2015-16 OHL Preview: Otters will face challenge in attempt to repeat as Midwest Division champs

By Jason Menard
Matthew Tkachuk - London Knights

Photo: The London Knights will lose at least one significant player from their 2014-15 roster, but will have a strong reinforcement in the form of forward and 2016 prospect, Matthew Tkachuk (courtesy of Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

 

 

The 2015-16 season preview for the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) wraps up with the Midwest Division in the league’s Western Conference.

The defending division champs, the Erie Otters, won the division going away in 2014-15, racking up 104 points which was 20 points more than the runner-up London Knights. Of course, that team featured at attack that included Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome, the first and third picks in the 2015 NHL Draft. At least one of those two will not be back in the fold in 2015-16, and a loss of both could make a second straight division title a difficult proposition.

The team that seems to be perennially in the mix for the division title is the London Knights. They too will lose at least one significant player from last year’s squad, but have some impressive reinforcements joining the team in 2015-16.

Below is the 2015-16 previews for the OHL’s Midwest Division.

Erie Otters

Most teams would be devastated with the loss of a player the caliber of Connor McDavid. And while it will be a big loss, the Erie Otters are well positioned to whether the Storm (and Knights and…)

Returning the OHL’s top scorer last season is a good place to start. Dylan Strome will bring his 45 goals and 129 points back to the team. And he has proven that he is capable of more than just playing a supporting role with the McDavid Show – he performed well and at a consistent offensive clip last year when his teammate was out with a broken hand.

Last year’s Rookie of the Year, Alex DeBrincat, will also likely improve on a strong showing last year where he accounted for 51 goals. And Taylor Raddysh chipped in with 21 goals last year, as well, and will be expected to shoulder a greater offensive burden this season.

As big as McDavid’s departure is, the club may suffer more from the loss of three overagers from last year’s squad, defensemen Troy Donnay, Corey Genovese, and Kurtis MacDermid. Fortunately, Travis Dermott is back again to lead the young and developing defensive corps.

Between the pipes, the Otters have the advantage of a mature and experienced netminding pair. Overager Devin Williams is the likely starter with 19-year-old Daniel Dekoning backing him up. This depth of goaltending, combined with the remaining offensive talent up front, should help compensate for any defensive lapses the Otters may face.

Guelph Storm

It will be a young squad suiting up for the Guelph Storm this season, but they will have a couple of old hands guiding them through any growing pains they may have.

First and foremost, Guelph returns overage goaltender Justin Nichols to his regular spot in the crease. He is one of only a handful of players remaining from the 2014 squad that lost in the Memorial Cup final to the Edmonton Oil Kings. Nichols, who has gone undrafted and participated in the Toronto Maple Leafs’ rookie camp on an amateur tryout, will be looking to prove that, despite his small stature, all he does is win.

That may be a tougher task this year as the Storm is fully in the midst of a youth movement. Robby Fabbri will likely return from the NHL, but there is a good chance that he will be at the top of a number of teams’ wish lists when the trade deadline rolls around.

Matthew Hotchkiss and Givani Smith are going to get plenty of ice time and opportunity as they enter their draft-eligible year. Tyler Hill, Tyler Boston, and C.J. Garcia will be counted upon to provide some veteran leadership during this transition year and to help guide a promising group of 16- and 17-year-olds through the season.

Kitchener Rangers

The Kitchener Rangers will ice a deep and talented squad again this season, following up on its growth last year in a tough Western Conference.

Ryan MacInnis will be counted on to lead the charge and improve upon his 62-point performance last season. He will be assisted by Darby Llewellyn, Gustaf Franzen, Nick Magyar, and David Miller in what is an intriguing and solid mix of forwards.

There is still a question between the pipes in Kitchener, but it’s one with a potentially interesting answer. The Rangers feature Luke Opilka, a St. Louis Blues prospect, who has every opportunity to seize the reins and run with the starting job. Backing him up will be Dawson Carty, the former Mississauga Steelheads netminder.

The defense looks solid, but not outstanding. Former stalwarts Max Iafrate and Liam Maaskant have moved on, so the club will look to Dyland DiPerna, Dmitrii Sergeev, and recently added overager Brian Brosnan to lead the way.

London Knights

Last season, the London Knights had a ‘down year.’ Sure, that down year meant 40 wins and a third-place overall finish after three straight OHL Championship appearances. That was the good news for the OHL. The bad news? The Knights are back and could be better than ever.

Like Erie, the Knights lost a huge part of their team with the graduation of Max Domi. And like Erie, London is poised to be able to weather that loss – and, perhaps, reach even greater hights.

In fact, four Knights – Olli Juolevi, Max Jones, Victor Mete, Matt Tkachuk – could be selected in the first round of the upcoming entry draft, a bevy of talent that is behind established stars like Mitch Marner (who finished second in league scoring last year) and Christian Dvorak.

On the defense, Mete is expected to play huge minutes for the club, along with Aiden Jamieson, Juolevi, and Chris Martenet. And between the pipes, the club has placed its faith in Tyler Parsons following the preseason trade of overager Michael Guigovaz.

Owen Sound Attack

It has been an off-season of change for the Owen Sound Attack. In addition to overhauling the coaching staff, the Attack said goodbye to veterans Chris Bigras, Zach Nastasiuk, and Kyle Platzer, amongst others.

To help ease the transition, the club obtained former Knight Josh Sterk, who is in his fifth season and scored 20 goals in 2014-15. He’s going to help Ethan Szypula grow into a more important offensive role – and likely double his 29-point production from last year. Petrus Palmu will also need to improve upon his 22 goals for the Attack to remain competitive.

On the blueline, the club will rely on veterans Santino Centorame, Thomas Schemitsch, and Damir Sharipzyanov to hold down the fort.

The Attack’s strength clearly lies between the pipes as they have arguably two number-one goaltenders. Michael McNiven, who signed with the Montreal Canadiens in the off-season after an amateur try out, will be back in junior and will battle overage netminder Jack Flinn. One of these netminders, however, might become trade bait for a contending team looking for an upgrade in net.

West | Midwest | Central | East

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