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OHL Preview – Mississauga Steelheads

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Mississauga Steelheads

Head Coach: James Richmond (33-32-0-3)

 

2017-18 Season

Mississauga entered last season with a lot of optimism having made it to the OHL finals the previous year with 81 points in the 2016-17 season. They were returning 3 high NHL draft picks in RW Owen Tippett (FLA1st rd), C Michael McLeod (NJ, 1st rd) and D Nick Hague (LV, 2nd rd) along with a promising 2018 draft prospect C Ryan McLeodFor whatever reason they just couldn’t put it all together and were one of the most inconsistent teams all year. Starting the season 1-8 certainly didn’t help however they were without Tippett who was in FloridaMichael McLeod who was injured. The Steelheads ending up rallying a bit finishing 7-10 without the two of them until Tippett returned Nov. 10. With him in the lineup they went 2-1 then they got Michael McLeod back and all was good as they proceeded to win the next 2 games.

After that however, the wheels fell off as they lost 9 in a row giving up 5 goals or more in each of the first 6 games. They again tried to rebound and had a few of streaks of 4 and 5 wins in a row the rest of the way but in the end couldn’t gain enough traction in the standings finishing a disappointing 7th in the Conference. Goaltending was a real issue all year and frankly they were a team guilty of way too many bad turnovers. They drew the Central Division Champs Barrie Colts in the 1st round of the OHL playoffs but who were without Andrei Svechnikov for the first 4 games.  The Steelheads had them on the ropes too with Barrie down 2 games to 1 with Game 4 going to Overtime. Despite outshooting Barrie 49-29 that game Mississauga still lost in OT and that was pretty much it for the series. Svechnikov came back for Game 5 and Barrie won the next 2 games by a total score of 13-4 and the Steelheads were sent packing. 

 

MICHAEL MCLEOD. PHOTO COURTESY OF AARON BELL / OHL IMAGES

2018-19 Outlook

This year’s Mississauga team faces a lot of uncertainty. One things for sure, 20 yr old Michael McLeod will not be back but his brother Ryan McLeod who ended up being drafted by Edmonton will be. Ryan, who played both on the Powerplay and Penalty kill last year will be leaned on heavily this year to play a ton of minutes and in all situations. As for Owen Tippett, he is ineligible for the AHL having only played 3 seasons in the OHL so if he doesn’t make Florida he will be back but possibly for a new team. Nick Hague has also only played 3 OHL seasons but turns 20 before December 31st so could start in the AHL for Vegas. 21 yr olds Trent Fox who scored 24 goals and 53 points last season and Matt Foget who netted 38 points in 31 games also move on. In fact, Mississauga will likely be without 5 of their Top 7 scorers last year which means 122 Goals & 288 points – gone. 

Needless to say, it will be a rebuilding year for the Steelheads. They don’t have a lot of depth to replace their departing stars and their defence and goaltending are still big question marks. To makes matters worse, the two teams in the Conference who didn’t make the playoffs last year – Sudbury and Peterborough appear to be much better on paper so there’s a realistic chance Mississauga misses the playoffs altogether for the first time in 4 years. 

 

Owen Tippett scored 36 goals in 51 games in 2017-18. Getty Images. 

 

Who’s going to replace all that offence?

Ryan McLeod might have to be Mr. Everything for this team if they are going to have a chance. He returns for his 4th OHL season after posting 26 goals and 70 points in 68 games last year. Undrafted 20 yr old LW Albert Michnac could have been back to flank McLeod on one wing but he was traded earlier in the summer for a conditional draft pick. He had 21 goals and 60 points in 58 games last season. So there are huge question marks up front with a couple of possible overagers and a bunch of 2019 draft eligibles the most likely candidates to fill the lineup.

16 yr old LW James Hardie is an intriguing prospect but shouldn’t be expected to chip in much offensively in his rookie year. Interesting to note that in 2017 Mississauga drafted Jack Hughes 8th overall but he will be staying put in the U.S. which means they swung and missed a big opportunity of having a Top draft pick play for them this year. 

 

2019 Draft Eligibles

Mississauga had four 16 yr olds play for them last year and 3 of them were forwards. Of the three…

RW Cole Schwindt (drafted in the 4th round of the 2017 OHL draft) had the most productive season netting 8 goals and 18 points in 66 games. He got some early Top line duty in 2017 while Tippett & McLeod were out and showed a good knack for going hard to the net. He has a big shot and is a strong skater. Billed as a solid 2 way forward who excels on the penalty kill it’s possible he gets drafted with a big season.

Keean Washkurak courtesy of Anatoliy Cherkasov / Pacific Press

Keean Washkurak (2nd rd, 2017 OHL) is an dynamic skater who is a high energy type that can be an absolute puckhound at times. Not sure if the offensive upside is there but he never gives up on plays and should get points based on sheer determination alone. He potted 6 goals and 15 points last season and should get plenty of more opportunities this year. Could get drafted late as an electric, 4th line energy type prospect. 

RW Adam Varga played in limited duty last year.  Has some intriguing skill/size but it’s too early to tell what kind of player/prospect he will be. 

LW Filip Reisnecker is a Czech import selected in the 2018 Import draft. He also has a nice mix of size & skill and could be a sleeper player to watch out for. 

 

Who’s going to anchor the blueline?

Nicolas Hague won the OHL’s defenceman of the year last year and he won’t be back. That is obviously going to hurt this team this season and with no clear replacement in sight his loss significantly impacts this defensive core. It gets worse too…

Jacob Moverare who has been a steady player for the Steelheads since being drafted in the Import draft in 2016 has the option of playing in the AHL since he was drafted by the LA Kings before the OHL in 2016.  He had 21 points in only 32 games for Mississauga and would be another big loss for this team if he moves on. 

17 yr old Thomas Harley becomes the main man by default. Drafted 14th overall in 2017 OHL draft, the talented young blueliner has excellent speed & agility, is a terrific puck mover and could be one of the better draft eligible defencemen coming out of Ontario this year. He should get plenty of ice time and opportunity here so expect his numbers to spike dramatically. Last season he posted 1 goal & 15 points in 62 games

The rest of the group will likely be some combination of 19 yr olds Reagan O’Grady and Ryan Wells, 18 yr olds Isaac Walker and Mason Hardy with either a 16 yr old or player acquired in a trade to round out the unit. Either way it is an extremely young and underwhelming group and quite possibly the worst in the OHL

Promising rookie Merrick Rippon was traded at the deadline last year and 21 yr old Stephen Gibson moves on.

 

Goaltending

Jacob Ingham returns as the starter after a very disappointing season in which he appeared to regress badly. His GAA went up from 2.69 to 3.65 last season but more alarming was his Save Percentage as it dropped from .907 to .880 (24th in a 20 team league – minimum 20 starts). He let in some awful goals and was terribly inconsistent. I don’t think I saw a goalie this year in the OHL get beat more on the glove side than he did. He had a good season the previous year so perhaps he can get back to that but he is a huge question mark coming into this season. Ingham was drafted in the 6th round by Los Angeles in 2018 but probably shouldn’t have based on performance.

The Steelheads recently traded away overage backup Emanuel Vella so their backup situation is up in the air at this point. 

 

Summary

Mississauga looks to be in a world of hurt this year. They have not done a good job drafting suitable replacements for their aging stars and look absolutely horrendous on the back end and in goal. If everything goes right for them, McLeod has a monster year while Ingham rebounds and keeps them in games but it’s really hard to see how this is a playoff team right now with so many question marks on the roster. Perhaps Tippett is returned to the OHL and they are able to flip him for some much needed talented youth but that’s a longshot at this point. Even if they manage to pull that off it looks like this could be a long year for the Steelheads. 

 

 

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