2013-14 OHL Preview: Frontenacs could be class of rebuilding East Division

By Jason Menard
Spencer Watson - Kingston Frontenacs

Photo: 2014 prospect Spencer Watson was the leading scorer at the 2013 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, and he’ll likely be an offesnive source for the Kingston Frontenacs in 2013-14 (courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

 

This is part three of a four-part series previewing the 2013-14 Ontario Hockey League season. We continue in the OHL’s Eastern Conference with the East Division.

Belleville Bulls

Last season, 44-16-5-3, 96 points 1st in the East, 1st in the Eastern Conference, lost to the Barrie Colts in Eastern Conference finals.

The Belleville Bulls have been atop the OHL's Eastern Conference for the past couple of years. But it appears that the traditional OHL cycle has caught up with them and they’ll likely suffer this year due to a couple of key graduations.

The Bulls will lose their starting netminder, Malcolm Subban, and last year’s leading scorer, Tyler Graovac, as both are eligible to play in the AHL and neither are likely to return for an overage season.

And that doesn’t even include potential overage players like Austen Brassard and Alan Quine, who may stick in the pros.

There will be plenty of change on the Bulls’ roster this year, but that means plenty of opportunity. On a positive note, it looks like team captain Brendan Gaunce will find his way back to the Bulls. In addition to the returning Garrett Hooey, the club also obtained Luke Cairns from the Erie Otters to add some veteran presence.

On the blueline, third-year defenseman and Vancouver Canucks’ prospect Jordan Subban will play an expanded role, in addition to continuing the Subban line of players in Belleville, which started with P.K. and has extended through Malcolm and Jordan. Daniel DeSousa looks to play a bigger part in the team’s success and there is selfish hope that Jake Worrad will find his way back to the club for an overage year.

Between the pipes, the Bulls will look to Charlie Graham to show the fruits of his apprenticeship under Subban. In two seasons, Graham has appeared in 37 games and last year, spelling Subban for injury and World Junior duties, he compiled an impressive 15-5-1-3 record over 25 games. His 2.59 GAA and .922 save percentage may be a little harder to match with an inferior team in front of him — not to mention Belleville’s status as the league’s second-stingiest team defensively last year — but if he can live up to his promise, the transition for the Bulls may be much smoother.

Oshawa Generals

Last season, 42-22-1-3, 88 points, 2nd in the East, 3rd in the Eastern Conference, lost to Barrie Colts in four straight games in the Eastern Conference semi-finals

The Oshawa Generals were one of the OHL’s best regular season teams last year, with top-end offensive talent complementing a steady blueline and goaltending corps en route to winning 42 games.

This year will likely be different. Much of that top-end talent has departed for the pro ranks and the next generation of Generals may not be ready for that step-up in rank.

What’s certain is that Oshawa will lose its captain and top scorer from last season, Boone Jenner. Tyler Biggs and Lucas Lessio are also taking the next step in their professional careers. What’s not certain is the fate of Philadelphia Flyers’ first-rounder Scott Laughton. While, at 19, he’s eligible to return to the OHL, a combination of Laughton’s talent and Philly’s salary cap needs could find him a permanent part of the pro roster.

That means that 2011 first-round OHL selection Cole Cassels and 2012 OHL first-rounder Michael Dal Colle need to take that next step and become the offensive leaders on this club — even if they’re only 18 and 17, respectively.

Last year, Dal Colle finished sixth on the team in scoring with 15 goals and 33 assists, while Cassels was right behind him with 15 goals and 28 assists. Both players will need to double those numbers to give the Generals a semblance of an offensive attack.

Daniel Altshuller will be the main man between the pipes for the Generals. Last year he appeared in 58 games — a step up from the 30 that he appeared in previously. Ken Appleby returns as the backup, giving the Generals a modicum of stability between the pipes.

The blueline is solid, led by Josh Brown, Chris Carlisle, and Colin Suellentrop. It’s not a blueline that’s going to dominate a game either offensively or defensively, but it is a solid and steady group that will play a complementary role to a more defensively focused Generals squad.

This year, the plan of attack for Oshawa will be less run-and-gun, and more batten down the hatches, but with some timely scoring and solid defensive play, the retooling Generals should be a tough matchup in the Eastern Conference.

Kingston Frontenacs

Last season, 27-35-3-3, 60 points, 3rd in the East, 7th in the Eastern Conference, lost to Barrie Colts in four straight in the Eastern Conference quarter finals

Like their counterparts in the Western Conference, the Erie Otters, the Kingston Frontenacs have been perpetual cellar dwellars in the OHL’s Eastern Conference. This year, however, things may be changing — and the club is so focused on building upon its playoff appearance that it even traded the general manager’s son! In early August, Doug Gilmour sent his son Jake, along with Blake Richard, to the Niagara IceDogs.

But the club has plenty of promising young players to build around. The Frontenacs acquired Corey Pawley from the London Knights to add some offensive potential to the squad. And in June, the club obtained a much-needed veteran goaltender in Plymouth’s Matt Mahalak, who can help steady the young Frontenacs for a second consecutive playoff run.

The Frontenacs will be led up front by returnees Henri Ikonen and Ryan Kujawinski, who were the squad’s top two scorers last year. Kingston is also counting on the continued maturation of some high-end prospects coming into their draft-eligible year.

In 2012, the Frontenacs had four selections in the top 24 of the OHL draft. They selected blueliner Roland McKeown second overall that year, and defenseman Dylan DiPerna came with the 23rd choice. Forwards Sam Bennett and Spencer Watson followed with the ninth and 24th picks.

All four are expected to play key roles this year as their maturation process continues. And as secondary offensive weapons and defensive options, they can progress without the responsibility of being the man.

After years of mediocrity (at best), the Frontenacs are ready to make some noise in an Eastern Conference that’s wide open.

Peterborough Petes

Last season, 26-35-3-4, 59 points, 4th in the East, 9th in the Eastern Conference, missed the playoffs.

Despite a woeful overall record, the Petes did go on a bit of a run last year under the stewardship of new head coach Jody Hull. Whether they can carry that momentum into the 2013-14 season remains to be seen.

The club is losing some of its veteran offensive talent with the departures of leading scorer Brett Findlay and Nick Czinder. Returning to the club will be Nick Ritchie, who may have a harder time finding room with a dearth of complementary offensive players around him.

It’s odd to think of a team that hasn’t had success for a number of years going through a rebuilding phase, but the Petes were loaded with 19 and 20-year-old players last year — especially on the blueline — so this will be a year for the younger generation of Petes to step up and make their mark.

That will likely mean another year out of the playoffs, even in the weaker Eastern Conference, but it will take time for the club to rise in prominence. For a franchise that has the history and holds a place of honour in the OHL like Peterborough does, many hope that Hull’s efforts can lead to a proper rebuilding and re-establishment of the Petes into the pantheon of OHL franchises that it once held.

Ottawa 67s

Last season, 16-46-0-6, 38 points, last in the East, last in the Eastern Conference, missed the playoffs.

The arrival of Travis Konecny has the capital region excited for the upcoming season, but the player who may be the best person to mentor him this season may not find his way back to Ottawa.

The 67's selected the much-ballyhooed Konecny with the first-overall selection in the 2013 OHL Priority Selection, bypassing the exceptional player-designated Sean Day. And while few believe that Konecny will be anything less than outstanding, he would benefit from a year learning under the wing of, and protected from the pressure by, Sean Monahan.

However, Monahan, who was drafted in the first round of the 2013 NHL Draft by the Calgary Flames, has a very real opportunity to catch on with the NHL club.

With or without Monahan’s return, the club is expecting big growth from its diminutive former first-round selection, Dante Salituro. He finished last season with 40 points, but may need to be counted upon to double that total, especially if Monahan doesn’t return.

The club also has to find a replacement for Keegan Wilson, who manned the crease last year in his overage season. Veteran Clint Windsor has bounced around the league over the years, but looks to finally be the man between the pipes in Ottawa. He’ll be backed up by 18-year-old Jacob Blair.

And with five returning blueliners on the roster, the club should benefit from the stability of a solid, but unspectacular, defensive corps.

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