The London Knights have a strong history of creating a competitive on-ice product and have since the Hunters took over in 2000 from then owner Doug Tarry Jr.
In 2004-05, the team went 59-7-2-0 and set a franchise record with 120 points on their way to winning the OHL Championship followed by the Memorial Cup. In fact, the team has won their league four times since the Hunters took over and has been to the Memorial Cup five times – winning it twice.
Still, every team needs to retool and rebuild at some point during their existence. It’s been no different for the Knights, however, they’ve been able to do that on the fly.
Knights’ First Retooling of Their Army
Following the 2009-10 season, in which the team finished 10 points clear of any other club in the Midwest Division, the Knights decided to rebuild ahead of the 2010-11 campaign.
They played the season with a roster filled with younger talent and while no player really qualified as an OHL superstar, the Knights still managed to make it as a playoff team.
Up front the Knights were led by players like Seth Griffith, Vladislav Namestnikov, Chris Tierney and Andreas Athanasiou, while Jarred Tinordi and Scott Harrington were their defensive studs. In net, it was Michael Houser. While all turned into NHL picks, not all of them have been able to stick in the bigs.
Still, the Knights snuck into the playoffs with a 34-29-4-1 record as the eighth place team in the Western Conference. They were quickly disposed of by the Owen Sound Attack in six games in the first round.
But it was a rebuild after all and what the Knights were looking to was the future – not the 2010-11 season.
From there, the went on to finish first in the Midwest Division in two consecutive seasons. They won the J. Ross Robertson Cup both seasons, but lost in the Memorial Cup tournament. They followed that up with another two seasons that included playoffs, but lost both in the semifinals, before adding another OHL championship to their name in 2015-16 along with a Memorial Cup. In 2016-17 they finished third in the Midwest and lost to the Erie Otters in the semifinals, which brings us to this season. And it looks like it’s another year of rebuilding.
Trading Away the Vets
Leading up to the OHL trade deadline, the Knights were involved in four major deals that saw four big-name players move from London to various destinations. In return, the Knights acquired a couple of younger players as well as various picks in hopes of rebuilding the competitive product they are so used to putting on the ice.
First, it was Cliff Pu. They moved the speedy, skilled Buffalo Sabres prospect to the Kingston Frontenacs for Nathan Dunkley, Windsor’s third-round pick in 2019 and Kingston’s second-round pick in 2020.
While Pu was 61st on the franchise’s all-time points list (168 points in 186 games), Dunkley is two years younger than Pu and offers the Knights more stability in the future.
They followed that up by shipping Max Jones to the same Frontenacs team. This time, the Knights acquired forward Sergey Popov along with Kingston’s third-round pick in 2021 and their second-round pick in 2023.
Again, the Knights locked up a 17-year-old in Popov as well as two picks while they shipped out a 19-year-old in Jones. While the Ducks’ prospect was surely talented, the Knights were clearly looking towards next season.
The following day, they moved their captain and World Junior standout – Robert Thomas to the Hamilton Bulldogs. For that, the Knights pulled in quite a haul. It included 16-year-old Connor McMichael, Mississauga’s second-round pick in 2020, Hamilton’s second-round pick in 2021, Hamilton’s third in 2022, Hamilton’s second in 2025 and their second in 2026.
With the trade, the Knights got two years younger again. They also moved a player – in Thomas – who has a very real shot at making the NHL with St. Louis Blues next season. So the Knights would’ve potentially lost him regardless.
Finally, less than 24 hours after moving Thomas, the Knights were at it again. This time they shipped forward and Penguins’ prospect Sam Miletic along with Sudbury’s third in 2018 to the Niagara IceDogs for Peterborough’s second in 2018, Niagara’s third in 2022, their second in 2024 as well as their second in 2025.
While they didn’t get any roster players back, this move opens the door for a player like Dalton Duhart to crack the Knights lineup on a nightly basis while providing the team with a number of pick over the coming years.
So while it seems reasonable for the Knights to make these moves, the holes left by these players are substantial to a team currently sitting in a playoff position.
Where to Now?
Say what you will about what the Knights have done in trading four of the best offensive players, but the reality is that this team is a playoff team. Through 40 games, they hold a 22-15-2-1 record with 47 points. They sit second in the Midwest Division and currently hold down a postseason position in the OHL’s Western Conference.
Now, their leading scorer is defenceman Evan Bouchard with 49 points followed by recently acquired Dunkley who has 35 points – including two in his first three games with the Knights.
So what should this team expect from the remaining 28 games of the season?
They’ve proven they can win without guys like Thomas and Jones in the lineup as both were away at the World Junior Championship recently. Now, they will have to rely on a younger core to continue to impress the crowd at Budweiser Gardens.
This team could still be a playoff team by the time the season is out. Sure, they might not be a favourite to contend come playoff time, that’s what a rebuild is all about.
While it’s clear that the Knights will miss the likes of Thomas, Jones, Pu and Miletic, fans and other OHL clubs should be looking at this as a step towards a more competitive Knights team over the next few seasons. While fans should be excited, their opposition should mark this in their calendars as the point in time when London began paving their way to another OHL championship.
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.