This is the final part of a four-part series previewing the 2013-14 Ontario Hockey League season. We return to the OHL’s Western Conference for a look at the West Division.
Last season — 42-17-5-4, 93 points, 1st in the West, 2nd* in the Western Conference (earned the second seed by nature of winning the division). Lost to the London Knights in the Western Conference finals.
Last year, the league’s most-prolific offensive team went all in with the acquisition of OHL MVP Vincent Trocheck. He delivered, accounting for more than two-points-per game with 59 in 28. But Trocheck’s no longer around and one could expect a dip in the 292-goal total from last season. And if Tom Wilson sticks around Washington a little longer, it will be hard to find a replacement.
That’s not to mention the fact that complementary scorers like Garrett Muers, Stefan Noesen, and Richard Rakell won’t be around to fill the net. Returning veteran Ryan Hartman simply doesn’t have enough feet to fill all of those shoes. Third-year forward Matthew Mistele will be counted upon, as well, to improve upon his 60-point production — and he’ll get ample ice time to do so.
The Whalers have tried to add some punch to their line-up, acquiring overager Carter Sandlak and draft-eligibles Connor Chatham and Francesco Villardi to fill the void.
In net, the Whalers have young and talented Alex Nedeljkovic, who powered the squad to two playoff-round victories and opened a lot of people’s eyes. At just 17, he will be one to watch.
And behind the bench, the league’s reigning coach of the year, Mike Vellucci, will help guide the Whalers into the fray. They may not be the dominant Whalers of years past, but they should still be plenty good.
Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Last year: 36-26-3-3, 78 points, 2nd in the West, 6th in the Western Conference. Lost to the Owen Sound Attack in the Western Conference quarter-finals.
Sault Ste. Marie was a popular pick last year to make some noise. Despite the loss of its leading scorer from last season, Nick Cousins, the Greyhounds should be back in the hunt — depending upon how they determine how they'll handle a big name on the blueline.
Darnell Nurse, the Edmonton Oilers’ first round selection, is on the wish-list of every contending team in the league. His poise, leadership, size, and talent would be a welcome addition to every blueline in the league, and the Greyhounds should field plenty of calls up to the trade deadline.
In addition to Cousins, the club lost its other four top scorers, so players like Sergei Tolchinsky and Jared McCann are going to need to step up. And the club has added Norwegian Jorgen Karterud, who is an exciting player with formidable size.
Defense and goaltending will be the focus this year, but the club should be strong enough to contend for a playoff spot. How it performs early will determine whether the team will stick to its guns.
Last year: 35-28-1-4, 75 points, 3rd in the West, 7th in the Western Conference. Lost in four straight to the Plymouth Whalers in the Western Conference quarter-finals.
The Sting has lost its top scorer, Charles Sarault, and a 62-goal scorer in Reid Boucher. A committee of youth will need to step up to replace Sarault's 108-point production. The club has last year’s top-scoring rookie, Nikolay Goldobin, and will be bringing in Nikita Korostelev, who should help power the offense.
The club also lost an incredible veteran between the pipes with the departure of J.P. Anderson. Brodie Barrick will attempt to make the jump from back-up, but the club has also brought in former Sudbury Wolves goaltender Taylor Dupuis to provide competition.
So too could some assets returning in a trade. Alex Basso has asked for a trade and could return some futures for the Sting. But a return to the playoffs this season in Trevor Letowski’s first year behind the bench looks out of the question, so the club will be looking to add assets to build towards a promising future in the next couple of years.
Last year 32-29-4-3, 71 points, 4th in the West, 8th in the Western Conference. Lost in four straight to the London Knights in the Western Conference quarter-finals.
The Spirit will be faced with a significant challenge if potential overager Eric Locke does not make his way back to Michigan from upstate New York. Currently auditioning for the Buffalo Sabres, if Locke does not return to the OHL, that means that the Spirit will have to make up for 88 missing goals this year.
Garret Ross, who scored 44 last season, is no longer on the team. And a loss of Locke could be devastating for the Spirits’ hopes.
However, the Spirit is a young team that will be led by Jimmy Lodge offensively. Last year, they made the playoffs with five 1996 birthdays playing significant roles on the squad and this year — as a number of teams in its division have suffered losses — that experience should hold them in good stead for another playoff run.
Fortunately, they do have Detroit Red Wings’ prospect Jake Paterson between the pipes, who will ensure that, no matter how few goals the club scores, the Spirit will always be in the game. And when Paterson needs a night off, the club won’t suffer any fall-off as his backup is Nikita Serebryakov, who backstopped the Russians to the gold at the 2012 World U-17 Hockey Challenge.
Last year: 26-33-3-6, 61 points, last in the West, 9th in the Western Conference, missed playoffs.
We’ll find out very quickly where the Spitfires stand in relation to this season. A couple of years ago, it looked as if the club was building towards contention this year – parallelling the development of their up-the-401 rivals, the London Knights. But league sanctions and a couple of development bumps along the road may have changed that time frame.
We’ve seen one GM’s son be traded this offseason, so would it be out of the realm of possibility to see another go during the year? Kerby Rychel, son of Spitfires' GM Warren Rychel, is an offensive dynamo for the club and combines goal-scoring with grit. He would be a welcome addition to any club in the league and would likely return a boatload of futures should the Spitfires determine that they’re not in contention this year.
The Spitfires goaltending, led by Jordan DeKort, is a bit more of a question mark than is normally the case in Windsor, but a couple of those aforementioned developmental hiccups will be back to help protect the crease. NHL draft picks Slater Koekkoek and Patrick Sieloff might be in different locations had they not been held back by injuries. For the Spitfires’ fans, a full year from these talented defensemen would be a welcome start.
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