The 2002-03 season was a very successful one for the London
Knights, both on and off the ice. They
opened the season on a long road trip as they awaited the finish of their brand
new arena, the John Labatt Center. They
drew large crowds all year at the Labatt Center, averaging the second most fans
in all of the CHL. They saw two
former players move on to the professional ranks; Charlie Stephens to the AHL
where he had a strong rookie season, and Rick Nash to Columbus where he became a
finalist for NHL rookie of the year. The
Knights finished second in their division, fifth in the conference, won their
opening playoff round in seven games against Windsor and gave Plymouth all they
could handle in seven tough games in the second round.
Now that the sting of that loss is wearing off and the team looks to next
year, here is a review on how each member fared as an individual this past
season. Each is given a letter grade.
Mark Hunter: General Manager (A) There are several components to building an OHL team and
Hunter fared very well in most areas. He
had an excellent 2001 draft and saw seven of those players suit up this past
season for the Knights.cerun: yes”> His 2002
draft resulted in all three eligible players suiting up, but only one saw
regular duty all season. He hit the
jackpot with his three over age positions; his number one goalie and second and
third leading scorers were overagers. But
he fared poorly yet again in the European draft. For the second straight
season GM Hunter had a player return to Europe, and the one who stayed was a
fifth defenceman, who he later flipped for a different European who became his
seventh defenceman down the stretch. Mark
Hunter failed to pick up a veteran goal scorer at the deadline. Ironically, the
biggest gun for hire was Chris Thorburn, whom Plymouth picked up, and he was by
far the best Whaler forward in the series against London.
There weren’t many teams selling at the deadline in a league where 80%
of the teams make the playoffs, but it could be argued that another forward may
have put the Knights into the conference finals.
All in all, Hunter has assembled a good base for next season, and
especially for the 2004-05 season when they will try to bid to host the Memorial
Cup. Hunter took a gamble in the
2003 OHL draft, grabbing promising American forward Tom Mannio who might not
report in order to keep his NCAA eligibility.
Dale Hunter: Coach (A) Coaching is never easy, but
throw in the fact that you are coaching your son and two nephews, dealing with
the early departure of Nash, and breaking in several rookie defenceman, and you
have a recipe for lots of potential headaches.
Dale survived all the obstacles, improved the Knights’ reputation, helped
shake off their image as a dirty team, and designed one very effective power
play. The power play was ranked
anywhere between first and fifth in the league during the season, and at one
point late in the year the team had more power play goals than even strength
goals. The team cut down its bad
penalties, but still had a couple of key guys get in suspension trouble, which
seemed to go unpunished by Coach Hunter. There
are many people who second guess the ice time that he gives to his relatives,
but they were effective on the power play at times, and one is a key penalty
killer. Coach Hunter got the
absolute most out of a team that was smaller and slower than most in the OHL and
in fact had a number of players who would have been better suited for Junior A
or B rather than Major Junior. He brought
along 2002 first round pick Dave Bolland very slowly, too slowly for the liking
of many. The team really struggled
at home in the playoffs; Hunter’s use of a very slow checking line against a
couple of speed demons on Windsor and Plymouth let his opponents dictate the
pace of the game and kept London bottled up in their own end for long stretches
Chris Houle: Over age Goalie (A+) Houle had a rough
start to the year. Coming back from pro camp, he struggled with the change in
pace and with adjustments he was making to his technique. Eventually he regained his form and was named an OHL second
team all star this week. Houle is a
big goalie who covers a lot of the net and has come a long way from his time in
the WHL where the book on him was that he did everything well except stop the
his size to cover the net, has a good glove, and gets in good position after
making the first save.
Needs to work on: Houle
does not play the puck very well outside of the crease, but in it, he stops it
using all parts of his body. Some
nights he seems to fight the puck, but he rarely has a bad night.
Future: He should get a pro contract from someone looking
to shore up their depth in net and will likely challenge for an AHL job
somewhere next season.
Mike Stathopoulos: Over age Center (A+) Only
injuries prevented him from leading the Knights in scoring this season.
The smallish center is a beautiful play maker and developed a real nice
chemistry with Corey Perry on the power play and at even strength.
a real good imagination and is very competitive. He doesn’t get knocked off
the puck easily despite his size. He
is responsible defensively and a great passer.
Needs to work on: Is not a great finisher. Possesses an
Future: Should be given a chance in the ECHL next season. Size,
skating and shot will probably prevent him from moving past the AHL, but he
should be able to be a decent minor pro player.
Ryan Hare: Over age Forward (A-) His season with the
Knights was by far his most productive in his five OHL seasons.
Strengths: Used his speed well this year and played a vital
role on the penalty kill and on the second power play unit.
Likes to take the puck wide and is good at finding a trailer coming late
up the middle.
Needs to work on: Had trouble producing in the playoffs was
probably miscast, as he would have been more effective being matched up against
the top lines of Windsor or Plymouth in a checking role. Sometimes panics and
throws the puck away blindly.
Future: Could possibly move on to the ECHL but will
probably go the Canadian University route next season.
Dan Bois: 19, Right Wing, drafted by Colorado (C+)
The Captain of the team led by example in hard work, but still struggled with
his temper, taking his share of dumb penalties, although they were down from the
previous year. Ran into suspension
trouble this year as well.
Strengths: He is one of the hardest hitters in the league,
can handle himself in a scrap with his quick left hand, and found a home at the
top of the crease on the first line power play where he scored a lot of his
goals. Carried the puck better this season.
Needs to work on: Skating, decision
making, and discipline. Struggled to produce offensively five on five.
not be signed by Colorado, which would allow him to go back in the draft where
he would likely be picked much later than what he originally was picked.
The strong play of former linemate Charlie Stephens might aid him in
getting a contract. Poor skating diminishes his chances at professional hockey, as
he will not be able to do what he does best, forecheck and hit, if he is too
slow. He could be back as an
overage player next season, or might get a shot at the AHL depending on who
holds his rights.
Dennis Wideman: 19, Defence, drafted by Buffalo (B).
Wideman, like Bois, basically flat lined this year, showing little improvement.
He had to play a different role, as the team broke in a number of rookies
on defence. He was probably
overplayed most nights (by necessity), which led to some poor decision making on
his part and some sloppy play at times.
Strengths: He does possess a big league shot, but he
didn’t get it away as often this year. A
big part of the success of the Knights’ half board offence was that teams had
to stay high in the box over fear of leaving him too open.
Is very good at dishing out hip checks in the neutral zone.
Needs to work on: Is not the prototypical power play
quarterback, as he doesn’t pass the puck or carry it out of his own zone
exceptionally well. Will have to
improve his defensive positioning at the next level when matched against bigger,
stronger players. Pinches in too
much, tries to sneak in when he should stay high and get open.
Future: Buffalo has yet to give him a contract, so next
fall he could be back as an overager, or be in the ECHL or AHL.
Would be best served to play professionally.
ELIGIBLE FOR 2003 NHL DRAFT
Corey Perry: 17, Right Wing
(A) Perry led the Knights in scoring in the regular season and in the
playoffs. He had a bad stretch from
November to December when he tried to do too much and was missing linemate
Stathopoulos. There is a lot of
pressure on this kid to score goals, but at this stage of his career, he is more
of a playmaker.
league hands, good vision of ice, good imagination, is resilient, draws a lot of
penalties, and is a great passer.
Needs to work on: Skating,
physical strength, shooting more often, getting the puck away quicker on shots,
not always going for the fancy play, temper, and his shift lengths.
sneak into first round of the draft, should be picked no later than third round.
Will be a dominant force in the OHL over the next two seasons.
Kyle Quincey: 17, Defence (A-) Quincey was one of
four young defencemen that London broke in this year.
He saw a ton of ice time, played in the top two pairs, was a regular on
the penalty kill, but saw very limited action on the power play.
Strengths: He does a good job at keeping attackers to the
outside, using his speed and his reach to prevent them from cutting back to the
middle. Has a lot of offensive
Needs to work on: Has to fill out more, but has the makings
of a very strong defenceman.
get picked late this year, could be the go-to guy in London on the point.
Danny Syvret: 17, Defence (B+)
Syvret is the smallest of the London rookies but is the best skater.
He saw the most power play time and played a good chunk of the year with
Wideman, which meant he had to stay at home and let Wideman take the chances.
passing, seeing the ice well, staying in the middle of the ice on odd man
Needs to work on: Shooting,
taking shots when in position, strength.
drafted this June will likely be in the late rounds.
Should be a cornerstone of a very strong Knights defence over the next
Marc Methot: 17, Defence (B) Methot had troubles
adjusting to the speed and the size of his opponents early in the season, but
was one of the most improved rookies as the season wore on.
Had a very strong playoffs.
his size to clear the front of the net and takes the man well against the
boards. Has shown steady
improvement in all areas of his game.
to work on his passing and his skating.
sneak into the late rounds of the NHL draft. Looks like he will be a very strong
defensive defenceman who chips in with a few points.
Dylan Hunter: 17, Center (D-)
Hunter is starting to draw comparisons to Pavel Bure and Ilya Kovalchuk,
in his effort defensively that is. This
second year player has to start proving why he gets so much ice time.
a decent job on running the half board offence on the second unit of the power
play. Will occasionally get fired
up and keep the puck on a string for extended stretches of time.
When he decides to drive the net, good things usually happen.
Needs to work on: Shot
is very weak, effort is poor most shifts, is very poor positionally.
the tools to be a strong OHL player, has to use them on a consistent basis and
pick up his effort or he will be facing a very tough year at the hands of his
Gerald Coleman: 17, Goaltender (C-) Coleman had a
tough rookie year as he had some injury issues and struggled with his confidence
when he was relegated to the back up role.
a big and quick goaltender, with decent puck handling skills.
is still flawed as he has over-relied on his size.
Drops down too quick and leans off the post.
Needs to stay mentally sharp when not playing.
size and raw talent should get him drafted in the middle to late rounds.
Will face a tough battle in training camp for the starting role with two
goaltenders who played Junior B last year.
DRAFT ELIGIBLE IN 2004
Dave Bolland: 16, Forward (C+) Bolland saw very
little ice time in the first half of the season, but saw a bigger role as the
year wore on. Saw some time on the
first power play unit in the playoffs. He has the makings of an up and down
a heavy shot, a good nose for the net, likes to throw his weight around, and is
a good skater.
a bit too long to get shot away, needs to keep his stick on the ice when around
the net, needs to grow a bit to be more effective in his style of game.
flashes of being a very good forward, and with more ice time next season, might
make some noise in the 2004 draft if he grows a bit.
Adam Nemeth: 16, Defence (C+) Nemeth started the
season slowly, was often scratched, but found his stride in the second half.
By the time the playoffs came around, he had earned a spot in the lineup.
a lot of poise for a young guy who didn’t see much ice time in his first year.
Came up strong in the playoffs when thrust into a difficult position.
Needs to work on: Is
a well rounded player but needs more ice time to hone his skills.
Should get the chance this year.
the Knights do with their over age positions and European cards will determine
if Nemeth is put into the top two pairs or if he will be in the third pair.
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