This is Part 2 of a 4 Part Series.
Part 2: Kingston Frontenacs, Kitchener Rangers, London Knights, Mississauga Steelheads, Niagara Ice Dogs
The Kingston Frontenacs are going to be one of the younger teams in the OHL this season, losing a significant majority of their older, veteran corps from last season. The team, which finished second from last in the league standings a season ago, drafted well this past summer and made one of the smartest trades they could have when acquiring Ryan Kujawinski last season from Sarnia. Kingston has traded away two players acquired last season — Jack Nevins (to London) and Adam Lloyd (to Oshawa) — as well as sending Alex Gudbranson to Sault Ste. Marie, but they still managed to keep the majority of their offensively productive players on the roster. Darcy Greenaway and Cody Alcock will both return; they and Kujawinski could become the team’s new top line. Billy Jenkins and rookie Slater Doggett will also help out, especially with Petr Beránek returning to his native Czech Republic. Additionally, they have signed 2011 draft pick Marc Beckstead, who had a very solid season in the Central Tier 1 Junior Hockey League in 2011-12. The Frontenacs’ second-round import draft selection, Henri Ikonen, has also put up significant numbers in the Jr. A SM-liiga with KalPa Kuopio, so the Savonlinna, Finland, native can be another key contributor.
On the defence, the departure of Gudbranson has paved the way for Nashville Predators draft pick Mikko Vainonen to come in and become the new stalwart on the blueline. Vainonen, who will forgo a professional contract with HIFK Helsinki to play in Kingston, is a strong two-way defenceman with size, skill and leadership, captaining the Finns’ recent squad at the World Under-18s. He also gives the Frontenacs an NHL draft pick on their roster for the 2012-13 season as no members of the team were chosen in the NHL Entry Draft out of the organization for a second straight year. He will surely help in the development of Braydon Blight, Roland McKeown and Ryan Hutchinson, especially now with Andrew Tessier heading to the QMJHL as well as Kyler Nixon and Michael Moffat almost done their OHL careers. Additionally, Warren Steele surely came into his own last season, providing both stability and offensive production that could see him score double-digit goal totals this year. In goal, the Frontenacs have signed former Rangers and Petes netminder Michael Morrison to replace workhorse Igor Bobkov, who has already an NHL rookie camp to his credit. Morrison’s backup will likely be Craig Wood or Blake Richard since Jacob Riley, who was acquired last year from the Owen Sound Attack, has left to play in the MJAHL.
The Kitchener Rangers are expecting to build upon what was a successful season in 2011-12 when they made it all the way to the OHL Western Conference finals, where they were eliminated by the eventual league champions from London. Kitchener is going to have some key players returning up front this season, including NHL prospects Radek Faksa (Dallas), Matia Marcantuoni (Pittsburgh), Ben Thomson (New Jersey) and Andrew Crescenzi (Toronto). That being said, however, they will be even further ameliorated with the addition of Matt Puempel in a trade with Peterborough during the offseason. The Ottawa Senators third first-rounder in 2011 will be looking to end his major junior career on a high note and possibly with a league championship. With the knowledge that the Rangers chose Slovak forward Juraj Bezúch in the CHL Import Draft from the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes, and that Faksa may return for another season, it is not known where that leaves German import forward Tobias Rieder in the Rangers’ plans going into this campaign. Rookie Justin Bailey is also expected to do well.
On the defence, there is a possibility that Ryan Murphy could be back but, other than him, the blueline is rather thin. Ben Fanelli’s return last year surely helped but, other than him, the team has quite a young corps with only two rearguards — Max Iafrate and Evan McEneny — with more than one OHL season under their belts. Stephen Midensky and Cory Genovese, however, did quite well despite their inexperience last year, hoping to build on rookie season success. The goaltending, however, is going to be quite solid. John Gibson played very well for Kitchener last year after signing out of the USNTDP while Franky Palazzese played exceptionally in his first year with the Rangers after coming over from Kingston.
THW Says: “The Rangers were able to advance further than expected in the playoffs last season, and ended up making it to the Western Conference final. Though they were clearly up against a much better team in London, the Rangers put up a good fight. With Matia Marcantuoni returning to full strength this season, and OHL rookies Justin Bailey and Matt Schmalz ready to step into the lineup, the Rangers could very well end up grabbing the second position for the playoffs.” ~ David O’Connor
The London Knights may find themselves with a slight hangover this season after winning the J. Ross Robertson Cup as OHL champions last year. Many of the key players who were on that roster will not be returning this year, including goaltender Michael Houser, playoff MVP Austin Watson, captain Jarred Tinordi, Russian import Vladislav Namestnikov, alternate captain Jared Knight and unsung hero Colin Martin. Additionally, Andreas Athanasiou has been traded to Barrie. That being said, however, the team will have some key players returning such as Max Domi, Seth Griffith (a Boston Bruins draft pick), Matt and Ryan Rupert, Josh Anderson, Chris Tierney and Brett Welychka. Domi, a highly-ranked prospect for the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, will be expected to build upon a fantastic rookie season; the same will be expected from Bo Horvat, another highly-ranked player. They are hopeful that Los Angeles Kings draft pick Nikolay Prokhorkin can come and help their offence.
The Knights will also be hoping for the return of their two Pittsburgh Penguins drafted defencemen, Scott Harrington and Olli Määttä. Their departures, as well as that of Jarred Tinordi, will leave a significant hole on their blueline but there could be help coming in the form of Nikita Zadorov, a Russian rookie. In goal, the Knights have brought in a reliable new #1 in Kevin Bailie after the soon-to-be overager spent the bulk of his career in Oshawa; additionally, they have their first-round pick in the 2012 OHL Priority Selection, Liam Herbst, under contract, as well. Houser’s goaltending will be missed but Bailie has shown in his time with the Generals that he is capable of securing the #1 job. Optimism, however, can abound with the Knights as they historically can look defeated upon such graduation but they come back with incredible talent to replace that which was lost.
THW Says: “The Knights are the pre-season favorites to take home the OHL Championship one more time. Their depth at forward is outstanding, and with young studs in Max Domi and Bo Horvat ready to take the next step, London will have quite the team this season. They will miss some of the veteran presence they had last year, however, London will have an opportunity to win each and every game they play.” ~ David O’Connor
The Mississauga Steelheads appear to be one of the more desperate teams in the Eastern Conference of the OHL this season. The team, who no longer employ the St. Michael’s affiliation that they had for several years, are on the cusp of losing several of their key players but they should be thankful that they will get the opportunity to have those veterans this year so that the younger players who are coming in will have good role models. Up front, the Steelheads will have one more year with the services of Riley Brace, who came into his own last season with an 82-point campaign in 65 games. As an overager this year, Brace’s leadership is surely going to help the younger players yet again. Scott Teskey and Spenser Cobbold will surely benefit. The team has lost both of their import forwards from last season — Sergey Kuptsov has been traded and Mika Partanen has gone home — so the team is hopeful that Semyon Babintsev, who they chose in the 2012 CHL Import Draft, could come and help with the offence.
On the blueline, the Steelheads are fortunate to have three very solid defencemen in the OHL, something that will help them compete in the very tight Central Division. It all starts with Stuart Percy. The team’s captain, a 2011 first-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs, missed some time last season with an injury but, if he remains healthy, he will be one of the league’s premier defenders. Dylan DeMelo showed his leadership and offensive instincts frequently last year, something that the team will need out of the San Jose Sharks draft pick again this year. Perhaps one defenceman who will be looked upon to be even more solid than he was last year is Trevor Carrick, whose stellar play in 2011-12 warranted him being drafted by Carolina. The team has other young defencemen, such as Ryan Duhaime, Jacob Graves and possibly Chad Duchesne, if he is signed to an OHL contract. In goal, the future is now for Spencer Martin. Considered one of the best 1995-born goaltenders in the CHL, Martin is highly thought of for the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. The Steelheads had chosen Andrei Vasilevski in the 2012 CHL Import Draft but, if he does not report, they planned ahead by acquiring veteran Tyson Teichmann to help tutor their young netminder.
The Niagara IceDogs are going to look significantly younger this coming OHL season. Many of the players who helped them become one of the more successful teams in the league over the last season are leaving for professional careers, leaving only a few of the members of their team that went to the OHL finals last year remaining. Up front, the IceDogs are losing elite players such as Freddie Hamilton, Andrew Agozzino, Alex Friesen, David Pacan, Steven Shipley and Tom Kühnhackl. The IceDogs can hope, though, that they will be able to have Ryan Strome return from the New York Islanders yet again unless the team decides to keep him. If Strome does not return, though, another Islanders draft pick who can have a significant impact is Mitchell Theoret. The winger, most known for his tenacious play, is starting to find his offensive touch and he scored 12 goals last season. As well, Brett Ritchie is a very talented scorer who could be a possible choice for team captain. The IceDogs can also expect good things from Joel Wigle, Carter Verhaeghe, Trevor Petersen, Broderick Kelly and Derek Todosichuk.
On the defence, the IceDogs will lose the size of Jamie Oleksiak but they can ill afford to lose Dougie Hamilton. Although he could come back to Niagara, Hamilton, who was the OHL’s top defenceman last year, is NHL ready and he could possibly start the 2012-13 season in Boston. Thankfully, Jesse Graham has played well enough to become an elite blueliner in his own right; Luke Mercer is also starting to become very solid. Overagers Brock Beukeboom and Mitch Bennett can also help out. The team is also losing Milan Doudera who is returning to his native Czech Republic. The biggest hole for the IceDogs, however, will be in goal. Mark Visentin is on the way to start his professional career, leaving the job to Chris Festarini and 16-year-old rookie Brent Moran. Visentin’s steady play in goal will be missed but, hopefully, Festarini can show what he did last year after coming over from Erie yet again.