OHL Midwest Division preview

By Jason Ahrens





New Page 1

The last three OHL champions
have been from the Midwest Division and it would not be a stretch to see the
2005 champion to come out of this competitive division as well. The London
Knights are the team to beat, but could be pushed by the Owen Sound Attack, the
2003 champions the Kitchener Rangers and the 2002 champion Erie Otters. The 2004
champion Guelph Storm were hit hard by graduation and lost their coach over the
summer and will have to play well to qualify for the playoffs.


The OHL produced only three
first round picks in the 2004 NHL draft and two of them play in the Midwest
Division. Several of the top OHL prospects for the 2005 draft play in the
division as well.


London Knights

The
2005 Memorial Cup hosts have 11 NHL drafted players in their lineup but one of
the most important players is their captain, Danny Syvret, who has
started the season playing around 30 minutes a game on a defense corps that has
been hit by two injuries in the early going. At 6’0 and 200 pounds Syvret’s
size is one factor in why he has been passed over in the last two NHL drafts.
The 19-year-old veteran is a great skater who is starting to show more and more
confidence with the puck and showing a good transition game. Another key member
of the defense is Marc Methot (Columbus) who at 6’3 and 225 pounds is
very tough to play against in his own end. The Knights picked up overage
defenseman Bryan Rodney from Kingston at the start of the season and the
2004 OHL scoring leader among defenseman will help an already potent power play.
Frank Rediker (Boston) and Ryan Pottruff (Carolina) will miss much
of the first two months of the season with injuries but when they return they
will provide London with a deep and veteran defense corps.



Up
front, the Knights have all-star right-winger Corey Perry
(Anaheim) to lead the way. Perry is coming off a 40-goal and
113-point season and should easily surpass those numbers if healthy, even
factoring in a possible berth on Team Canada at the World Junior tournament
which would cause him to miss several games. Perry should be a contender for OHL
player of the year this season.



Other
offensive support will come from the speedy Dave Bolland (Chicago) who
popped 37 goals last year and the creative Rob Schremp (Edmonton) who had
30. These three players could all score over 40 goals this season giving the
team a great balanced attack. Trevor Kell (Chicago) will easily improve
on the nine goals he scored and good contribute 25 goals and 60 points this year
as he will be playing a bigger role after spending most of last season on the
fourth line and in a penalty-killing role. Finding enough ice time for all his
talented forwards will be a tough task for coach Dale Hunter and with a lot of
forwards on the smallish side you know that teams will try to wear out London
and lay back in a trap and hope that they can frustrate the artists on London
and force them into turnovers.



Goaltending
duties will likely be split between Gerald Coleman (Tampa Bay) and Ryan
McDonald
, a situation that neither one is comfortable with. With the team
guaranteed to be in the Memorial Cup, it is doubtful that either player will ask
for a trade to get more playing time.



Owen Sound Attack

The
Attack are coming off a solid season and a tough first round playoff loss to the
Guelph Storm in seven games. They have plenty of offense and a decent goaltender
in Dan Lacosta but they have a very young defense corps and with one
overage position not filled they will likely be looking for a veteran defender
to come in and log a lot of ice time.



The
Attack offense will be led by overage center Pat Jarrett. He was not
offered a contract by Nashville and will be looking for a big year to catch the
eye of someone. Coming off of a 72-point season, he could flirt with 100 points
this year. The Attack will have a great one-two punch down the middle with Brad
Richardson
(Colorado) capable of putting up big numbers after missing most
of last season with an injury. He has averaged a point a game in the last two
seasons and on this talented team he should do more this year. Stefan Ruzicka
(Philadelphia) adds a scoring touch from the right side (34 goals last year)
and plays a gritty in-your-face style. Bobby Ryan is eligible for the
2005 entry draft and has first round size at 6’1 and 220 pounds and after
scoring 22 goals as a rookie the big right-winger has shown that he has a lot of
offensive up side as well. With these four guys the Attack have two solid
scoring lines to throw at teams and should be one of the highest scoring teams
in the league. The team’s first round pick in the 2004 OHL draft, Payton
Liske,
is 6’4 and 193 pounds and is not eligible until the 2007 NHL draft.
With the team a bit thin on the left side, the rookie may get a shot at playing
on the top two lines.



On
defense the Attack have only two 19-year-olds in Justin Dacosta and Matt
Smythe
and are starting the season with three rookies in the lineup. If any
of the rookies falter, the team will likely make a move to acquire some veteran
help.




Kitchener Rangers

The
Rangers have an interesting blend of size and speed, a good defense corps,
talented centers, but not much scoring from the wings and their goaltending is a
question mark. They still have several players left from the Memorial Cup
championship team of 2003, but this team has to find some goals or it will
struggle this season. This is the fourth season at the helm for GM/Coach Peter
Deboer and he has led the team to the Memorial Cup sandwiched in between two
first round losses in the playoffs.



Up
front the team will rely heavily on captain Mike Richards (Philadelphia).
The fourth year center plays a great two-way game and is a good bet to be the
captain or alternate captain for Team Canada this Christmas at the World
Juniors. Richards will miss having Petr Kanko (LA) on his wing, as
he has moved on to the AHL and is playing for the LA affiliate Manchester this
season. The two players had good chemistry over the past season and a half and
were big contributors to the Memorial Cup win. Opposing teams will be really
keying on him this year and he will need some help.



Evan
McGrath
(Detroit)
has the ability to relieve some of the scoring pressure from Richards and has a
lot to prove after suffering through a dreadful draft season that saw the center
slide to the fourth round after being touted as a possible first round pick
entering the season. The Rangers added more skill up the middle when they
drafted Justin Azevedo with their first round pick over the summer.
Azevedo is only 5’8 and 165 pounds but he has speed to burn and had a very
successful season as a 15-year-old in the Western Junior B league. The Rangers
are hoping that overage wingers David Clarkson and Adam Keefe can
supply some goals to go along with their grit and physical play.



On
defense, the Rangers have a pair of twin towers in 6’6 monsters Boris
Valabik
(Atlanta) and Deveraux Heshmatpour. They play a similar game,
using their size to their advantage and are susceptible to penalty trouble as
they can knock some players off of their feet just by sneezing. They tend not to
handle the puck very much, they are not that quick on their feet but with their
wingspan they can recover quickly. Heshmatpour is in his draft year and will get
a long look from many scouts who are drooling over his 235-pound frame.



Another
Ranger on defense who will get long looks from scouts is rookie Jakub Kindl.
At 6’3 and 180 pounds he has some filling out to do, but it is easy to project
him at a professional playing weight of over 200 pounds. Kindl is a good skater
and handles the puck well and will see lots of time on the power play this
season. Andre Benoit rounds out the Rangers top 4 on defense and the
overage assistant captain will be looking for another solid year on the point in
order to earn a pro contract. He will be hard pressed to match the 75 points he
tallied last season when he finished second in scoring among defense in the OHL,
but he is always a threat in the offensive end with his heavy shot and smart
passing and he plays a good game in his own end.



In
net Carlo DiRienzo will be pushed in the starting role by former Saginaw
Spirit back-up Eric Pfiligler. DiRienzo had a rough year as starter last
season and his stats were among the weakest of starting goalies in the league.
On a team that will have trouble scoring goals, this tandem cannot afford to let
in many weak goals.



Erie Otters

The
Otters have only one NHL drafted player on their roster but they do have a
couple of forwards who will get long looks from scouts this season. They have
some excellent players in their overage positions, a strong No. 1 goalie, a big
defense corps and they are one of the hardest teams to play against in their own
barn. If their top two lines can score enough goals, this team could finish near
the top of the conference.



Offensively
they will be led by overage center Rob Hisey who could be able to improve
on his 96 points he scored last season and flirt with the scoring title this
season. The small crafty center did see some time in the United Hockey League
last season after Erie was eliminated in the second round of the playoffs. Big
right-winger Mike Blunden will use his 6’3 205-pound frame to create
some room in the corners. Blunden scored 10 goals as a rookie and improved to 22
last season in 11 fewer games and if this prospect continues to improve his
offensive totals he may be considered first round material. Second year center Ryan
O’Marra
is about 15 pounds lighter than the older Blunden, but is not
small and will fill out more as he ages. He is a quick skater with good
offensive instincts and abilities. He had a respectable 32 points as a rookie
and should double that total this year. Geoff Platt will be another key
contributor to the Otter offense, like Hisey, he is small, but makes up for the
lack of size with his skill.



On
defense the Otters will depend heavily on fifth year player Brian Lee.
The veteran had been drafted by the Ducks, but was not able to sign a contract
with them and he attended the Chicago prospect camp over the summer. Lee put up
40 points last season and he should contribute at around the same level this
year and he plays a good two way game on the point. Big Bryan Hamm is
back for his fourth OHL season and at 6’3 and 250 pounds he can punish
forwards along the boards. Derek Merlini will be looking to improve on
his rookie season and the 6’6 240-pound 19-year-old sophomore will be an
important part of a stingy defense that will be very tough to play against. Chad
Loikets
rounds out the top 4 on defense and the 17-year-old sophomore will
get a chance to contribute more offensively and reveal some of the skill he
showed in his career prior to the OHL.



In
net the Otters will again be relying heavily on 19-year-old Josh Disher (New
Jersey) to steal games for them. He played in a whopping 63 games as a rookie
last season and was a big factor in the Otters knocking off the Sarnia Sting in
the first round of the playoffs. The skinny kid with the quick glove will not
see his workload shrink this season, and he could carry the Otters deep into the
playoffs if they can find some offensive support.



Guelph Storm

The
Storm may go from the penthouse to the cellar after being hit hard by graduation
and losing head coach Shawn Camp over the summer. The 2004 OHL champions had a
great regular season with the second best record in the regular season and they
pushed London all season long for the top spot before finishing seven points
behind. After a wake up call in the first round from the Attack, they rolled
over Plymouth in the second round, took London in seven games and then swept
Mississauga in the final. The team had trouble scoring goals in the Memorial Cup
and lost two close games before getting thrashed in their third and final game
and left BC with a disappointing 0-3 record. This year the team will have to
struggle to make the playoffs. Only three of their top ten scorers from last
year are returning.



Offensively,
the only drafted forward on the team, Ryan Callahan (NYR), will be
counted on to provide the goals. The shifty right-winger scored 36 last season,
but it will be much tougher sledding this season. He has a good nose for the net
but with Mark Versteeg-Lytwyn being the only other player returning with
double-digit goals, the Storm will have to keep the games close and hope for a
lucky break. There will be plenty of ice time available for returning players
and someone will likely blossom with the increased playing time.



On
defense the Storm have a good nucleus led by two overage veterans Daniel
Girardi
and Matt Ryan. Third year veteran Michael Okrzesik will
play a bigger role this season and at 6’5 and 185 pounds he covers a lot of
ice in his own end. Ryan Parent rounds out the top 4 for the Storm and
their first round pick from 2003 will see a much bigger role this year after
seeing spot duty last season.



In
net the Storm will look to Adam Dennis and Danny Taylor (LA) to
keep them in the hunt. Dennis saw the majority of the playing time last season
and was excellent in the playoffs, but he could be pushed by Taylor this season
and with Dennis being one year older, the Storm might move the 19-year-old
veteran to a team that needs some goaltending help in return for some younger
players.



Copyright
2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.