OHL Central Division preview

By Jason Ahrens

The Central Division in the OHL was one of the tightest divisions in hockey last season. Four points separated the top four teams and the fifth made the playoffs finishing only 14 points behind the top seed. The division will likely see a bit more separation this season, but will still be tight in the middle. The division features NHL first round picks Wojtek Wolski (COL), Benoit Pouliot (MIN) and Marc Staal (NYR). Bryan Little of Barrie and John de Gray of Brampton are two players who will be high picks in the 2006 NHL entry draft.

Barrie Colts

Key Departures: Rob Hisey (86 points), B.J. Crombeen (DAL), overage defenseman Scott Hotham

NHL Draftees: 2, Goaltender Dan LaCosta (CLB) and forward Jakub Petruzalek (NYR)

Top Prospects: Forward Bryan Little could be a top 10 pick in 2006 NHL draft. Defenseman Nathan Martine is eligible for the 2006 NHL draft and is also slated to be a fairly high pick.

Goaltending: LaCosta came over from Owen Sound last season and had finished the season strong in net for the Colts. The 6’3 keeper will see a lot of action this season and will be a workhorse in net for the veteran Colts.

Defense: Second year man Andrew Marshall looks to be one of the key defenders on the Colts this season despite his 5’9 and 187-pound frame. Martine was broken in slowly as a 16-year old rookie last season but he should see more ice this season and could be a key defender. Overage defenseman Michael Root is a big stay at homer who will help anchor a fairly young defense corps.

Forwards: Little heads into his draft year with two years under his belt and has put up 58 and 68 points in his first two seasons. The crafty center is very dangerous down low and with stricter enforcement of the rules this season to aid him; he will be a constant headache for teams with his quick hands and good vision.

Hunter Tremblay is coming off a 30-goal season and should easily eclipse that this season. Overage winger Ryan Hamilton has not had much luck in playing a full season, but if he can stay healthy this season and use his 6’2 and 218-pound frame in front of the net, he will score his share of goals.

Travis Fuller is another veteran with size on the wing and after scoring 24 goals and 32 assists last season, he will be a point a game threat for the Colts.

World Junior Hopefuls: Little (Canada)

Outlook: With a lot of returning players and no nagging question marks, this is a team that might walk away with the division and could be one of the stronger teams in the league. The defense corps is a touch inexperienced, but they should be fine with those that they have back.

Sudbury Wolves

Key Departures: Forwards Rafal Martynowski (67 points), Bobby Chaumont (31 goals), and Zack Stortini (EDM), Goalie Patrick Ehelechner (SJ)

NHL Draftees: 3, Goaltender Kevin Beech (TB) and Defensemen Marc Staal (NYR) and Adam McQuaid (CLB), forward Benoit Pouliot (MIN)

Top Prospects: Forwards Nick Foligno (2006) and Devin DiDiomete (2006)

Goaltending: Beech saw action in 21 games last season and posted a goals against average of 2.65 and a save percentage of 912. He will take the lion’s share of the starts this season and the Wolves should be in good hands with him taking over as the No. 1 goalie.

Defense: Staal is a solid defender who will be a key defender for the Wolves. He is not flashy, but gets the job done in both ends of the ice. He has good poise on the ice and with his long reach he is tough to beat one on one.

McQuaid really came into his own late last season and by all accounts was one of the best Wolves in the playoffs — a physical defenseman who takes care of business in his own end and will occasionally pick his spots offensively.

Ryan Hastings returns for his fifth season in the OHL and brings a nasty edge to his game and will make life tough on opposing forwards in front of the net.

Veteran Jonathon D’Aversa rounds out the top four on a pretty solid blue line and will see a lot of power play time and should improve on his 29 points of last season.

Forwards: If Pouliot is returned from Minnesota he could dominate this season and will be the difference in the Wolves contending for the division title or being in the middle of the pack. He took the hockey world by storm and showed great poise in his first season in the OHL and ended up being the fourth player taken in the NHL draft. A great skater with a good reach, he can keep the puck away from the defense and is hard to knock off the puck. When he drives the net with authority he is almost impossible to stop.

Foligno is the son of Coach and General Manager Nick Foligno and plays a gritty game like his father but hasn’t put up the points yet. He was invited to the Team USA summer evaluation camp for the World Junior Tournament.

Kevin Baker is a solid two-way center who will get more of an opportunity to show his offensive side with so many key forwards graduating.

DiDiomete got his nose dirty often as a 16-year-old rookie and the feisty winger should be even tougher to play against now that he has a year in the OHL under his belt. He should improve on his 15 points quite easily and will be no stranger to the penalty box and he will help ease the loss of grit and character of Stortini who was one of the most feared fighters in the league.

Overage winger Alexander Eaton will be a presence on the checking line and in the corners and with 181 minutes in penalties last season he will help fill the void from the loss of Stortini. Brett Parnham was the Wolves first round pick in the 2005 OHL draft and the center was the smallest first rounder selected, standing in at 5’9 and 165 pounds.

Rookie right winger Matt Dias will be looking to make some noise. He was a fourth round pick in the 2004 OHL draft.

World Junior Hopefuls: Pouliot, Staal and McQuaid (Canada), Foligno (USA)

Outlook: The team will be very solid on the backend but if Pouliot isn’t returned, or is returned late, the team may have trouble creating offense. With four of their top six point producers gone for sure, representing 90 goals, the loss of Pouliot and his 29 goals would be very tough to replace. With many teams in the division facing similar graduation losses, the Wolves are perhaps on firmer ground than the Toronto based teams.

Brampton Battalion

Key Departures: Ryan Oulahen (DET) was the third leading scorer on the team with 58 points. Tyler Harrison finished fourth in team scoring with 57 points. Dan McDonald chipped in with 43 points. Defenseman Martin Lojek (FLA). Goaltender Kevin Couture.

NHL Draftees: 6, Goalie Daren Machesney (WAS), defensemen Phil Oreskovic (TOR) and Michael Vernace (SJ), forwards Wojtek Wolski (COL), Luch Aquino (NYI), and John Seymour (LA).

Top Prospects: Defenseman John de Gray (2006)

Goaltending: Machesney split duties last year with Couture, but will be the definite number one goalie this season. On a team that could struggle scoring goals, his play will be the difference in a lot of games. Rookie Bryan Pitton will back up Machesney.

Defense: Scouts will be watching de Gray very closely as he is well on his way to being a sure-fire first round pick next June. If he makes strides in his offensive game he could become a top ten pick. De Gray is big, very strong on his skates and brings a physical element to the rink and didn’t look out of place as a 16-year-old rookie last season. He played a key role in Canada’s gold medal at the Under 18 tournament in August.

Vernace had a very strong 50 points last season and with the number of power plays being called early in the season, he will have ample opportunity to add to those totals. On a team that may be scoring by committee, his puck distribution skills will be essential. He is the type of defenseman who will flourish with the rule changes and he should be able to spring a few forwards for the long breakaway pass.

Oreskovic is a big man (6’3 and 216 pounds) who plays a simple game and makes a decent outlet pass. Always physical in his own end, he will have to toe the line and watch his stick work if the referees persist in calling things tight. If his skating improves he will be able to adapt to the changes in the game.

Overage defender Nick Duff will be a help to a defense corps that should be strong and will be the strength of the Battalion.

Kyle Sonnenburg is another solid returning veteran on the blue line. Tomas Stryncl had a rough transition to North American hockey but the Czech import should be better prepared this season and could have a very solid season with the Battalion.

Forwards: If Wolski and Aquino return they will both light it up and the Battalion should be near the top of the conference. If one or both of them stay in the professional ranks the Battalion will lack a true threat up front and may have to shop for some overage help at forward. Wolski is a slick winger who can handle the puck as if on a string and has an average scoring touch to go with his soft hands. Aquino is a pepper pot on ice and can hurt opposing teams in a variety of ways, either with his passing or his finishing abilities.

Seymour was drafted despite his modest scoring abilities, he has tallied only one goal in his OHL career and he will have to improve that this year, but he is an effective checker and will be counted on to match up against the top lines of opponents.

Howie Martin might be the top returning point scorer at forward and the center had 18 goals and 20 assists last season, numbers he should easily surpass this season as he will be playing a larger role on the team and could be one of the go-to guys if Wolski and Aquino don’t return. Slovak Michal Klejna is the team’s second import and they will be giving him every opportunity to make an impact on the top lines

Matt Smyth was the Battalion’s first round pick in 2005 and will get an opportunity to play, especially in the early going with some veterans out of the lineup.

World Junior Hopefuls: Wolski (Canada)

Outlook: Whether this team is a contender or pretender will largely rest with what happens with Wolski or Aquino. Even if they return, they will still need the supporting cast to step up and chip in more offense. The defense will be big and tough to play against and between the pipes this team should be solid. They may have to grind out a lot of low scoring games and they will be in a lot of close games.

St. Michael’s Majors

Key Departures: Defenseman Nathan McIver (VAN)

NHL Draftees: 4, Goaltender Justin Peters (CAR), Defenseman Scott Lehman (ATL), Jaroslav Mrazek (NYI) and Center Tyler Haskins (DET).

Goaltending: Peters will once again be the main man between the pipes, he appeared in 58 games last season and was second in minutes played in the league. Peters is like the girl with the curl, when he is good he is very good, when he is bad, he can be awful. He was a big part of the first round upset of the Ice Dogs last season, but then had a tough second round. He’s very competitive in goal and will keep the Majors in a lot of games. Wayne Savage returns as Peters’ backup and will give him the occasional rest or come in when he has an off night.

Defense: McIver logged a lot of minutes for the Majors and will be very difficult to replace. As a committee the group will have to step up and they have a few returning veterans and that should make the transition easier. Lehman will be counted on to be a physical player and be a leader on and off the ice.

Ryan Wilson was overlooked in the draft last season and if his skating improves he could be a late round pick next June. Mrazek had only two assists last season and the Majors will be looking for the Czech import to improve those totals and keep playing physical.

Chris Cunningham will be one of the overage players on the team and should be part of the top four on a defense corps that will be breaking in a few youngsters on the point.

Forwards: The Majors will rely heavily on the twin brothers Tyler and Justin Donati. The twins are heading into their third season in the league and are two of the top returning point producers for the Majors despite missing several games last season.

Haskins took a step back last year offensively as he saw his points decrease from 45 to 32. He has good skills but will need to be a bigger producer this year if he aims to gain a NHL contract and the Majors will need some scoring punch from him. He fared far better in the playoffs and helped the team upset the Ice Dogs in the first round.

Jeff Larsh is one of the overage players on the team and the veteran will be looked at to be one of the top goal scorers and should be able to surpass last season’s 17 goals and 17 assists. Cory Vitarelli will be one of the three overage players on the team and he finished third in team scoring last season popping 39 points in 68 games.

Peter Franchin is one of the biggest forwards on the team at 6’4 and 215 pounds and he is coming off a 21-goal year but he did have a disappointing 9 assists. He could be a dominant force in front of the net, as defensemen will have fits trying to mark him legally.

Justin DiBenedetto was the team’s first round pick from the 2004 draft and had a tough rookie season, contributing only nine points, but the Majors will be looking for him to show more of the scoring touch he had in midget where he piled up 72 points in 46 games.

World Junior Hopefuls: Peters (Canada)

Outlook: Peters will have to be strong to keep this lunch bucket team in games and if they continue to spread out the offense and work hard, they will stay in the pack in the East. Playing on their small ice surface at home is an advantage as many teams have trouble adapting to the dimensions of the rink. This is an organization that will wheel and deal if they have holes to fill and are not afraid to pull the trigger on a trade.

Mississauga Ice Dogs

Key Departures: Top scorer Patrick O’Sullivan (MIN) graduates as the all time leading scorer in franchise history and his 90 points will be very hard to replace. All-star defenseman Kyle Quincey (DET) logged a lot of minutes on the point. Daniel Carcillo (PGH) had a flair for offense and trouble on and off the ice. David Shantz (FLA) was moved to clear the logjam in goal.

NHL Draftees: Center Cody Bass (OTT)

Top Prospects: Defenseman Frankie Santini (2006), Forwards Dustin Jeffrey (2006) and Jordan Skellett (2008)

Goaltending: Michael Ouzas came in and stole the No. 1 job away from Shantz, playing nearly twice the minutes and having significantly better stats than the hero of the 2003-04 season. The overage goalie will see the vast majority of the action again this season and will have to be sharp to keep the Majors close in games.

Defense: The loss of Quincey and veteran Anthony Butera is a huge blow to this team and they will be facing a tough year and will need some guys to step up. Santini posted nice statistics in midget and the second year man might get a shot at being the power play quarterback at the age of 17.

Overage veterans Dave Pszenyczny and Justin Dacosta will be counted on to be steadying influences on the rebuilding team and the young defense corps. Craig Cescon is another returning veteran on the point who plays a tough game and will be part of the top four.

Forwards: Bass has been one of the best checkers in the league and has had great success in that role on the Ice Dogs and internationally for Team Canada in a couple of Under 18 tournaments, but he will need to pop more than 11 goals on this offensively starved team. His great speed will be an asset and with no red line, he will be a guy the defense tries to spring for a breakaway, especially on line changes.

Jeffrey had 25 points in 53 games as a rookie and will see a lot more ice time this season. He should be a fixture on the top two lines and on the power play and he could be poised to be one of the top scorers on the team.

Skellett was the team’s first round pick in the 2005 OHL draft and will get plenty of opportunity to prove himself on this rebuilding team.

Jordan Owens had 25 points last season, but showed flashes of offensive potential and with increased ice time this season he could be on the verge of a breakout year and perhaps double his point totals.

Michael Swift is the top returning scorer on the team. He had 32 points last season as one of the smallest players on the team, so he should benefit from less clutching and grabbing this season and more ice time. Czech Import Vladimir Svacina had a rough first season in North America scoring only five goals and adding 12 assists and the Dogs will be looking for far greater production this season.

World Junior Hopefuls: Bass (Canada)

Outlook: This is a team that may go from first to worst. The Dogs made it to the OHL final in 2004 and appeared to be one of the favorites going into the 2005 playoffs but ran into a hot goalie in Justin Peters of the Majors and couldn’t win on home ice, losing all three games there. The team was too reliant on its first line for points and the gamble the team took in acquiring the talented but volatile Carcillo didn’t pan out. With nearly 130 goals gone from the lineup, this is a team that will need some players to step up if they have any prayer of making the playoffs.

Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.