2018-19 Erie Otters Season Preview

You feel that slight chill in the air? Yes that means hockey season is right around the corner. For the Erie Otters, that means training camp is here.

The players, both veterans and prospects, check-in on Saturday for the first time in the 2018-19 season. Among the things that will happen on opening day are fitness testing, a veteran’s practice and then an inter-squad prospect’s game.

So what has changed since we last checked in with the Otters? Lots actually, including a major trade of one of their most important players.

You can catch up on their early summer happenings right here. We discussed Jamie Drysdale at the U-17’s, Petr Cajka being selected at the import draft and the team hiring Shane Clifford as their goaltending coach.

After that, the Otters traded Ivan Lodnia to the Niagara Icedogs in exchange for Danial Singer and a 5th round pick in 2019. Does this seem like an underwhelming return to you for the Otters? That’s because it was an underwhelming return but out of the team’s control. Lodnia wanted out. The team made the best deal they could given the circumstances.

Ivan Lodnia Erie Otters
Ivan Lodnia took his talents to Niagara after an August trade. (Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

Then came the news of Singer and his failed test. Both teams discussed this before the trade was completed. The trade still happened anyway. The Otters believe they are getting both a good player and person. Singer will miss the team’s first eight games and make his debut for the Otters against the Icedogs in October.

As for Lodnia, this has been coming for a while. There was lots of thought he could be traded before the start of last season. His agent Dan Milstein confirmed that possibility. It never happened. Now he’s in Niagara. Draw your own conclusions. Lodnia wanted out. He had his reasons. Both he and his agent didn’t want to say what was really going on out of respect for all those involved. It’s time to move on.

And that’s what we’ll do here. The 2018-19 season is almost here. The Otters enter the new season coming off a disappointing season that started to show good signs towards the end. They did miss the playoffs as a result.

Their coaching staff is back including Chris Hartsburg, B.J. Adams and Wes Wolfe. They have many returning players and some exciting new ones on board. They’re confident and ready to rise.

Can the Otters meet up with rising expectations? That is the central theme that we’ll be watching as the season unfolds. Do they have enough to make good progress and make a trip to these playoffs? I’ll share my prediction at the end. For now, let’s look at the roster.

Jamie Drysdale, OHL, Erie Otters
Jamie Drysdale is part of a young Otters core hoping to use this season as a springboard to bigger things. (Photo by Aaron Bell, OHL Images)

The Roster

New Faces

  • Jamie Drysdale
  • Petr Cajka
  • Danial Singer
  • Brendan Hoffmann

Now Gone

  • Ivan Lodnia
  • Stephane Patry
  • Patrick Fellows
  • Cade Robinson
  • Troy Lajeunesse
  • Carson Edwardson
  • Owen Headrick

Current OA’s

  • Kyle Maksimovich
  • Christian Girhiny
  • One open spot

Notable NHL Draft Eligibles

  • Emmett Sproule (2019)
  • Cajka (2019)
  • Hayden Fowler (2020)
  • Drysdale (2020)

Three Things to Watch

Center Ice Looking Good

Don’t look now, but the Otters have some depth down the middle. Gera Poddubnyi is back. There was some thought he might not be back. But it was Stephane Patry that has moved on. Hayden Fowler has a late birthday, otherwise, he’d be eligible for this draft and not the 2020 draft. He can play the middle. He looks dynamic too.

Their import pick Petr Cajka is a projected first-round pick by some in this draft. He can play center. Alex Gritz can play there. Joseph Mack can too. The team has options. Now the question is how will it shake out before opening night?

State of the Goalies

Both Anand Oberoi and Daniel Murphy knew how important a summer this was. With both expected to share the crease this season, there is an opportunity for someone to stand out and earn more playing time. Who will that be?

It will be interesting to see the impact of Shane Clifford on this duo. Clifford as many of you know coached Flyers’ prospect Carter Hart. Oberoi and Murphy aren’t Hart by any means, but they certainly will see some improvement. One of these players taking the next step will be paramount if the Otters hope to make noise in 2018-19.

The Underrated Otters

I just get the sense this team is a little underrated. They’re coming off a down season. Most fans look at London and other teams making major noise. Expect these Otters to play fast and aggressive. They have some impact players that are scratching the surface of how good they’ll be in Fowler, Sproule, Golod, Cajka and Drysdale to name a few.

This season will be a season of growth for this young core. In terms of making major noise, that seems set to start with the 19-20 season. But don’t sleep on this team. They should shock a few people especially if a team isn’t ready to play their best. The Otters will go through normal growing pains but they are expected to be better in 2018-19.

My 2018-19 Prediction

I do think the Otters are a playoff team. I have them finishing 6th in the Western Conference. I don’t think many realize how good and young this Otters defense is. Ryan Martin is healthy again. Jack Duff is ready to take the next step. Aidan Timmermans, Josh Wainman, Kurtis Henry, Luke Beamish and Brendan Kischnick provide nice depth. The biggest question for me if can they keep the puck out of their net?

I think this team is at least a year away from making major noise in the league. But they will be fun to watch grow and develop. They should gain valuable experience in a playoff series that will only help later.

I think this season will be remembered as the stepping stone to greater things for this team. Can they meet those expectations? We’ll all see together. Enjoy the ride everyone.