Erie Otters’ Offseason Preview: Onward & Upward

Welcome to June 1.

Why is June 1 such an important day on the OHL calendar? It’s because this is the day where teams can start making roster moves and trades for next season.

Will we see a flurry of activity starting today? Maybe, but it’s an uncertain world we’re in. With different things up in the air, we don’t know if teams will elect to wait for more certainty before making any moves or if some teams will starting dealing right off the bat.

Things have certainly been busy when it comes to the Erie Otters this offseason. They made the playoffs before the season was canceled due to Covid-19. But they are hungry for much more once the 2020-21 season starts, whenever that is.

Welcome to our Otters’ offseason preview. We will try to get you ready for what’s to come this summer and beyond in advance of the 2020-21 season.

But before we get the crystal ball out, let’s take one final look at the 2019-20 season. We got to catch up with Otters’ forward Chad Yetman and we asked him what he and the team was most proud of last season.

OHL, Chad Yetman, Erie Otters
Chad Yetman is excited for the future in Erie. (Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images)

“As a team, making the playoffs and taking that step from the two years of not being in the playoffs,” Yetman said. “There’s that barrier we needed to get through. We excited for that going into next year because we have that confidence that we’re ready to take another step.”

Yetman was one of several Otters (the others being Max Golod, Hayden Fowler, Jamie Drysdale and Kurtis Henry) that wore letters for the first time in their OHL career. They had a young leadership group. They had to overcome several obstacles, including numerous injuries and some bad luck (their shootout performance.) Just how were they able to keep things together?

“Those barriers and challenges made us stronger,” Yetman said. “They put us in situations where we were down guys. We had to find ways to win games. Some guys got to play in situations they weren’t used to playing in. That helped us grow. It was difficult for us. It shows how resilient we are. It was a good test for our group.”

The Otters came into the 2019-20 season thinking they could grab a playoff spot and they did just that. But now the time has come for onward and upward. Where do they go from here? Let’s take a look at some stories we will be watching this offseason.

Erie Otters Offseason Preview

Decisions, Decisions

Most every team faces this decision in the offseason. It’s a numbers game and not everyone will be able to stay. The question here is how will the Otters decide who gets to stay and who goes?

As you well know, three OA’s can play at one time on an OHL roster. You can carry four to start but only three can play. In my mind, Yetman, Max Golod and captain Jack Duff seem like the players that make the most sense to occupy those three OA spots.

If this does become true, that means others would move on. This includes last season’s starting goalie Daniel Murphy.

With Aidan Campbell seemingly ready to take over the starting reigns in net, I’m not sure how Murphy is on the Otters to start the 2020-21 season. Keeping him would mean potentially not having one of the three named above. I just don’t see it but the Otters will have to decide how to proceed. If Murphy does indeed move on, 2020 draftee Nolan Lalonde could start the season as the backup to Campbell.

Other decisions will have to be made as well. With Spencer Sova and Colby Saganiuk on board, other moves will be coming. What happens to a player like Kurtis Henry? And then up front, how do you proceed there? The line of Daniel D’Amato, Brendan Sellan and Brendan Hoffmann enjoyed a nice season and seem destined to stay together as the team’s top shutdown line. Elias Cohen made some big strides last season and could be ready for more. Decisions will have to be made from a developmental standpoint. Could that open the door for a surprise move this offseason? The elements are there should the team decide to look in a different direction in some cases.

Dave Brown, OHL, Erie Otters
GM Dave Brown will have some tough decisions to make about his roster this offseason. (Photo courtesy of the OHL)

Preparing For the Season…?

Players can’t even get on the ice at this point. So how are the Otters preparing for the start of the new season? According to GM Dave Brown, the team will be taking part in character development modules.

This encompasses everything from breathing techniques to overcoming different adversities through different challenges and exercises. In addition, the Otters will be engaging alumni and guest speakers to talk with the team about many different things. They are taking advantage of the time despite not having ice available.

How teams prepare for the season will be a huge key. How will players train? What other things will they do if restrictions remain? We don’t even know if the season will start on time.

It seems the Otters are trying other things. It will be interesting to see which other teams are doing similar tasks.

Uncertainty Remains

The CHL Import Draft is not 100% clear at this time. It’s normally held at the end of June but with the current state of the world, there’s no official word that the draft will go as scheduled.

The NHL Draft won’t happen in early June as they attempt a return to play plan that won’t take place until later in the summer. Could the OHL season start before we have a draft?

We just don’t know what the world will look like come September? Will it be safe to play games? Will we even have fans? The OHL does meet regularly and we will stay on top of news as it develops over the summer.

Why the Otters Are On the Rise

The Otters will be bringing back a strong core from last season and adding some key pieces. This is giving the team confidence for the future. Here’s Yetman on what gives the Otters confidence that they will take the next step.

“I think just the players we have that took the steps this past year and that are still going to be on the team next year,” Yetman said. “That line of D’Amato, Sellan and Hoffmann, I’m not afraid to say it, they’re going to be the best shutdown line in the league next year. All three will be 19 and they’ve played together for a full season. That’s something that’s going to help us win games. I expect that Connor Lockhart will take a huge step. (Jamie) Drysdale and (Jack) Duff are going to hold down the fort on the back end. I expect Aidan Campbell to step in and make a huge impact. I expect a lot of guys will take the next step and make the team better. I don’t see how we can’t finish in the top-four next season.”

The Otters knew that 2017-18 and 2018-19 would be tough. They were right. They also expected 2019-20 to be the start of their rise. At least last season’s team was a playoff team. How the Otters handle this summer will go a long way in determining their outcome in 2020-21. The pieces are there for them to be vastly improved. It’s now up to the players to find a way to make that happen.