OHL Sunday Seven: Rebuild in Mississauga?

Welcome back to the OHL Sunday Seven. On this week’s edition, we got to spend some time with Mississauga Steelheads coach and GM James Richmond to discuss a variety of topics. He answers the question are the Steelheads rebuilding. We will also start looking around the OHL at draft-eligible prospects either being overlooked or aren’t getting enough attention. We also discuss Chad Yetman scoring goals, Tyler Angle scoring insane goals, the Owen Sound Attack sitting in first place, the one-month OHL MVP and I rant about USA Hockey and the CHL.

1. James Richmond on the Steelheads

“People have been asking me that for two years now,” James Richmond told me Saturday night after his Mississauga Steelheads defeated the Erie Otters 3-2 in a shootout. What question did I pose to him?

“Is this a rebuilding season for the Mississauga Steelheads?” Richmond gave an interesting answer.

“No. We moved some big guys last year so really the last two years we’re trying to get into a position that we can compete this year and next year and maybe the year after,” Richmond said. “We have to do it a little differently in Mississauga. We’re trying to do something differently and trying to be competitive every year. But every now and then you catch lightning in a bottle. The junior hockey when you’re trading away your star players at the deadline, three or four or five teams did it last year and only one team made it.”

Richmond then quickly revisited the year the Steelheads went to the OHL Final. That was the year they lost to the Erie Otters.

“In the same year we faced (The Otters) in the Finals, we didn’t go after any star players. We didn’t trade away any star players. We kind of hung tough and made changes at the bottom of our roster and it helped. So no, I wouldn’t say we are in a rebuild. We’re young. We were a little bit younger last year. We’re still learning and finding our way but we’ll be fine.”

This is a very curious answer especially given the slow start the Steelheads have had. I asked Richmond what has contributed to that.

“I wish I knew. I really wish I knew,” Richmond said. “For a long time now, my teams have started slow so it’s not just this group of kids. It’s something that I’m doing or not doing. I’ve gotta try to figure that out to be better. But we’re going the right way. We had a good weekend. We’ll keep working and see if we can get more next weekend.”

The Steelheads seemed primed to stay the course for now and they’ll see what transpires. Obviously things can change but don’t expect anything major to happen. If you were thinking Thomas Harley might be dealt, sorry, you’ll have to look somewhere else.

James Richmond, OHL, Mississauga Steelheads
James Richmond says that the Steelheads are not in a rebuild. (Photo courtesy of the OHL)

2. The Overlooked: James Hardie

We’re now going to start looking around the OHL on a weekly basis in this space for players that are being overlooked or underestimated in their draft season. No better place to start than with a forward who didn’t even make the Central Scouting Players to Watch list.

Forward James Hardie is off to a good start for the Steelheads. He has six goals and nine points in 10 games. His six goals lead the team. Yet he was not included on the Central Scouting Players to Watch list.

This caught me off guard some and it did to others as well. I asked Richmond about his early thoughts on the play of Hardie.

“I think you if look in his draft class, I think that only five guys in our league have scored more than him,” Richmond said. “So I think he’s really unnoticed for some reason. Because last year he had the same number of goals as Owen Tippett did in his first year. He’s off to a good start this year. It’s hard to say. He’s a great kid. He’s working hard at his game. Scouts are always going to find certain things that players need to work on. But he’s a goal scorer and he’s going to score a lot of goals for us this year.”

Tippett scored 15 goals in 48 games in his first season in Mississauga. Hardie had 15 in 62 games last season. He is someone I will be watching closely. My knock on him is his skating, but that can easily improve as we move along. But if he can show a knack for scoring goals, he will be noticed in no time. He’s on a 40-goal pace in the early going. Can he keep it up?

James Hardie, OHL, Mississauga Steelheads
James Hardie is off to a great start in his draft season despite not getting the attention many others are getting. (Photo courtesy of the OHL)

3. Chad Yetman is Thriving

Erie Otters’ forward Chad Yetman is on a roll. He scored late in the second period on Saturday night to tie their game with the Steelheads at two. His goal marked his sixth straight game with a goal, which is currently the longest active goal streak in the OHL.

Head coach Chris Hartsburg noted a change in his confidence as to the reason for his early success this season.

“The big change from him two years ago until now, he struggled with his confidence,” Hartsburg said. “Chad has put a lot of work in his game to get to this point and he certainly deserves a lot of kudos.”

OHL, Chad Yetman, Erie Otters
Chad Yetman now has goals in six straight games, the longest current streak in the OHL. (Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images)

Yetman while playing as the Otters’ top center has 11 goals on the young season and is one of the reasons they are off to a much better start. His 11 goals leave him just two off the league lead. The goal he scored Saturday was a thing of beauty.

Yetman took a pass at center red and was one on-one with Steelheads defenseman Duncan Penman. Yetman confidently went at Penman and then unleashed a wrist shot using Penman as a screen. You could just see confidence oozing out of Yetman on that shot. In years past, he probably doesn’t pull the trigger there. This year, he does and it helped the Otters gain a point in the standings.

4. Tyler Angle Doing His Best Sonny Milano Impression

The hockey world saw the goal of the year in the NHL on Wednesday night when Blue Jackets’ forward Sonny Milano scored a between the legs goal against Dallas netminder Ben Bishop. Turns out another Blue Jackets’ prospect pulled a similar move.

Windsor forward Tyler Angle pulled his best Milano impression and beat London goaltender Jordan Kooy with the same move. Though Angle’s opportunity was a more clear breakaway, it doesn’t take anything away from the difficulty of the shot. Guess it must be a Blue Jackets’ thing.

5. Owen Sound on the Attack

Don’t look now, but the Owen Sound Attack are on a roll. They sit in first place in the Midwest Division with a 7-2-0-1 record. What’s impressive is who they are beating.

Their latest win was a 4-1 decision over Quinton Byfield and Sudbury. Byfield was held to just one assist on the night. Goaltender Mack Guzda is a major reason for the great start. He stopped 23/24 Wolves’ shots and is now 6-2 on the season with a 2.73 goals against average (2nd in OHL) and a .910 save percentage (4th in OHL.)

The Attack have won five in a row. The five wins have come against Flint, Kitchener, London, Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury. They are getting contributions from all over.

Aidan Dudas is pacing them with 3-10-13. Sergey Popov, Brady Lyle and Barret Kirwan each has double-digit points. The pleasant surprise for them has been rookie Ethan Burroughs. In his first 10 game, the 2019 second rounder has 4-5-9 and seems to fit right in with the way they like to play. Full credit to head coach Alan Letang for getting the Attack off to a great start in the new season.

Mack Guzda, OHL, Owen Sound Attack
Mack Guzda is one of the reasons the Owen Sound Attack are in first place. (Photo courtesy of the OHL.)

6. Quinton Byfield the Early MVP

We know Quinton Byfield is going to hear his name called very early in the 2020 NHL Draft. But what some might not know is just how dominate he has been in the first month of the season.

If the season were to end today, he would have my vote for OHL MVP. He’s been that good.

Byfield’s numbers after 12 games are staggering. He has 10-15-25 in that span. Imagine being only 17 and averaging a goal and an assist every time you step on the ice. That’s Byfield’s season to this point.

Couple that with the fact he will be one of the youngest prospects available in this draft and you see why he’s getting all the hype. Byfield is almost nine months younger than projected first pick Alexis Lafreniere. If Byfield plays like this the whole season, we have to seriously consider him for the top pick. There’s a long way to go but the race for number one isn’t as clear cut as most are making it to be.

Quinton Byfield, OHL, Sudbury Wolves
Quinton Byfield is the first month’s MVP in the OHL. (Photo courtesy of the OHL)

7. Mark’s Rant: CHL US Born Players Being Shafted

So USA Hockey announced that there will be an All-American Game played in Plymouth, MI on Jan 20, 2020. The game is sponsored by BioSteel and will feature many of the top prospects from the United States.

Notice the key word in that last sentence. It says “many” not “all.” According to the press release, the game is a joint effort between USA Hockey, the USHL and NHL and will feature players from the U.S. National Under-18 Team taking on a group of the best American-born players from the USHL, which is the lone Tier-1 junior league in the United States.

Ok. But there’s more.

“The BioSteel All-American Game, which will feature two teams made up of THE top American-born prospects eligible for the 2020 draft…”

Hold it right there. That’s the problem. I do not see any mention of American-born CHL players. Once again, the ongoing rift between U.S.A Hockey and those that go to the CHL is shining in the spotlight.

You cannot say it’s the top-American born prospects if not all of them are there. And to be honest, why is this still a thing? Why do they downgrade those that go elsewhere to play?

It irks me. Just because they choose a different path doesn’t mean they’re any worse of a player. It’s essentially punishment and it’s wrong. Unfortunately I do not see this changing anytime soon. That’s a shame. Playing should be based on where you were born, not what league you chose to play in.

End of rant. See you next time hockey fans.