2012-13 Ontario Hockey League Predictions: Western Conference
Anaheim Ducks prospect Rickard Rakell (Photo credit: Plymouth Whalers)
By Todd Cordell (@ToddCordell)
With preseason over and done with, the 2012-13 Ontario Hockey League season is set to begin Thursday. Thanks to the NHL lockout, there are a lot of unexpected returnees as well as even more uncertainties. Despite that, it’s time for predictions so I’ll do my best to project how things will play out this year.
Let’s start with the Western Conference.
* division winner
1. Plymouth Whalers* - Always a contender in the Western Conference, the Whalers yet again boast a very good team this season. Featuring a team that has eleven, yes eleven, players drafted by NHL teams, there is no question that the talent to go on a deep playoff run is there.
While they did lose goaltender Scott Wedgewood (Devils), Matt Mahalak (Hurricanes) is more than capable of carrying the load between the pipes. If the likes of Rickard Rakell (Ducks), Tom Wilson (Capitals), Stefan Noesen (Senators), J.T. Miller (Rangers) and the rest of the Whalers star studded lineup produce as they are capable of, they should be the top seeded team heading into the post-season.
2. Kitchener Rangers* - An already potent offense that featured the likes of Radek Faksa (Stars), Tobias Rieder (Oilers), Matia Marcantuoni (Penguins) and Ben Thomas (Devils) up front added a huge piece this off-season in acquiring Matt Puempel (Senators) from the Peterborough Petes. With that kind of firepower up front, Ryan Murphy (Hurricanes) leading the way on defense and John Gibson (Ducks) starting between the pipes every night, the Rangers should have no problem picking up wins on a regular basis. They’ll challenge the Whalers, and any other team in the running, for the Western Conference crown.
2013 draft eligible Max Domi (Photo credit: OHL Images)
3. London Knights - The defending OHL Champions lost their Captain Jarred Tinordi (Canadiens) and 2011-12 OHL goaltender of the year in Michael Houser (Panthers) to the American Hockey League; however, I still think the Knights are good enough to make some more noise this year. With the likes of Seth Griffith (Bruins), Josh Anderson (Blue Jackets) as well as 2013 draft eligibles Max Domi and Bo Horvat up front and a defense core anchored by Olli Maatta (Penguins) and Scott Harrington (Penguins), I think it would be silly to count them out.
4. Guelph Storm - Last year the Storm surprised many by getting into the post-season and giving the Whalers all they could handle in the first round, and there’s no reason to believe they can’t build off that this season.
The Storm should have no problem filling the net with the likes of Scott Kosmachuk (Winnipeg), Tanner Richard (Tampa Bay) and Brock McGinn (Carolina) as well as 2013 draft eligibles Jason Dickinson and Hunter Garlent up front. The steady improvement from Justin Auger makes me think he is ready to contribute, too.
Factor in a respectable defense core with Andrey Pedan (Islanders) and Captain Matt Finn (Maple Leafs) leading the charge and Garret Sparks (Maple Leafs) mending the crease, and you have a pretty complete team that looks ready to surprise some people.
5. Windsor Spitfires - Though the loss of Alexander Khoklachev (Bruins) to the KHL stings, I expect bigger and better things from the Spitfires this year. Brady Vail (Canadiens), Ben Johnson (Devils), Michael Clarke (Avalanche), as well 2013 draft eligibles Kerby Rychel and Jordan Maletta should all be much improved and will be expected to lead the charge up front. Windsor also has some other help coming as recently acquired Derek Schoenmakers and rookie Josh Ho-Sang will contribute as well.
On defense the Spitfires received a big boost as Patrick Sieloff (Flames) decided to come to Windsor instead of heading the NCAA route and playing college hockey. Nick Ebert (Kings) has reportedly looked great in preseason and appears poised for a big season as well.
If the surrounding cast that features Brandon Devlin, veteran Saverio Posa, and 2013 draft eligible Adam Bateman, among a couple others, holds up and Jaroslav Pavelka gives Windsor good, consistent goaltending, it is possible they host a first round playoff series.
Montreal Canadiens prospect Alex Galchenyuk (Photo credit: Metcalfe Photography)
6. Sarnia Sting - The Sting are an interesting team this year. Even with the loss of Nail Yakupov (Oilers), they still have quite a bit of firepower up front. If Alex Galchenyuk (Canadiens) can stay healthy and get back on track, he could challenge for the scoring title. If Galchenyuk does that and the Sting can get some consistent offense from Reid Boucher (Devils), Charles Sarault and 2013 draft eligible Davis Brown, they should be able to compete and ultimately earn a playoff spot.
That’s assuming defenseman Connor Murphy (Coyotes) and goaltender J.P. Anderson (Sharks) play to the level they are capable of and keep things stable in Sarnia’s end of the rink, of course.
7. Owen Sound Attack - I really like this Attack team. They have a lot of talent up front with Artur Gavrus (Devils), Gemel Smith (Stars) and Daniel Catenacci (Sabres) leading the way as well as a solid defense core that features several steady veterans as well as some highly touted young guns. As long as goaltender Jordan Binnington (Blues), who I am really high on, stays healthy Owen Sound should be able to contend this year.
If Jarrod Maidens (Senators), who is currently dealing with concussion issues, were healthy and ready to go for the start of the season, I would probably have the Attack a spot or two higher in the standings.
Philadelphia Flyers prospect Nick Cousins (Photo credit: OHL Images)
8. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds - They have one of the best forwards in the OHL in Nick Cousins (Flyers), one of the best defenseman in the OHL in Ryan Sproul (Red Wings), two highly touted 2013 draft eligibles in forward Sergei Tolchinsky and defenseman Darnell Nurse as well as a very talented goaltender in Matt Murray (Penguins). If this team can stay focused on hockey and put the talent they have to use, they should make the playoffs and probably finish higher than where I have them projected.
9. Erie Otters - I really like what they’ve done this off-season in drafting 15-year-old Connor McDavid and bringing Swedish goaltender Oscar Dansk (Blue Jackets) over from Sweden, but I’m not sure it’s enough to get them back in the playoffs. A lot of their good, young players have improved, too, but in an extremely tough Western Conference I think they’ll fall just short of the 8th playoff spot. With that said, the Otters will be a lot better this year and I wouldn’t necessarily be shocked if they found a way to sneak in.
10. Saginaw Spirit – The Spirit have some good young players and a pretty good core for the future in place, but I don’t think they have it in them to find much success this year. They’re losing arguably the best player in the league in Brandon Saad (Blackhawks) to the AHL and I think that alone is enough to knock them out of a playoff spot they held last year. Yes, Saad is that good.
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