2013 OHL Playoffs: Western Conference Preview and Predictions
London Knights (1) vs. Saginaw Spirit (8)
Maatta looks to carry a talented Knights team deep into the post-season (Photo courtesy of Terry Wilson / OHL Images)
Season Series: 3-1 London Knights
Key Players: Max Domi (Knights), Seth Griffith (Knights), Bo Horvat (Knights), Olli Maatta (Knights), Eric Locke (Spirit), Garret Ross (Spirit), Jimmy Lodge (Spirit)
X-Factors: Goaltenders Anthony Stolarz (Knights) and Jake Paterson (Spirit) could make or break this series for their team.
Preview: Simply looking at the OHL Standings, one would think that the London Knights (50-13-2-3) hold an astronomical advantage over the Saginaw Spirits (32-29-4-3) heading into the opening round of playoff action. However, the Spirit played the Knights hard this season, as two of their three losses were by a single goal to the OHL’s most outstanding team.
The Knights have the playoff experience to make a long run but they remain without their top defender, Scott Harrington (Penguins), due to injury and their top forward, Seth Griffith (Bruins) will be just returning from missing substantial time with injury. Max Domi will play a bigger role than last post-season after leading the team in regular scoring with 87 points and fellow draft eligible teammate, Bo Horvat, will be counted upon heavily to shut down Saginaw’s top line of Eric Locke and Garret Ross. Domi and Horvat, along with Nikita Zadorov, will have the opportunity to showcase their talents to scouts as they look to improve their NHL draft status as these three projected first round players near the upcoming draft.
Saginaw’s Eric Locke (2013 eligible) is coming off a breakout season that should see him drafted this June after being paired with Chicago Blackhawks prospect Garret Ross. The Spirit have the potential to steal a few games especially with a standout goaltender in Jake Paterson (Red Wings), but in the end, the London Knights’ depth that includes Josh Anderson (Blue Jackets), Alex Broadhurst (Blackhawks), Chris Tierney (Sharks), Matt and Ryan Rupert (Maple Leafs) will likely prove too talented for Saginaw to match up against.
Brendan Ross’ Prediction: London Knights in 5
Todd Cordell’s Prediction: London Knights in 5
Plymouth Whalers (2) vs. Sarnia Sting (7)
Photo courtesy of Mark Wanzel / The Barrie Examiner
Season Series: 4-2 Plymouth Whalers
Key Players: Vincent Trocheck (Whalers), Garrett Meurs (Whalers), Ryan Hartman (Whalers), Stefan Noesen (Whalers), Charlie Sarault (Sting), Reid Boucher (Sting), JP Anderson (Sting)
X-Factors: If Rickard Rakell (Whalers) can play up to his potential at both ends of the rink, he could stifle the Sting’s potent top line quickly. Sarnia will need Bryan Moore (Sting) and Nikolay Goldobin (Sting) to step up into a larger offensive role if the team has any chance of providing the necessary secondary scoring to win.
Preview: In the opening three divisional matchups between Sarnia and Plymouth, the games were close battles but in the latter three games, Plymouth’s size, depth of skill and overall talent dominated the Sarnia Sting outscoring Sarnia 20-4. The matchup features the Ontario Hockey League’s top two scorers in Vincent Trocheck (Panthers) and Charlie Sarault (Ducks), as well as the league’s top goal scorer in Sarnia’s Reid Boucher (Devil), who netted 62 goals in regular season. Sting overage goaltender J.P. Anderson (Sharks) will need to steal a few games to give the Sarnia Sting any chance of succeeding past the opening round. Sting Head Coach Jacques Beaulieu strategized well against his former London Knights’ team during regular season play limiting their offensive chances by a stifling defensive system and if he can successfully implement a similar plan versus Plymouth then Sarnia could potentially quiet their doubters. However, the pure size of the Plymouth Whalers squad that includes imposing players like Tom Wilson (Capitals) and Cody Payne (Bruins), plus relentless forecheckers in Ryan Hartman (2013 eligible), and Garrett Meurs (Avalanche) will prove the ultimate challenge for an undersized Sting team in a seven-game series. Plymouth’s Stefan Noesen (Senators) has had an up-and-down season but he is a player to keep an eye on as his style of play is suited nicely for playoff action and he there is potential he snaps out of his underwhelming recent play.
Sarnia’s mid-season loss of top forward Alex Galchenyuk (Canadiens) to the NHL and top defenseman Connor Murphy (Coyotes) to a season-ending injury crippled the Sting’s playoff chances. The lack of secondary scoring has been a huge issue for the Sarnia Sting as Galchenyuk, Sarault, Boucher and Goldobin provided 57% of the team’s 247 goals this season. Rookies Brett Hargrave, Alex Renaud and Davis Brown, as well as Bryan Moore failed to provide the offensive support during regular season so it’s doubtful their post-season performances will result in anything different. Sarnia holds the advantage in net, but unless J.P. Anderson can put together four game-stealing feats, look for the Whalers and their eleven NHL-drafted players to barrel their way over the Sarnia Sting.
Brendan Ross’ Prediction: Plymouth Whalers in 5
Todd Cordell’s Prediction: Plymouth Whalers in 6
Owen Sound Attack (3) vs. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (6)
Flyers’ prospect Nick Cousins will give Owen Sound everything they can handle (Photo courtesy of OHL Images)
Season Series: 2-0 Owen Sound Attack
Key Players: Daniel Catenacci (Attack), Cameron Brace (Attack), Cody Ceci (Attack), Nick Cousins (Greyhounds), Brandon Alderson (Greyhounds), Ryan Sproul (Greyhounds)
X-Factors: This series features some real competitors and the difference between winning and losing could come down to which team shuts down the other’s top lines the best so look towards a few key defensive performances from Nathan Chiarlitti (Attack) and Darnell Nurse (Greyhounds) as potential difference makers.
Preview: The two most Northern teams in the Western Conference meet up in the first round in what should be one of the best matchups in the conference. Greg Ireland has his Owen Sound Attack playing a tight defensive system as players work hard in an attempt to suffocate their opponents. Built strongly from the net out, Owen Sound’s talent starts in goal with World Junior netminder Jordan Binnington, an elite OHL puck stopper. On the blue line, Nathan Chiarlitti is the league’s most underrated defensive defenseman and after posting a league leading plus-41 rating among defensemen, he won’t be giving the Greyhounds many chances. Acquired at the trade deadline, Cody Ceci (Senators) has transitioned well into the Attack’s lineup and him and the draft eligible Chris Bigras will lead the rush from the back end. On the front lines, Daniel Catenacci (Sabres), Cameron Brace, Gemel Smith (Stars), Zach Nastasiuk (2013 eligible) and the re-invigorated Artur Gavrus (Devils) will provide the scoring punch.
After a slow start to the season, Head Coach Sheldon Keefe has turned the Greyhounds around and into one of the more difficult teams to play against in the OHL. With a good blend of size, skill and toughness, look for the Sault Ste Marie to push the pace against the Attack which will be led by the always-pesky Nick Cousins (Flyers). The Hounds will certainly miss the scoring prowess of rookie Sergei Tolchinsky (2013 eligible) after injuring himself late in the season. As a result, Jared McCann (2014 eligible), David Broll (Maple Leafs), Brandon Alderson (Flyers), Michael Schumacher (Kings) and Andrew Fritsch (Coyotes) will need to continue to provide consistent and timely secondary scoring for Sault Ste. Marie.
With several notable 2013 NHL Draft eligible skaters competing in this series, look for scouts to flock to the North to keep tabs on Darnell Nurse, Mitchell Dempsey, Chris Bigras and Zach Nastasiuk. The Attack-Greyhounds series features the OHL’s top two scoring defensemen in Ryan Sproul (Red Wings) and Cody Ceci (Senators) and this battle will be intriguing to follow as this series unfolds.
Brendan Ross’ Prediction: Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in 7
Todd Cordell’s Prediction: Owen Sound Attack in 6
Kitchener Rangers (4) vs. Guelph Storm (5)
Photo courtesy of Aaron Bell / OHL Images
Season Series: 5-3 Kitchener Rangers
Key Players: Tobias Rieder (Rangers), Josh Leivo (Rangers), Ryan Murphy (Rangers), Scott Kosmachuk (Storm), Tanner Richard (Storm), Garret Sparks (Storm)
X-Factors: The Rangers have plenty of high-end skilled players capable of burying the puck but Matt Puempel (Senators) could really make life difficult for the Storm if he gets hot. Likewise, Guelph’s Brock McGinn (Hurricanes) is a hard working skilled winger and his ability to agitate and score timely goals is exactly what Guelph needs to unseat Kitchener.
Preview: With less than twenty-five kilometres separating Guelph’s Sleeman Centre and the Kitchener Auditorium, there will certainly be no home-team advantage. The local rivalry will create an atmosphere unmatched by any other first round OHL matchup. Kitchener’s John Gibson (Ducks) and Guelph’s Garret Sparks (Maple Leafs) will be a fantastic battle to watch as these gold-medal winning 2013 World Junior teammates will unquestionably be eager to send the other home early.
The Rangers feature a potent lineup of dangerous forwards on paper but the team has not played up to their expectations this season. With the return of John Gibson from injury, Kitchener’s play could really take off with an increased confidence competing in-front of the OHL’s best goaltender. Ryan Murphy (Hurricanes), Radek Faksa (Stars), Matia Marcantuoni (Penguins), Ben Thomson (Devils) and Justin Bailey (2013 eligible) have all had underwhelming seasons but Head Coach Steve Spott will be especially thankful if they can amp up their play for a long post season run and help Josh Leivo (Maple Leafs) and Tobias Rieder (Oilers) provide some consistent offense. On the back end, Frankie Corrado (Canucks), Evan McEneny and Ben Fanelli will join Murphy and log huge minutes for the blue shirts.
The Storm do not have the same offensive weaponry but Scott Kosmachuk (Jets), Tanner Richard (Lightning), Zack Mitchell, Brock McGinn (Hurricanes) and Jason Dickinson (2013 eligible) are more than capable of providing sufficient offense. Head Coach Scott Walker has a few underrated talents in rookie Robert Fabbri (2014 eligible), Hunter Garlent (2013 eligible) and Justin Auger (2013 eligible) that could surprise and provide trouble for the Kitchener defense core. Islanders prospect Andrey Pedan and Zac Leslie (2013 eligible) will need to play flawless defense, especially since their defensive leader in Matt Finn (Maple Leafs) was recently injured.
The recent return of Rangers’ starting goaltender John Gibson and devastating injury to Storm defender Matt Finn certainly shifts this series in favour of Kitchener.
Brendan Ross’ Prediction: Kitchener Rangers in 6
Todd Cordell’s Prediction: Guelph Storm in 6
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