OHL Preview – Sudbury Wolves
Head Coach: Cory Stillman (17-42-0-9)
Last season was a rebuilding season for Sudbury there is no two ways about it. They traded away their best player and leading scorer Dmitri Sokolov who had 20 goals & 38 points in 30 games to Barrie then got crushed by them 10-1 the following night with Sokolov in the lineup. They gave up the most goals against (297) and scored the least goals for (197) in the OHL. They were downright awful pretty much all year. In fact, Sudbury has been the worst team in the OHL the last 4 years with a combined 72-176-0-22 record. Part of the reason why this team has been so bad during that stretch is they have drafted poorly. Of the three 1st round draft picks they’ve had from 2014-2016 – Owen Lalonde (2nd overall, 2016), David Levin (1st overall, 2015) and Michael Pezzetta (11th overall, 2014) all have disappointed or had an underwhelming impact on the team (Lalonde in fact refused to report and demanded a trade which was ultimately granted). Last season was just another example of that after yet another disappointing season mired by a lack of depth, weak defence and abysmal goaltending.
The good news is this year’s Sudbury team should be a much younger and exciting team to watch. They are led by 17 yr old and leading scorer from last year Blake Murray who could be a Top 10 pick in this year’s NHL draft. Murray, is big and powerful kid who is a strong skater and possesses an elite wrist shot. Just check out how easy he makes it look with that dynamic release:
— objectively biased towards jonatan berggren 😍 (@DraftLook) August 7, 2018
Murray is surrounded by a young but talented forward group who should take a giant leap forward this year and thanks to a big addition in net – might just surprise some people and sneak into the playoffs. There will still be growing pains along the way undoubtedly but this team appears to be much better on paper. Their eventual outcome ultimately depends on a couple of their key young players progressing and carrying this team to only their 2nd playoff birth in the last 5 years.
Defencemen Kyle Rhodes and Doug Blaisdell move on which shouldn’t have too much of a negative impact but Alexei Lipanov has the option to play in the AHL this year which could hurt the team up front. Lipanov, who was acquired in the Sokolov trade had 30 points in 38 games for Barrie before being traded though he struggled to find his groove in Sudbury only netting 9 points in 20 games.
C Blake Murray of Sudbury Wolves. Photo by OHL IMAGES.
Who’s the supporting cast up front?
While Murray was one of the few bright spots for the Wolves last year, there is no question that there is a new kid in town who should attract a lot of attention from opponents around the league.
Quinton Byfield, is a 16 yr old phenom who’s being compared to a former OHL standout – Eric Lindros. He is already 6’4′, 214 lbs, skates real well and has some nifty hands for a big man. Drafted 1st overall in the 2018 OHL draft, he absolutely destroyed Minor Midget AAA scoring a whopping 48 goals & 92 points in 34 games. Look for him to make an immediate impact for Sudbury as he should be considered the odds on favourite to win rookie of the year.
With Byfield and Murray in the mix, Sudbury now has a potent one two punch. Complementing them will be key and one veteran who will be looked on to provide some leadership and complimentary scoring is David Levin.
Levin, the former 1st overall pick in 2015 hasn’t been bad for Sudbury but he certainly hasn’t lived up to his draft hype either. Last season was his 3rd OHL season already and he only scored 14 goals & 29 points in 46 games. Trying to be the first Israeli born player to play in the NHL, he went undrafted this year in the June Entry Draft and needs to have a big season in Sudbury if he is ever going to fulfill that dream.
David Levin. Terry Wilson/OHL Images
Kirill Nizhnikov is another player who came into the OHL with a lot of hype surrounding him but has been unable to deliver up to this point either. The former 7th overall pick in 2016 OHL Draft, is a dynamic winger with plenty of flash but questionable awareness and really lacks consistency at both ends of the ice. He too went undrafted by the NHL in June after finishing the season with 10 goals & 35 assists in 63 games with Barrie then Sudbury.
Also in the mix up front are the now 19 yr old twins – Darian & Drake Pilon. The Pilons are a couple of buzzsaws who thrive thanks to their relentless work ethic and determination. Both undersized, they don’t have the most talent in the world but they bring a ton of energy and physicality that often creates havoc in the opposing zone. Darian had 13 goals & 33 points last season while Drake chipped in 16 goals & 29 points.
Anthony Tabak was a 15 yr old last year (late 2001 birthday) who put up 6 goals & 14 points in 51 games. He’s listed at 6’5″ 190 already and could have a break out this season though he’s not draft eligible till 2020.
Overall, it appears to be a much deeper group up front capable of competing in their division. Murray and Byfield should give opposing teams fits to matchup against and if some of the vets like Levin & Nizhnikov play up to their potential they have a real chance at being an above average forward group.
Can the Wolves play quality defence?
Cole Candella was originally drafted by the Vancouver Canucks as a 5th round pick in 2016. Having already played 4 OHL seasons the thought was he would sign with the Canucks and turn Pro but they chose not to sign him & he went undrafted this past June. That means, he will likely return to the OHL as an overager and Sudbury could really use him. He is a solid 2-way defender that provides stability and leadership on the back end.
18 yr old Peter Stratis who was acquired at the deadline last season came in and did a quality job on the right side. He had 12 points in 28 games after joining the Wolves and will be back.
17 yr old Liam Ross is draft eligible this year and should take on much more responsibility. He’s got good size and is a good puckmover who could surprise.
With overagers Rhodes & Blaisdell moving on Sudbury’s defence will have a few fresh faces manning the blueline. RD Jack Thompson was drafted 30th overall in 2018 and the hope is he can step in and contribute right away.
Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen comes to Sudbury hopefully to put an end to a revolving door in net and provide some real stability in goal this team hasn’t had in several years. He is a big (6’4″, 196 lbs) and talented goaltender who is pretty athletic for his size just don’t ask him to handle the puck as he really struggles. He was drafted by Buffalo in the 2nd round of the 2018 NHL draft.
Sudbury looks to be the most improved team in the OHL this year. The addition of 16 yr old phenom Quinton Byfield up front to go along with Potential Top 10 pick Blake Murray give them a solid one-two punch at forward and the addition of Luukkonen should give them much needed stability in net. They are still going to be a work in progress and there will be some growing pains as mentioned but this team is trending up and should be good enough to at least sneak into the playoffs this season.
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