Now that the CHL Import Draft is completed, I thought this would be a good time to take the temperature of the Erie Otters to see where they’re at as a team at this point in the offseason.
While most of the attention is going to the North Bay’s and Niagara’s of the world thanks in large part to early draft picks, the Otters have quietly put together an effective and excellent offseason to date. There’s one major thing this is being judged on. Have they been able to address their glaring needs? The answer, at least so far, is yes.
Notice Their Pattern Yet?
One look at the Otters’ offseason reveals an obvious pattern. If you count their first three picks in the Priority Selection and both of their Import Draft picks, four of the five players were from their blue line back with two defensemen and two goalies.
Defenseman Spencer Sova was picked eighth overall in the Priority Selection while defenseman Artyom Kulakov was picked in the second round of the Import Draft.
Goalie Nolan LaLonde was picked in the third round of the Priority Selection while Alexei Kolosov was picked in the first round of the Import Draft.
This says everything you need to know about how the Otters are choosing to build for the future. They have placed an emphasis and focus on being sound defensively while stopping more pucks.
The effects of this will be seen this season especially in goal.
Looking at Next Season
Last season, the Otters used a tandem of Daniel Murphy and Aidan Campbell. They finished in the middle of the pack at 11th in goals against as a team. But with Murphy likely moving on from the Otters unless something unexpected happens with the overage situation, it will be Campbell’s net to start.
After having an up and down rookie season, Campbell seems ready to show why he was highly touted coming from the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite team. He has the tools to be a dominant goalie. He has the size. He has the athleticism. He’ll also know what to expect in year two. Assuming he cleans up his game especially in the shootout, a surge is likely.
But in this league, you need two goaltenders. The Otters seemed ready to throw LaLonde in as the backup. But the team identified the need for a good number two and used the Import Draft to their advantage by drafting Kolosov.
Here’s Otters GM Dave Brown on Kolosov and Kulakov:
“Our assistant director of hockey operations, Scott Grieve, has put a great deal of effort into narrowing our selections down to an elite group, and we are pleased to have selected these two young men,” general manager Dave Brown said. “Both Alexei and Artyom have a great deal of skill in their respective positions and have international experience. I can’t wait to see them both in training camp and in an Otters uniform.”
Kolosov helped his native Belarus win a bronze medal at the most recent 1A-U20’s. He posted a 2.11 goals-against and a .930 save percentage. It’s that success on the international stage that was appealing to the Otters.
Now Kolosov (assuming he commits) would slot in as Campbell’s backup. This allows the team to properly develop and not rush LaLonde along. The net seems set for the next three seasons now.
And on defense, Sova will be Jamie Drysdale’s eventual replacement as their top defensemen. And Kulakov can slot right in and help bolster the pairs. He posted 40 points (10G-30A) in 29 games played last season to lead all defensemen in scoring in the Russia U17 league. Kulakov is eligible for the 2021 NHL Draft.
If you hope to compete near the top of the OHL, you have to be good at something. The Otters will have most of their scoring back from last season. Now couple that with their draft strategy of bringing in help on defense and in goal and you have the formula for success.
The Otters have the pieces to improve from eighth place in the West. Now these pieces have to find chemistry to make it work. With a couple of months left in the offseason, I don’t expect the Otters to be done at all with moves. There’s just not enough room on the roster to accommodate everyone. Tough decisions will have to be made on certain players. We mentioned Murphy in goal. Where does Kurtis Henry fit on the roster now? Could we see a surprise? We can’t rule it out.
It hasn’t been flashy but it has been excellent and effective. This offseason for the Otters has seen much needed reinforcements join the team. With that come higher expectations yet again. They’re off to a good start though. Now we sit back and wait to see if and when training camps will get underway.