The OHL: 2010-11 Eastern Conference Breakdown

Mitch HeimpelContributor ISeptember 10, 2010

The OHL: 2010-11 Eastern Conference Breakdown

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    TORONTO - JANUARY 12:  Head Coach Brian Kilrea of the Ottawa 67's looks on from behind the bench against the Toronto St. Michael's Majors during the OHL game on January 12, 2006 at St. Michael's School Arena.  The 67's won 4-2.  (Photo by Graig Abel/Getty
    Graig Abel/Getty Images

    The Memorial Cup is making it's first trip to the OHL's Eastern Conference since 1999 when it was in Ottawa. Then as now, the 67's look to be in a strong position to contend. But who's up and who's down in the OHL's East? Who's going to be most effected by graduation and who's looking at some smooth sailing into early spring?

    Every year the OHL's Eastern Conference is a schizophrenic conference. Last year, there was a massive power imbalance between the East and Central Divisions, this year the power appears to be moving back East with one lingering giant remaining in the Central to cow it's lesser sisters as the Memorial Cup hosts, Mississauga, load up for a long playoff run.

    We'll deal with all these questions, and maybe a few fun analysis.

1. Mississauga Majors

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    Key Losses: Cameron Gaunce, Chris Carrozzi, Blake Parlett

    Key Additions: Justin Shugg, Marc Cantin, Mika Partanen

    Needs: More size, scoring depth

    If This Team Were a Rock Song or Album?

    Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles. It's really, really, really good but you'll still like other albums more.

    The Majors are a very good team. Do they compare favorably to the last few OHL hosts of the Memorial Cup? Probably not. Dave Cameron is as good a coach as you'll find in the OHL and his style gets results.

    The Majors play a suffocating defensive style that even carried Chris Carrozzi to an OHL Goaltender of the Year award last season over the more deserving Matt Hackett.

    The Majors are deep, but not too deep. Not small, but not big. Solid, but not spectacular. That, in combination with their defensive system will be enough to rule the East.

    When put up against the West though, the Majors will need some help. They drafted Maxim Kitsyn in last summer's Import Draft and his status is as yet unconfirmed.

    The rumoured Ryan Ellis deal with Windsor is expected some time in early January and until then, the Majors are left without a true No.1 defenseman, though Marc Cantin, Brett Flemming, and Stuart Percy will no doubt do their best to compensate.

2. Ottawa 67's

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    Key Losses: Julien Demers, Tyler Cuma, Corey Cowick, Anthony Nigro

    Key Additions: TBD

    Needs: De-fence!

    If This Team Were a Rock Song or Album?

    The Pretender by Jackson Browne. The title really says it all.

    I think the 67's have the makings of a very good regular season team and a very underachieving playoff team.

    First, the rumor is the 67's are returning Nesbitt, Gibbons, and Lindsay as their over-agers, which means the team's best playmaker and one of its best two-way forwards in Anthony Nigro will not be back, likely in Peoria of the AHL.

    Second, the defence gets really thin after Ceci and Gibbons. Marc Zanetti is a passable second-pairing defenseman but come playoff time, you'd prefer to have other options to roll over the boards.

    One thing Ottawa can do is score. Toffoli, Martindale, Nesbitt, Lindsay, Smith, Prince, and Import Robert Farmer give the 67's considerable depth up front.

    That, in addition to Petr Mrazek's emergence last spring as a legitimate ace goaltender, will be enough to get Ottawa to the division crown in the regular season.

    The problem with teams that are all offence is that they eventually run into a hot goaltender and if Ottawa met say Niagara's Mark Visentin or Kingston's Philip Grubauer when they were hot, they could find themselves in trouble very quickly.

    They need to add some depth to the blueline. The old maxim in sports is an old maxim for a reason, defence wins championships.

3. Kingston Frontenacs

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    Key Losses: Joe Pleckaitis, Brian Lashoff,  Zach Harnden, Tyler Beskorowany

    Key Additions: Philip Grubauer

    Biggest Need: Game-breaking forward

    If This Team Were a Rock Song or Album?

    "Dirty Deeds (Done Dirt Cheap)" by AC/DC. A great song about ferocity and testosterone but like most AC/DC, all about Angus Young.

    The Fronts are praying that the Cats return Erik Gudbranson and the indications to this point are that they will.

    On defence, Kingston has some very solid tools with Gudbranson and Doherty making for one of the biggest, if not the biggest one-two punch in the O.

    Behind Gudbranson and Doherty are Jaroslav Kruzik, Tyler Mort, Cameron Odam, Clark Seymour, and Erik's little brother, Alex ,which gives the Fronts some good punch deep into the lineup.

    Odam and Mort aren't anything special by any stretch, but they'll likely be five and six defenders by season's end and thus, negligible if their impact is positive or negative.

    Up front, the same story is true. Headliners Nathan Moon and Ethan Werek are back and joined by playmakers Mike Farrell (not the one who played BJ Hunnicutt) and Michael Fine.

    Deeper into the lineup, one comes across the names of Steven Broek, Alan Quine, Derek Froats, Charles Sarault, Mitch Lebar, and Cory Durocher, who are all projected to take a step forward from their play last season.

    Broek, Froats, and Durocher, in particular, will be counted on to improve from their first full OHL season, and impose their will more consistently as they're counted among the Fronts' bigger forwards.

    Still, Kingston needs another game-breaker to play with Ethan Werek. Kingston was very much in the driver's seat of last year's playoff series against Brampton until Matt Clark put Werek awkwardly into the boards in Game 6, sidelining the Kingston forward for Game 7.

4. Oshawa Generals

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    Key Losses: Jeff Hayes

    Key Additions: Lucas Lessio, Nicklas Jensen, Scott Laughton

    Needs: De-fence!

    If This Team Were a Rock Song or Album?

    "Rebel Yell" by Billy Idol. A group of big youngsters who will take a pounding and just cry "more, more, more."

    Listen, the Oshawa experience is gonna depend a lot on the returns of Calvin de Haan and Tony DeHart.

    The expectation is that the Islanders will decide that de Haan shouldn't face a pro schedule so soon after major shoulder surgery and they'll return him to Oshawa. DeHart is a 1990 and a little harder to judge. He could be sent to AHL Bridgeport this season, but the Islanders could opt, as the Panthers and Leafs did last year with Scott Timmins and Dale Mitchell in Windsor, to send them back to an established junior program with a good reputation.

    Even if the Gennies return both de Haan and De Hart, I'd expect them to go looking for some decent second-pairing defensemen to stand alongside Scott Valentine to get their young guys some playoff experience this season.

    Up front, the Generals are solid. Returnees Christian Thomas, Boone Jenner, Alain Berger, Andy Andreoff, and Jeff Brown will be joined by Lucas Lessio, Nicklas Jensen, and Scott Laughton to give the Generals one of the deepest forward punches in the league. Putting pucks in the net won't or at least shouldn't be a concern in Oshawa this season.

    Michael Zador has drifted between competent and lacklustre thus far in his OHL career. He's looking to get signed by the Tampa Bay Lightning this season, so I expect he'll step it up a notch.

5. Niagara Ice Dogs

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    Key Losses: Reggie Traccito

    Key Additions: Jesse Graham, Luke Mercer

    Needs: Experience

    If This Team Were a Rock Song or Album?

    "Baba O'Riley" by The Who. Tale of hard-working, angry teenagers fighting the odds? Sounds like the Dogs to me this season.

    The plainest explanation is this, the Dogs will go as far as Mark Visentin is able to take them this year. While technically accurate, that description is also needlessly simplistic. The plain truth is that there is a lot to this Ice Dogs team beyond the masked man who will surely be their Ryan Miller this season.

    New Coach Marty Williamson regularly got much more out of much lesser teams while he was in Barrie and he has some pieces to work with here. Freddie Hamilton, Andrew Agozzino, and Alex Friesen are halfway decent headliners who make up for what they lack in pure natural talent by being some of the OHL's more tireless workers. They're supported by some decent depth in Andrew Shaw, Dylan MacEachern, Andrew Fritsch, and Ryan Strome.

    You could argue that the Ice Dogs are a little lacking in blueline help. Dougie Hamilton will probably be a first-rounder in the June Draft and was solid for Canada at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament, but he'd better be ready for 25-plus minutes a night. Next to Hamilton will be Matt Petgrave, but after them, the Dogs would like to see some early signs of adjustment from Jesse Graham and Luke Mercer, who were both top 10 picks in last May's Priority Selection.

6. Peterborough Petes

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    Key Losses: Pat Daley, Liam Heelis

    Key Additions: Slater Koekkook

    Needs: Depth

    If This Team Were a Rock Song or Album?

    Greetings from Asbury Park NJ by Bruce Springsteen. The best it has to offer will thankfully make you forget the other songs still on the album.

    Dealing realistically with the Petes, you can start exactly where you want to with Matt Puempel, Austin Watson, and Ryan Spooner. The problem is that you can pretty much end there as well.

    It almost goes without saying that the Petes are gonna have to split up the big three to get the second line rolling at some point. You'd feel better about the Petes offence if they had even one player beyond the big three that made you think they could be a 20-goal scorer, but they don't.

    The smart money is that Spooner gets bumped down to the second line at some point. The hope will be to spark Zach Tatrn who arrived in Peterborough four years ago with Zack Kassian and a lot of promise, but hasn't justified it in the least since then.

    One player who should live up to his billing is Slater Koekkook.

    There were many last spring who thought he was the second-best defender available in the draft after only Nick Ebert. Koekkook will likely be given the reins to the Petes' power play this season. He brings good size and physicality to the table, as well as the potential for considerable offensive upside.

    Although the Sudbury Wolves heard the same thing when Justin Sefton left Koekkook's alma mater of Notre Dame a year ago. Nothing to show for it in the Nickel City and the same could just as easily be true in the Kawarthas.

    The return of goaltending giant, Jason Missiaen, stabilizes the net situation, but he's going to have to be much better than the goaltender who couldn't get a contract last season.

7. Belleville Bulls

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    Key Losses: Shawn Lalonde

    Key Additions: Brendan Gaunce

    Needs: Defensive Depth

    If This Team were a Rock Album or Song?

    With the Beatles by the Beatles. You get the sense that this is a young group still finding their way. There are gonna be some big hits and some big misses.

    They're still the baby Bulls for another year. Once again, the leader of this team is going to be on the blueline as Stephen Silas steps in for Shawn Lalonde who stepped in for PK Subban.

    Up front, the Bulls form a pretty good core of offensive weapons. Top forwards Austen Brassard, Alex Aleardi, Luke Judson, Adam Payerl, Andy Bathgate, Michael Curtis, and Kyle DeCoste will be joined by promising rookie Brendan Gaunce. If the Tampa Bay Lightning send Richard Panik back to Belleville, they could have offensive depth almost on par with that of the Oshawa Generals.

    On the back end, the defence isn't bad, it's just missing a couple legitimate top four pieces. Stephen Silas is no doubt a top-pairing CHL defender and sophomore Alex Basso showed some potential last season. After them, the two most notable names on the defensive chart are Bjorn Krupp and Paul Bezzo, but neither has shown to be anything more than third-pairing defenders.

    Goaltender Tyson Teichmann looked like the real deal at the Ivan Hlinka and right now is probably the top goaltending prospect for the 2011 Draft.

8. Sudbury Wolves

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    Key Losses: John Kurtz, Daniel Maggio

    Key Additions: Robert Visca, Andrei Kuchin, Matthew Campagna

    Needs: Goaltending, scoring depth

    If This Team Were a Rock Song or Album:

    "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" by U2. Title once again says it all.

    The Wolves are mired in mediocrity. They've made some positive steps but never seem to make a complete culture change. If ever there was a season to do it, this is it. Daniel Maggio's departure should be a symbol of moving out the old and bringing in the new.

    The simple fact is that the Wolves are never going to be able to contend for a playoff spot with the goaltending they have. There are teams where Alain Valiquette would be in a life-and-death struggle just to be the backup. This isn't a team built to contend and no one—this mandates emphasis—no one in the Wolves front office should think it is.

    There are some good pieces. Marcus Foligno and Ben Chiarot will both probably fetch good returns when they're traded, which will invariably help in the rebuilding. Frankie Corrado and Justin Sefton speak well for the future of the Wolves blueline. Sefton might have struggled a bit last year, but the kid is too talented to be kept down for too long.

    Up front, there needs to transition from the Foligno era to the McFarland era. The former No. 1 OHL pick has to take over this year. It has to become his room and his team. Bringing in complimentary offensive pieces like Visca and Kuchin, who aren't holdovers from the Foligno era, are a good start. Eric O'Dell's rumoured mid-season return from the Atlanta Thrashers organization is another thing that should help the Wolves into the playoffs.

9. Barrie Colts

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    Key Losses:  Nick Crawford, TJ Brodie, Alex Pietrangelo, Zac Rinaldo, Matt Kennedy, Stefan Della Rovere, Alex Hutchings (likely), Alex Burmistrov, Luke Pither, Bryan Cameron

    Key Additions: Petr Beranek

    Needs: Everything but goaltending

    If This Team Were a Rock Song or Album?

    "It's All Over Now" by the Rolling Stones.

    The Colts were a popular pick, mostly by disgruntled Knights, Storm, and Rangers fans last spring to upset the Windsor Spitfires. That story ended in Barrie being rather unceremoniously swept. The Colts got hit with a massive graduation in the offseason and the amount of hope left in Barrie is low.

    The Colts should return Kyle Clifford, Dalton Prout, Taylor Carnevale, and Darren Archibald. These four might be just enough to prevent the Colts from being an outright disaster early in the season. In addition to a new coach in former NHLer Dale Hawerchuck, there just isn't a lot of hope that the Colts will continue their impressive franchise playoff streak.

    But the best explanation should be that they don't want to contend.

    Barrie needs to suck this year for the franchise to have any hope going forward. The team traded their two best 92s (Ryan O'Connor and Michael Sgarbossa) to Saginaw, their best 93 (Ryan Strome) to Niagara, and their first pick in the last draft (Kerby Rychel) to Mississauga. That means they have zero first-round picks from the last three drafts in addition to not having a lot of talent on the team to start with.

    The Colts need to start recouping young players and the only way to do this is to sell.

    So, welcome to Discount Dale's. Kyle Clifford is a big-ticket item that will cost the buying team a pretty penny, but you'll get a good deal on Dalton Prout!

10. Brampton Battalion

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    Key Losses: Cody Hodgson, Matt Clark, Patrick Killeen, Ken Peroff, Brad Albert

    Key Additions: Marcus McIvor

    Needs: Defence, in all shapes and sizes

    If This Team Were a Rock Song or Album?

    "Eve of Destruction" by Barry McGuire.

    The Battalion are in trouble. Brampton has trouble drawing a decent crowd when they're actually a good team, and this year, they just won't be. In a year where the GTA is going to be in the CHL spotlight, where the Memorial Cup will make its home just down the 407 at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga, the Battalion could be the ink smudge on the storyline.

    The forward group actually isn't too bad. Sean Jones, Scott Tanski, Phil Lane, Sam Carrick, and Barclay Goodrow all return from last year's squad.

    Carrick, Tanski, and Lane are heart-and-soul players who won't let this team quit, even though they'll be severely outmatched on most nights. Jones needs to repeat his 30-goal form from last season to either help the Battalion win or earn them some more chips in a trade deadline deal.

    Goodrow is a sophomore power forward who will be out to impress scouts in his draft year. The bar has been set high for OHL power forwards this year with Lucas Lessio, Gabriel Landeskog, Brett Ritchie, and Austen Brassard all in the mix. He will have to keep pace.

    On the back end, there's a lot of touch and go going on. Marcus McIvor has enough talent that the Belleville Bulls were considering him with the second overall pick before deciding on Brendan Gaunce. But he shouldn't be leaned on too heavily, too early. The rest of the corps just looks like a patchwork quilt, and not a pretty one.

    Goaltender Jake Riley has shown some promise and has quick reflexes. He'll be the workhorse for the troops in net. But only time will tell if he's up to it.

Eastern Conference Awards: NHL Format

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    LAS VEGAS - JUNE 23:  Henrik Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks poses for a portrait with the Hart Memorial Trophy and the Art Ross Trophy during the 2010 NHL Awards at the Palms Casino Resort on June 23, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty
    Harry How/Getty Images

    I know, technically the OHL has its own award titles. But I figure that people are more familiar with the NHL award names than the OHL ones, so I transposed.

    Hart Trophy: Mark Visentin

    It's hard to think of a player in the conference who's more crucial to his team's general success than Visentin is. If he gets hurt for any stretch of time, you're going to see a very different Ice Dogs.

    Rocket Richard Trophy: Christian Thomas

    I think this one comes down to Thomas and Matt Puempel. Edge to Thomas because with Calvin de Haan, I think the Gennies power play will be better than Peterborough's.

    Art Ross Trophy: Tyler Toffoli

    The 67's have a good supporting cast of forwards around him. Toffoli caught fire in a big way at the end of last season and can, I think, carry that momentum through this year.

    Vezina Trophy: Mark Visentin

    If he's the conference's MVP, is there any chance he's not the best goaltender as well?

    Norris Trophy: Erik Gudbranson

    If he's returned, Gudbranson should pick up power play time with Brian Lashoff's departure. This will increase his offensive output. Teammate Taylor Doherty will get consideration, as will Calvin de Haan and Stephen Silas

    Calder Trophy: Slater Koekkook

    By January, he'll be running a power play with Puempel, Watson, and Spooner on it. That'll do wonders for the point output. If he plays his physical game, they'll love him in the Kawarthas.