This week, I’ll break down all 20 OHL clubs division by division and unveil my predictions for the 2012-13 season. Today, let’s look at the Eastern Conference’s Central Division (listed in alphabetical order):
Coach/GM: Dale Hawerchuk/Jason Ford
2011-12 finish: 40-23-3-2, 2nd division, 3rd conference
Playoff finish: Lost to Ottawa in conference semifinals
Key players: LW Tanner Pearson (37 goals, 54 assists, 91 points; signed with Los Angeles), C Mark Scheifele (23-40-63 in 47 games; signed with Winnipeg), G Mathias Niederberger (29-14-1-2 record, 2.68 goals-against average, .918 save percentage, 3 shutouts), C Zach Hall (19-40-59), D Ryan O’Connor (8-28-36)
Key losses: C Colin Behenna (26-48-74), C Ivan Telegin (35-29-64; signed with Winnipeg)
Outlook: The continued emergence of standouts like Pearson and Scheifele, and the play of Niederberger in his first season, sparked the Colts to a 25-game improvement in the win column. Now these Colts could be tough to contend with this year.
Coach/GM: Stan Butler
2011-12 finish: 36-22-3-7, 3rd division, 4th conference
Playoff finish: Lost to Niagara 4-0 in conference semifinals
Key players: RW Barclay Goodrow (26-26-52; Carolina prospect), G Matej Machovsky (24-13-0-4, 2.36, .902, 5 SO; Ottawa prospect), D Dylan Blujus (7-27-34), D Cameron Wind (2-19-21, +16), LW Brandon Robinson (15-9-24)
Key losses: C Sam Carrick (16-23-39; signed with Toronto), LW Ian Watters (16-14-30)
Outlook: Defense is the name of the game in Brampton, which has featured one of the league’s top defenses the past several seasons. Machovsky anchors this year’s unit, while a defense led by Blujus and Wind provide plenty of help.
Coach/GM: James Boyd
2011-12 finish: 33-28-1-6, 5th division, 6th conference
Playoff finish: Lost to Barrie 4-2 in conference quarterfinals
Key players: LW Riley Brace (33-49-82), D Dylan DeMelo (7-40-47; signed with San Jose), C Kristoff Kontos (15-32-47), D Stuart Percy (4-30-34, plus-50; signed with Toronto), D Trevor Carrick (6-13-19)
Key losses: G Brandon Maxwell (33-22-1-3, 2.92, .913, 6 SO), LW Jamie Wise (31-17-48)
Outlook: This club has a new owner – Mississauga, Ontario, businessman Elliott Kerr, and nickname. But the Steelheads’ new goaltending tandem of Spencer Martin and former Otter Tyson Teichmann will have the biggest impact on this team’s success.
Coach/GM: Marty Williamson
2011-12 finish: 47-18-0-3, 1st division, 1st conference
Playoff finish: Lost to London 4-1 in league finals
Key players: C Ryan Strome (30-38-68 in 46 games; signed with N.Y. Islanders), D Dougie Hamilton (17-55-72, +37; signed with Boston), D Jesse Graham (4-37-41, +25; N.Y. Islanders prospect), RW Brett Ritchie (24-21-45; signed with Dallas), G Chris Festarini (16-10-0-0, 2.85, .904, 2 SO; former Otter)
Key losses: G Mark Visentin (30-9-0-2, 1.99, .926, 10 SO; signed with Phoenix), C Andrew Agozzino (40-48-88), LW Freddie Hamilton (35-51-86; signed with San Jose), C Alex Friesen (26-45-71; signed with Vancouver), RW David Pacan (29-35-64)
Outlook: Festarini faces serious pressure as Visentin’s replacement in net. But Festarini has plenty of experienced talent – led by Strome and Hamilton – in front of him that will help keep the puck out of the net as well as score a lot of goals.
Coach/GM: Trent Cull/Blaine Smith
2011-12 finish: 36-26-4-2, 4th division, 5th conference
Playoff finish: Lost to Brampton 4-0 in conference quarterfinals
Key players: LW Joshua Leivo (32-41-73), D Justin Sefton (3-16-19, 143 penalty minutes; San Jose prospect), LW Nathan Pancel (23-21-44), D Frank Corrado (3-23-26, +26), C Matthew Campagna (8-23-31 in 45 games)
Key losses: C Michael Sgarbossa (36-46-82; signed with San Jose), D Josh McFadden (19-53-72; signed with Florida), G Johan Mattsson (23-11-2-1, 3.16, .910), LW Andrey Kuchin (25-40-65), RW Derek Schoenmakers (26-24-50; traded to Windsor)
Outlook: The Wolves spent little time in the playoffs the past two seasons, as they were swept both times. But the departure of skilled leaders like Sgarbossa, McFadden, Mattsson and Kuchin might keep these Wolves out of the playoffs entirely.
- Victor Fernandes