OHL Preview – The London Knights
Coach: Dale Hunter (39-25-0-4)
London entered last season as a usual OHL contender having made at least the 2nd round of the playoffs for 6 straight years including three OHL titles (2012, 2013 & 2016). It is almost a guarantee it seems that they are bound to lose a player or two to the NHL early and last year was no different though the losses hit harder than expected. LD Olli Juolevi (VAN, 1st rd) decided to bolt to Finland instead of returning to London and to make matters worse LD Victor Mete (MTL, 4th rd) surprisingly made Montreal out of camp and never returned. That left London without their Top 2 Defencemen for the year (they were expecting to maybe lose one but not both). F Jesper Bratt (NJ, 6th rd) an import player the Knights were hoping could come in and add some more scoring punch up front also surprisingly made New Jersey. Alex Formenton (OTT, 2nd rd) made Ottawa too but was returned after 9 games.
Matthew Tkachuk, Mitch Marner and Christian Dvorak of London (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
So last season was a bit of a transition one for London as once the trade deadline period approached they found themselves as rare sellers as opposed to buyers. The thought was they weren’t good enough to make a serious run & would likely lose several guys next year as well so instead of loading up for a perennial playoff run they would unload a bunch of talented players in order to get younger and build for the future. So Robert Thomas (STL, 1st rd), Cliff Pu (BUF, 3rd rd),Max Jones (ANH, 1st rd) and Sam Miletic (Pit, FA) were all subsequently moved for younger players. Despite the loss of several talented veterans the Knights were still able to make the playoffs but were outmatched by the late surging Owen Sound Attack – losing 4 straight in the opening round ending their season. It was a small step back for London that would ultimately help them take a large leap forward this year….they hope.
While last year the team looked loaded up front but weak on the back end, the opposite argument could be made this year. The team’s leading goal scorer Alex Formenton could very well stick with Ottawa permanently this year and the team’s best player and Captain Evan Bouchard is no guarantee to be back either. London scored 233 goals last year but traded away 73 of those at the deadline and another 54 of those were from Formenton and Bouchard alone. That’s a lot of offence to try and make up with a young lineup if both don’t return. 21 yr olds F Tyler Rollo and D Shane Collins move on and overager G Joseph Raaymakers status remains unknown at this time.
Where’s the Offence going to come from?
Despite all the offensive firepower London has lost the last couple of seasons they are still a talented group up front albeit a young one. C Liam Foudy (CLB, 1st rd) will likely be the Top line Center and be relied upon to build on his stellar second half last season where he scored 33 pts in 30 games down the stretch. F Nathan Dunkley who was acquired in the Cliff Pu trade, netted 24 points in 29 games for London and will be relied on heavily to build on his solid 2nd half. Cole Tymkin, 19, needs to step up in a more offensive role and cut down on his selfish penalties.
C Billy Moskal who is one of the best faceoff guys and penalty killers in the league also returns. Moskal has tremendous speed & more offence to give. The rest of the returning group is young and inexperienced. LW Sergei Popov showed some flash after coming over in the Max Jones deal.
It is possible Brady Tkachuk chooses to play in London over Boston University if he doesn’t make the Ottawa Senators but at this point that looks unlikely.
2019 Draft Eligibles
The biggest key to London’s offence this year might be 17 yr old C Connor McMichael. The main piece in the Robert Thomas trade, McMichael is extremely gifted offensively and is blessed with terrific vision & exceptional hockey sense. The fact he only got 16 points last year in a limited role isn’t really a concern as London has a history of their draft eligibles breaking out in their draft year (2nd half of season in particular). Just a couple of recent examples:
C Robert Thomas as 16 yr old – 15 points in 40 games. As 17 yr old – 66 points in 66 games. 1st round pick.
C Liam Foudy as a 16 yr old – 15 points in 58 games. As a 17 yr old – 40 points in 65 games. 1st round pick.
C Connor McMichael as 16 yr old – 16 points in 60 games. As 17 yr old – ????????
Now while McMichael may not have the blazing speed that Thomas or Foudy has he may have the highest offensive ceiling and will be counted on to contribute right away. He is also defensively sound, plays a terrific 2 way game already and makes so many smart plays he just reminds you of Thomas. The key will be to unlocking his offensive potential which I imagine should happen midway through the season as he takes on more responsibility and gains confidence.
Newly signed 1st rd import C Matvei Guskov also looks to make an immediate impact. He had 4 goals in 5 games for Russia in the U17’s last year and is billed as the complete package – highly skilled, smart, physical, 2 way forward with high character. He is eligible for this year’s NHL draft. Other 2019 draft eligibles Lucas Rowe & Dalton Duhart need to take big steps forward as well.
How will the defence hold up if Bouchard sticks in the NHL?
Without question, the biggest news of the offseason for the Knights was the signing of RD Adam Boqvist. Not only does it mean London is getting a dynamic offensive defenceman to add to their blueline but he is insurance in case Evan Bouchard is an Edmonton Oiler full-time.
Boqvist (CHI, 1st rd) should tear up the OHL with his terrific skating & dynamic playmaking ability and will be absolute treat to watch on a nightly basis. He should have no problems stepping right in and running the Powerplay from Day 1 if need be and should be a nightmare for other team’s to matchup against. If Bouchard does indeed return too expect Coach Hunter to find creative ways to keep both RHD on the ice at the same time.
The rest of the defensive core looks stronger than last year as everyone is a year older and more experienced having been thru a round of the playoffs. Alec Regula (DET, 3rd rd) will be be back and will be looking to build on his strong second half where he cut down the turnovers and really looked to come into his own defensively. He has sneaky offensive upside too.
Andrew Perrott is one of my favourite 2019 draft eligible prospects. The kid is fearless, is a total pain in the ass to play against and he too has untapped offensive potential. He is the son of former NHL’er Nathan Perrott and played middle linebacker in high school. Could very well be a 1st round this summer.
Jacob Golden (MIN, 5th rd) returns to provide another steady presence on the blueline while 19 yr old’s Riley Coome & Tim Fallowfield round out the group. Youngsters Ryan Bangs & Liam Whittaker could also be in the mix.
So even without Bouchard I think this is a deeper group overall than last year’s group and would instantly be the best in the OHL if and when Bouchard were to return to London. Interesting to note that he along with Boqvist, Regula, Perrott, & Fallowfield are all right shot defencemen. Expect Coach Hunter to get creative and use both Evan & Adam together at times especially on the Powerplay if he gets the chance. Good luck to the rest of the OHL trying to stop that.
Joseph Raaymakers (undrafted) was excellent last year and really solidified the position posting a .910 sv% in 46 games for London. He will be an overager this year if he returns but had some offseason trouble with the law so there’s no guarantee he’ll be back. Regardless of what happens with Raaymakers, Jordan Kooy (LV, 7th rd) appears ready to step in and man the crease full-time if need be. He appeared in 24 games last year and while he was a bit inconsistent at times his athleticism really stood out and he had some terrific performances. He shut out Kingston late in the year in Kingston and had an unbelievable performance in Kitchener where he absolute stole the game:
Kooy with 38 saves steals one for London while Connor McMichael's first as a Knight is the game winner! https://t.co/LqfmjPRePR
— ☘️🏒SPR 🏒☘️ (@TheOilKnight) January 15, 2018
London should be in good shape no matter who mans the pipes this year. The Defence as mentioned has the potential to be the best in the league and the forwards while still very young have the potential to break out this season. Connor McMichael, Matvei Guskov and Andrew Perrott all have 1st round NHL talent and with Coach Hunter behind the bench you know the Knights will be well prepared. This is a very strong London team one capable of making a run at the Midwest Division title again and if a few of the veterans return they have a chance of going all the way for the 4th time in 7 years.
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