defender Brandon Devlin.
The goaltending situation may be the area of greatest concern due to the fact that Spencer Martin has headed to the pro ranks. One of Leif Hertz or Cameron Zanussi will have to step up and fill the sizeable void that Martin’s departure to San Antonio has caused.
The Niagara IceDogs are expected to make a lot of noise this season in the Eastern Conference – and with a fully stocked roster that is deep in talent and skill, they will be expected to not only bark, but come with a lot of bite.
The return of Joshua Ho-Sang – though mired in a bit of controversy – potentially can be an explosive benefit to the squad. If he comes back with the intent to prove everyone wrong and plays with a chip on his shoulder, Ho-Sang can be an explosive offensive talent with few peers in the league. Combined with the return of Brendan Perlini, and the continued development of Anthony DiFruscia, Graham Knott, and Jordan Maletta, Niagara will not have any challenge scoring goals.
The club is no less stacked on the blueline where Vince Dunn, Aleksandar Mikulovich, Ryan Mantha, and Blake Siebenaler will play the majority of the minutes and help keep the chances to a minimum against the only question mark on the roster – netminder Brent Moran.
The 19-year-old goalie is the expected starter this season, but has had middling results to date. He was drafted by the Dallas Stars and will be counted upon to not lose games, as his teammates up front will generally be providing enough to win each and every night.
North Bay Battalion
North Bay has been one of the league’s top franchises for the past few years since their transfer from Brampton, but that success comes with a cost. The club has to deal with the loss of three key forwards from last year’s squad – Ryan Kujawinski, Nick Moutrey, and Nick Paul – and a pair of veteran blueliners, Marcus McIvor and Brenden Miller.
Mike Amadio is the top returning scorer for the Battalion, but he finished last year with 24 goals. Zach Bratina and Brett McKenzie will have to make dramatic improvements on their offensive performance this season.
On the bright side, the overage return of goaltender Jake Smith means that North Bay can experience some growing pains up front without worrying too much about the back end. Smith can erase a number of mistakes and will be counted upon to be the foundation upon which any Battalion success is built.
Well, it can’t get much worse. But despite the arrival of a marquee first rounder, the Sudbury Wolves don’t appear to be poised to be appreciably better.
Last season, the Wolves finished with only 12 wins. And while some of the younger guns will be expected to grow up quickly, including OHL top pick David Levin, a fairly non-descript collection of veteran forwards will have to pave the way. The club will rely on Pavel Jenys and Matt Schmalz to lead the way offensively.
On the blueline, the shining light will be Kyle Capobianco, and he will need significant support from Jonathan Duchesne and Patrick Murphy to help keep games in check.
And between the pipes, the Wolves will be relying on a draft-eligible netminder as the primary goaltender. Troy Timpano will have plenty of opportunity to show scouts that he has got what it takes – he is certainly going to see a lot of rubber.
But, with a year’s experience, the addition of a dynamic talent like Levin, and Timpano standing on his head, the Wolves can see improvement in the win column – though a playoff spot is likely out of the question this season.
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