The Hockey’s Future 2015-16 preview of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) continues with a move over to the Eastern Conference and look at the East Division. This division includes the reigning OHL and CHL champions, the Oshawa Generals, who won their first OHL title since the 1996-97 season, and their first Memorial Cup since 1989-90.
The East also features another transplanted club, as the Belleville Bulls moved to Hamilton, Ontario to become the Hamilton Bulldogs.
Here, then is the preview of the OHL’s East Division for the 2015-16 season.
The Bulldogs are back in Hamilton for the 2015-16 campaign. No, not those Bulldogs – a newer, younger batch of Bulldogs who have made the move from Belleville to the Steel City marking the return of junior hockey (the AHL franchise moved to Newfoundland).
Some familiar faces will be on hand in this new place to help guide the transition, as the team will be relying on overage forward Stephen Harper to provide scoring and leadership. Niki Petti, Trent Fox, and Michael Cramarossa will also be expected to step up production and help spread out the burden on a team that will likely struggle to score goals.
This is the first Subban-free campaign for the Bulldogs’ franchise in a decade. They will ice a very young blueline and will likely suffer some growing pains.
One key player to watch this year will be Matthew Strome. The youngest of the Strome brothers enters his rookie campaign with a big name and sizeable expectations.
And between the pipes, overager Charlie Graham will likely see plenty of rubber.
The Kingston Frontenacs will have some talent on their roster, especially with the likes of Roland McKeown, Lucas Peressini, and Spencer Watson. But, with the departure of Sam Bennett and potentially Lawson Crouse, who may stick in the NHL but more likely will return after an extended stay in the NHL, the Frontenacs’ depth will be challenged.
Should Crouse return to the OHL, though, he may still have to sit out some of his suspension carried over from the previous year.
McKeown leads the blueline, and will be joined by overager Chad Duchesne and a pair of 19-year-olds in Nathan Billitier and Shawn Tessier to provide a solid, deep, and mature back end.
And that defense has the advantage of playing in front of overager Lucas Peressini, who is one of the top goaltenders in the OHL. Last season, the team surrendered under 200 goals throughout the year and that type of defensive excellence will again be a hallmark of the club.
The Oshawa Generals went for it all last season and came away with the Memorial Cup. Last year marked the celebration; this year is when the payment is due.
There will be a lot of change in the Generals lineup both on and off the ice. Last year’s head coach, DJ Smith, accepted a job with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Cole Cassels, Mike McCarron, Tobias Lindberg, and Hunter Smith are all high-end offensive talents who are no longer with the club. Veterans Josh Brown, Chris Carlisle, and Dakota Mermis are veteran talents who will no longer be patrolling the blue line.
But the cupboards aren’t exactly bare. Michael Dal Colle will find himself amongst the OHL scoring leaders and will be joined by Matt Mistele to form a solid one-two offensive punch for the club. Anthony Cirelli will be expected to pick up some of the offensive slack, and a lot will be expected of import winger Lukas Lofquist.
Ken Appleby will also likely find his way back between the pipes as an overager and has already proven that he is a capable, big-game netminder who can win.
The Generals may not be as stacked top to bottom as last year and will likely take a step back. But they should still be a tough out every night and will challenge for a playoff spot.
The Ottawa 67’s have suffered some down seasons before making strides in 2014-15. That progression – the normal cycle for junior hockey clubs – looks to continue on the upswing this season thanks to a solid returning core of players.
Up front, the 67’s are led by captain Travis Konecny, who should again provide that solid, two-way play and leadership that have been a hallmark of his OHL career. Jeremiah Addison will be expected to continue his upward trajectory, and 37-goal man Dante Salituro will make a run at 40 this season.
The forward corps is, for the most part, experienced and mature. That will help as the team will ice a defense that may be a little suspect this year. In addition, the team has a solid goaltender in Liam Herbst, who looks to lay claim to the 67’s crease and can help erase any mistakes. His back-up, Leo Lazarev, is also capable and showed well in a relief role.
Although Alex Lintuniemi is no longer with the club, his fellow Los Angeles Kings’ draftee Jacob Middleton should more than capably fill the role. He’ll be joined by a pair of overage blueliners in Evan de Haan and Nevin Guy.
The Peterborough Petes have lost a lot of veteran leadership and will be icing a young squad this season. It remains to be seen whether the club’s 60th anniversary season will be one of experiencing growing pains or whether youth will be served.
The club has lost veterans like Josh MacDonald, Nathan Pancel, and Steven Varga. The club hopes that players like Eric Cornel, Cameron Lizotte, and Matthew Spencer will be ready to step into the void created by their departures.
Cornel and Steven Lorenz will be asked to lead the offensive charge this year, but offense is going to have to come from the club’s young forward corps.
Between the pipes, the Petes have a pair of solid goaltending options, and they’ll likely need them both. Matt Mancina returns to the crease as the projected starter. He’ll be joined by Dylan Wells, who is a highly touted netminder who not only won gold at the U18 World Championship, but has been named by Central Scouting as a North American goaltender to watch for the 2016 NHL Draft.
Follow Jason Menard on Twitter via @