On Thursday, the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights showed just how deep they are beating the Guelph Storm by an 8-2 score. The key, however, was that they got contributions offensively from 14 different players – five of whom had multi-point games.
Following their Memorial Cup run in 2015-16, the Knights lost three major assets to the NHL. Mitch Marner joined the Toronto Maple Leafs, while Christian Dvorak and Matthew Tkachuk joined the Arizona Coyotes and Calgary Flames respectively.
Pu was more or less buried last season in London under the likes of Marner, Dvorak, and Tkachuk.
— Fleet Fox (@Thequickbluefox) February 25, 2017
Still, the Knights have come out in 2016-17 and worked their way to yet another playoff season – locking up a spot in the OHL’s postseason late in February with a lot of hockey left to play.
While some of the players that helped the Knights to their 42nd win of the season. Two of them, however, have been passed over when it comes to the NHL draft. The first is Owen MacDonald. On Thursday, he scored the opening goal of the game and added one assist – giving him 35 points in 55 games for the Knights. At the age of 20, he is no longer eligible for the NHL draft, and will likely have to find work somewhere else following this season. However, his career in London has shown a physical, determined brand of hockey. He’s an asset that the Knights have been fortunate to utilize over the past few seasons.
The other is Sam Miletic. The 19-year-old notched two goals and two assists against the Storm on Thursday to up his point total to 49 in 59 games this season. He had 63 points in 94 career games for the Knights and while an underrated part of their current team, he adds depth to a lineup that should make noise in the playoffs again this season.
Among those already drafted to the NHL, the Knights saw production from three players who were drafted to the show prior to last season. J.J. Piccinich (Toronto Maple Leafs) was drafted in the fourth round in 2014. Mitchell Stephens was taken in the second round, 33rd overall in 2015 by the Tampa Bay Lighting and Mitchell Vande Sompel was picked in the third round of the 2015 draft by the New York Islanders.
The three of them combined for two goals and three assists on Thursday with the Knights’ captain (Piccinich) scoring two goals and adding an assist.
— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) March 10, 2017
While they might not be the top players in the OHL, this club is built using all sorts of players from your prototypical power forwards to those considered highly skilled offensive threats.
From there, the Knights saw four players drafted in the most recent NHL draft also contribute against the Storm. Olli Juolevi (Vancouver Canucks), Nicolas Mattinen (Toronto Maple Leafs), Cliff Pu (Buffalo Sabres) and Victor Mete (Montreal Canadiens) all took part in the blowout of their Western Conference foes.
All four of these players have the ability to, one day, make the NHL. For now, they’re continuing to add what they can to Dale Hunter’s Knights.
All of them have the playoff experience that they earned with last season’s championship run and can bring that to the table with the younger players on the team. Like the Detroit Red Wings, the Knights use this experience to pass the torch to their newer players year in and year out.
That being said, it’s important to note that these players understand their roles with the Knights and contribute any way that they can. Sure, Juolevi is a top-end defenceman in London, but a guy like Pu didn’t have the same role last year as he does heading into this year’s postseason – the team’s top scorer. That’s something he’ll have to grow into and continue to provide as they move forward in defence of the OHL Championship.
The Young and the Restless
Finally, the Knights have a number of future eligible players for the NHL draft. Five of those players added to the explosive offence on Thursday – Evan Bouchard and Liam Foudy (both eligible in 2018) as well as Alex Formenton, Robert Thomas and Josh Nelson (who are all eligible for the upcoming draft).
The depth of the Knights is unquestionable. While they shouldn’t be considered an OHL dynasty (at least not yet), London seems to find a way to remain competitive on a yearly basis. Part of that is coaching. Part of that is drafting. And part of that is the way they continue to roll out players at an NHL calibre level.
This year seems to be no different. And with 14 players joining in on the offence on Thursday, there’s no question they have the tools to get back to the CHL’s Memorial Cup tournament.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.