OHL Midwest Division preview

By Jason Menard

The London Knights have ruled the roost for the past three seasons in the OHL Midwest division, but another club, led by arguably the best player in the OHL, is ready to knock the Hunters’ club off its lofty perch.

With heated rivalries, two superlative clubs and two more fiercely competitive squads, the OHL’s Midwest division again figures to be the marquee division leading up to the playoffs and beyond.

Erie Otters

The Otters appear to be little more than fodder for the powerful clubs with whom they share the Midwest division. Already suffering from an abundance of youth and a dearth of scoring talent, the Otters were dealt another blow with the loss of forward Ryan O’Marra (NYI), a 77-point man last season.

O’Marra is expected to lead the club once he returns from his broken fibula, but after that the offensive prospects are pretty slim. The club will be relying on the continued development of second-year players Nick Palmieri and Justin Hodgman.

The inexperience isn’t limited to the front lines. The club’s feature goaltender is Ryan Ludzik, who as a rookie last season only appeared in a handful of games. Erie will be relying on the leadership of veteran blueliners Andrew Hotham and Josh Kidd to alleviate the defensive pressure. In addition, Hotham will be a valued presence on the power play and is expected to chip in offensively from the blue line.

Guelph Storm

For the past couple of years, the Storm and the London Knights have developed a fierce rivalry, with both clubs taking turns coming out on top. This season, the Storm are in for a transition period, especially considering the loss of netminder Ryan MacDonald and 52-goal-scorer Ryan Callahan (NYR).

The Storm will be anchored on the blue line by recently assigned Nashville Predators prospect Ryan Parent. He, along with Drew Doughty and Michael Caruso (FLA), will be counted on to provide stability and offense from the point.

Their experience will be invaluable for a Storm squad that’s skewing young. In fact, the opening night line-up featured 12 players who were 17 years of age or younger, and only a pair of 19-year-olds on the roster.

Up front, Tyler Doig will be asked to play a greater role in providing offense, building upon his 23-goal campaign a season ago. Between the pipes, Jason Guy needs to live up to his hype and potential for the Storm to stay within striking distance of the Attack and the Knights.

Kitchener Rangers

Last year may have been the year for the Rangers. With their imposing defensive core, the Rangers were able to pummel opponents into submission. This season, the club may have a challenge maintaining its defensive reputation with the loss of Boris Valabik (ATL) and Matt Lashoff (BOS).

This season, the club will rely upon returnees Matt Pepe and Julian Machabee to carry the torch left behind. They’ll also need to rely more upon their offensive talent, including the diminutive Justin Azevedo, who must improve upon his 29-goal, 69-point season last year. The Rangers will also be counting on players such as Myles Applebaum, Matt Auffrey, and Victor Oreskovich (COL) to assume a greater offensive role than in the past.

One player with offensive gifts to spare who will be eased into the lineup will be forward Nazem Kadri, a highly-touted young player who the Rangers took with their first pick in the 2006 OHL draft.

London Knights

What was supposed to be a rebuilding season turned into a reloading campaign for the London Knights.

Most teams would be decimated by the loss of players like OHL scoring champ Rob Schremp (EDM), runner-up David Bolland (CHI), captain and 100-point man Dylan Hunter, and the OHL’s top goaltender Adam Dennis (BUF). Instead, the Hunters went out and made waves all summer long by convincing a quartet of highly-touted players to join the OHL club.

Pat Kane, Sam Gagner, and Philip McRae were all passed over by other clubs who didn’t expect them to come to the OHL (or knew they would only come to London). In addition, Dave Meckler brings his booming shot and Gold Gloves past to the club from Yale. The return of 19-year-old Sergei Kostitsyn (MON), overager Robbie Drummond, Jordan Foreman, and Josh Beaulieu (PHI) ensures that the team will continue to dominate the score sheets.

Up front, the team looks to be able to keep pace with its prolific past. However, it is the blue line (like last season) and the net (unlike last season) where question marks arise. Goaltender Steve Mason is highly-regarded — enough so to be drafted by Columbus — but not truly battle-tested. And the blue line is still shaky, with only overager Ryan Martinelli with significant blue line experience. However, it has recently been augmented by the addition of Barrie’s Todd Perry.

Owen Sound Attack

The Owen Sound Attack lost in the second round of the OHL playoffs last year. This year, with a complement of outstanding returning veterans, the club is looking to parlay that stability and development into even greater returns this season.

The Attack is led by arguably the best player in the OHL in Anaheim Ducks prospect Bobby Ryan. Ryan, who scored 95 points in only 59 games last season is expected to challenge for the league’s scoring title this season. He’s joined up front by L.A. Kings first-rounder Trevor Lewis, as well as Josh Bailey, Marek Bartanus (TB), Anton Hedman, and Scott Tregunna.

Their defense, despite the loss of Andrej Sekera (BUF), is anchored by New York Rangers first-rounder Bobby Sanguinetti and Edmonton Oilers prospect Theo Peckham. However, the drop-off is precipitous after those two.

In total, the Attack have seven NHL prospects on their roster and are able to ice a solid blend of veteran talent and promising rookies. In net, the club will lean heavily on second-year netminder Neil Conway.

Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.