The 2016-17 OHL season is rapidly approaching, and throughout the 2016 off-season, Mississauga Steelheads General Manager James Boyd and his staff have been working diligently to improve their roster, one which pushed the Central Division champion Barrie Colts to the brink of elimination in their seven-game, first round playoff series.
In terms of the Steelheads’ roster as a whole, it is arguably as strong, if not stronger, than it has ever been in the franchise’s four-year history.
Up front, Mississauga will be led by Michael McLeod and Nathan Bastian, two lifelong friends who were both selected by the New Jersey Devils in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.
Outside of these returnees, the Steelheads will also possess incredible NHL Draft eligible firepower in Owen Tippett and Ryan McLeod. Tippett, who was the fourth overall selection in the 2015 OHL Priority Selection, possesses a wicked shot, while McLeod, the younger brother of Michael, was the third overall selection in 2015.
However, believe it or not, it is the Steelheads’ defense, one which has been drastically improved by Boyd and his staff, while could very well be the most intimidating aspect of Mississauga’s roster in 2016-17.
A Bolstered Blue-Line
Two new acquisitions have dramatically altered the Steelheads’ blue-line, yet it is worth remembering that Mississauga boasted a strong defense core in 2015-16, one which has only improved through another off-season of training and development.
Sean Day, a recent third round selection in the 2016 NHL Draft by the New York Rangers, enters his fourth season with the club once again attempting to quiet his critics. After dramatically improving his defensive game at the cost of his offensive output, Day will look to combine his skills in 2016-17, where he will provide Mississauga with sound defense and production from the back-end.
Further, the Steelheads will ice Nicolas Hague, an intimidating force at 6’5″ who excelled in his rookie season, netting 14 goals and 24 points. A top prospect ahead of the 2017 NHL Draft, Hague has proven his danger from the blue-line, and will surely remain one of Mississauga’s most daunting defenders in 2016-17.
Austin Osmanski, a seventh-round selection of the Buffalo Sabres, will also man the Steelheads’ blue-line. The trio of Day, Hague and Osmanski will continue to develop their respective game’s in Mississauga this coming season, and will do so alongside a pair of newly acquired defenders who are equally skilled and of immense potential.
New Additions Set to Thrive
On top of the Steelheads’ existing blue-line, Boyd made two great acquisitions to improve his defense core by adding Vili Saarijarvi, a third-round selection of the Detroit Red Wings, and Jacob Moverare, a fourth-round pick of the Los Angeles Kings.
Of the two, Saarijarvi is arguably the more promising, as the young ‘Fin notched an incredible 43 points from the blue-line in his rookie OHL season with the Flint Firebirds, 12 of which were goals. Saarijarvi also skated in five ECHL games with the Toledo Walleye, where he grabbed four points including his first professional goal. The trade, which sent Everett Clark and three draft picks, one of which was conditional, to the Flint Firebirds, will provide the Steelheads with an even greater punch from their blue-line.
The second addition, Moverare, was the Steelheads’ first round selection, 20th overall, in the CHL Import Draft, and spent the 2015-16 season with the HV71 J-20 team, where he scored five goals and 21 points over 41. In addition, Moverare has also represented Sweden internationally, in 2015 at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament, and in 2016 at the World Junior Under-18 Championship. A defender with considerable size at 6’3″, 200 pounds, Moverare should have little to no issue acclimating his play to the North American game.
In all, the Steelheads’ previously existing blue-line talent, namely Day, Hague and Osmanksi, in combination with the arrivals of Saarijarvi and Moverare, will provide Mississauga with an incredibly daunting blue-line in the 2016-17 season. A fantastic combination of size, skill, offensive flair and defensive capabilities will allow the Steelheads blue-line to shut down opposing forwards before transitioning the puck to the team’s talented forwards.
The combination of skill up front, as well as on defense, should allow the Steelheads to ice an incredibly competitive team this coming season, if not the most successful of the franchise’s young existence.