Shootout
By Victor Fernandes Erie Times-News staff blogger
Staff writer Victor Fernandes has ice in his veins. Hockey – he plays it, coaches it and provides the region's best coverage of it.   Read more about this blog.
 Phone: 814-870-1716
Posted: September 18th, 2013
OTTERS EXTRA: Western Conference preview

This week, I’m breaking down all 20 OHL clubs and unveiling my predictions for the 2013-14 season. Today it’s the Western Conference (listed in alphabetical order):

MIDWEST DIVISION

Erie Otters
Coach/GM: Kris Knoblauch/Sherry Bassin
2012-13 finish: 19-40-4-5, 5th division, 10th conference
Playoff finish: Did not qualify
Key players: C Connor McDavid (25 goals, 41 assists, 66 points; OHL rookie of the year in 2012-13), RW Connor Brown (28-41-69; Toronto prospect), G Oscar Dansk (11-23-3-3 record, 4.11 goals-against average, .888 save percentage; Columbus prospect), D Adam Pelech (8-32-40; N.Y. Islanders prospect), C Dane Fox (19-17-36)
Key losses: C J.P. Labardo (24-38-62; committed to University of New Brunswick), C Connor Crisp (22-14-36; traded to Sudbury), D Jimmy McDowell (14-19-33; traded to Sudbury)
Outlook: The Otters have pieces in place to make a run at the playoffs this season, including a No. 1 line of McDavid, Brown and CHL first-round pick Andre Burakovsky, that should be one of the best in the league. But defense will determine if the Otters reach the postseason for the first time in three years.

Guelph Storm
Coach/GM: Scott Walker/Mike Kelly
2012-13 finish: 39-23-2-4, 4th division, 5th conference
Playoff finish: Lost to Kitchener 4-1 in conference quarterfinals
Key players: RW Scott Kosmachuk (35-30-65; Winnipeg prospect), RW Zack Mitchell (22-34-56; Carolina prospect), D Zac Leslie (12-28-40, plus-16; Los Angeles prospect), LW Jason Dickinson (18-29-47; Dallas Stars prospect), LW Brock McGinn (28-26-54; signed with Carolina)
Key losses: G Garret Sparks (36-17-0-4, 2.65, .917, 7 SO; signed with Toronto), C Tanner Richard (11-51-62; signed with Tampa Bay)
Outlook: The Storm are ready to make a deep playoff run with a solid defense and skilled frontline. That’s as long as their goaltending tandem of Matthew Mancina and Jason DaSilva, who have a combined seven games of OHL experience, play to their potential.

Kitchener Rangers
Coach/GM: Troy Smith/Murray Hiebert
2012-13 finish: 39-20-1-8, 3rd division, 4th conference
Playoff finish: Lost to London 4-1 in conference semifinals
Key players: RW Justin Bailey (17-19-36; Buffalo prospect), D Evan McEneny (6-28-34, +7), C Radek Faksa (9-22-31 in 39 games; signed with Dallas), LW Brent Pedersen (14-16-30; Carolina prospect), LW Matia Marcantuoni (7-18-25; Pittsburgh prospect)
Key losses: D Ryan Murphy (10-38-48; signed with Carolina), G Josh Gibson (17-9-0-1, 2.41, .928, 1 SO; signed with Anaheim), LW Joshua Leivo (29-44-73; signed with Toronto), RW Tobias Rieder (27-29-56; signed with Phoenix), LW Matt Puempel (35-12-47; signed with Ottawa), D Frank Corrado (7-38-45; signed with Vancouver)
Outlook: Smith and Hiebert replace former coach/GM Steve Spott, who left the Rangers after more than a decade to become head coach of the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. The Rangers have enough talent to win, led by a solid lineup featuring Bailey (Buffalo Sabres), Faksa (Dallas Stars) and McEneny.

London Knights
Coach/GM: Dale Hunter/Mark Hunter
2012-13 finish: 50-13-2-3; 1st division, 1st conference
Playoff finish: Won league championship, lost to Portland (WHL) in Memorial Cup semifinals
Key players: C Max Domi (39-48-87; signed with Phoenix), LW Bo Horvat (33-28-61; signed with Vancouver), G Anthony Stolarz (13-3-1-1, 2.29, .920, 1 SO; Philadelphia prospect), D Olli Maatta (8-30-38, +9; Pittsburgh prospect), D Nikita Zadorov (6-19-25, +33; Buffalo prospect)
Key losses: RW Seth Griffith (33-48-81; signed with Boston), C Alex Broadhurst (23-40-63; signed with Chicago), D Scott Harrington (3-16-19, +21; signed with Pittsburgh), D Justin Sefton (3-18-21; traded to Saginaw)
Outlook: The Knights still have more than enough talent from last year’s league championship team. They also have added motivation from hosting the Memorial Cup tournament this coming May. But they should face a stern challenge in an always difficult division and Western Conference.

Owen Sound Attack
Coach/GM: Greg Ireland/Dale DeGray
2012-13 finish: 44-18-1-5, 2nd division, 3rd conference
Playoff finish: Lost to Plymouth 4-2 in conference semifinals
Key players: RW Cameron Brace (35-39-74; Pittsburgh prospect), C Gemel Smith (23-29-52; Dallas prospect), D Chris Bigras (8-30-38, +35; signed with Colorado), G Brandon Hope (12-6-0-0, 2.61, .915), RW Zach Nastasiuk (20-20-40; Detroit prospect)
Key losses: G Jordan Binnington (32-12-1-5, 2.17, .932, 7 SO), C Daniel Catenacci (38-41-79; signed with Buffalo), D Nathan Chiarlitti (1-30-31, +41),
Outlook: Hope takes over in net full time for the departed Binnington, and he has skill and experience in front of him on defense led by Bigras. The Attack also will be able to attack opposing defenses with an offense keyed by Brace and Smith. That means the Attack are ready to contend in the West.

 

WEST DIVISION
Plymouth Whalers
Coach/GM: Michael Vellucci
2012-13 finish: 42-17-5-4, 1st division, 2nd conference
Playoff finish: Lost to London 4-1 in conference semifinals
Key players: G Alex Nedeljkovic (19-2-1-1 record, 2.28 goals-against average, .923 save percentage, 2 shutouts), RW Tom Wilson (23 goals, 35 assists, 58 points; signed with Washington), D Connor Carrick (12-32-44, +27), LW Matt Mistele (34-28-60), C Ryan Hartman (23-37-60)
Key losses: C Vincent Trocheck (50-59-109; signed with Florida), G Matt Mahalak (22-11-4-3, 2.88, .906, 3 SO; traded to Kingston), RW Garrett Meurs (32-33-65; signed with Colorado), LW Stefan Noesen (25-28-53 in 51 games; signed with Ottawa)
Outlook: The Whalers have a chance to win consecutive division championships behind the play of Nedeljkovic in net, Carrick on defense and a bevy of scorers up front. But after losing in the second round of the playoffs, the Whalers looks to take that next step in their pursuit of a league title.

Saginaw Spirit
Coach/GM: Greg Gilbert/Jim Paliafito
2012-13 finish: 32-29-4-3, 4th division, 8th conference
Playoff finish: Lost to London 4-0 in conference quarterfinals
Key players: G Jake Paterson (25-18-3-2, 3.53, .901, 1 SO; Detroit prospect), C Eric Locke (44-53-97; Buffalo prospect), C Jimmy Lodge (28-39-67; Winnipeg prospect), C Justin Kea (22-26-48; Buffalo prospect), D Justin Sefton (3-18-21, +8; acquired from Kitchener)
Key losses: LW Garret Ross (44-46-90; signed with Chicago)
Outlook: The Spirit made a quick exit from the playoffs a season ago. With Paterson in net, the the Spirit could develop into a legitimate playoff team. But they still have to fill the voids left by highly skilled players like Ross and Young to make that happen.

Sarnia Sting
Coach/GM: Trevor Letowski/Bill Abercrombie
2012-13 finish: 25-36-5-2, 3rd division, 7th conference
Playoff finish: Lost to Plymouth 4-0 in conference quarterfinals
Key players: RW Nikolay Goldobin (30-38-68; top rookie scorer), D Anthony DeAngelo (9-49-58), D Alex Basso (11-33-44), C Nickolas Latta (17-14-31), RW Bryan Moore (11-19-30)
Key losses: C Charles Sarault (22-86-108; signed with Anaheim), LW Reid Boucher (62-33-95; signed with New Jersey), G J.P. Anderson (26-21-1-4, 3.31, .905, 1 SO; signed with San Jose)
Outlook: How does one a team replace two scorers that combined to produce 84 goals and 203 points? The Sting has to answer that question heading into this season following the loss of Sarault – the league leader in assists and runner-up in scoring – and Boucher (No. 5 in scoring last season).

Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Coach/GM: Sheldon Keefe/Kyle Dubas
2012-13 finish: 36-26-3-3, 2nd division, 6th conference
Playoff finish: Lost to Owen Sound 4-2 in conference quarterfinals
Key players: D Darnell Nurse (12-29-41, +15; signed with Edmonton), G Matt Murray (26-19-2-2, 3.67, .894, 1 SO; Pittsburgh prospect), RW Andrew Fritsch (27-25-52), RW Sergey Tolchinsky (26-25-51), C Jared McCann (21-23-44)
Key losses: C Nick Cousins (27-76-103; signed with Philadelphia), D Ryan Sproul (20-46-66, +11; signed with Detroit), RW Brandon Alderson (28-46-64; signed with Philadelphia), D Colin Miller (20-35-55; signed with Los Angeles), LW David Broll (17-37-54; former Erie Otter, signed with Toronto)
Outlook: Nurse has developed into one of the league’s top players. Murray has grown into a solid goaltender. But will the Greyhounds score enough following the departure of Cousins (No. 3 in the league in scoring), Alderson and Sproul? That will determine how far the Greyhounds go this season.

Windsor Spitfires
Coach/GM: Bob Boughner/Warren Rychel
2012-13 finish: 26-33-3-6, 5th division, 9th conference
Playoff finish: Did not qualify
Key players: LW Kerby Rychel (40-47-67; Columbus prospect), D Slater Koekkoek (6-23-29 in 42 games; signed with Tampa Bay), RW Josh Ho-Sang (14-30-44), C Brady Vail (20-35-55), D Nick Ebert (11-27-38; Los Angeles prospect)
Key losses: RW Alex Aleardi (27-44-71; signed with Springfield-AHL), C Alexander Khokhlachev (22-26-48; signed with Boston)
Outlook: The Spitfires look to rebound from missing the playoffs a season ago. But leaders like Rychel and Koekkoek carry this team back into the postseason. The rest of the Spitfires will determine how deep they travel into the playoffs.

- Victor Fernandes

 

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