OHL Preview – Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Coach: Drew Bannister (55-7-0-6)
Sault Ste. Marie was a juggernaut in the Regular season going a ridiculous 55-7-0-6 which was good for 116 points. That put them tied for the most points in the OHL since the London Knights put up 120 points in 2004-05. From October 28 to December 30th, the Soo won 23 games in a row and had a 29 game unbeaten streak in regulation. Their Powerplay and Penalty kill were both Top 5 in the league pretty much all year and they finished the Regular season with the most goals for (317) and the least goals against (186) in the OHL. You would think a team like that would be unstoppable come playoff time but in the end that was not the case.
The Soo swept Saginaw in the 1st round of the OHL playoffs but seemed to take their 2nd round opponent Owen Sound lightly and it almost cost them. Up 3 games to 2 the Greyhounds got blown out in Game 6 in Owen Sound 7-1 setting up an all important Game 7 back at home. After giving up the first goal to the Attack, the Soo ended up responding with 6 straight goals and led 6-1 midway thru the 2nd period. It was 8-2 late in the game until Owen Sound made a push with about 6 minutes to go by scoring 5 goals during that span. They ultimately fell short and lost 9-7 but a message was sent to the rest of the OHL that this Greyhound team wasn’t invincible. Owen Sound scored 31 goals in 7 games versus the Soo and limited them to 2 or less goals in 3 of their 7 games but still couldn’t quite knock them out.
The following round The Soo were facing the Kitchener Rangers who were a big and experienced team full of veterans. They too gave the Greyhounds all they could handle by forcing them to a second straight Game 7. This time the game went into overtime, then a second overtime before Jack Kopacka managed to score the winner for SSM and helped his team advance to the OHL finals. It was another hard fought series that could have went either way but the Greyhounds managed to somehow pull it out in the end….again. In the finals however, their luck ran out.
Hamilton led by Robert Thomas rolled into town and took Game 1 of the OHL final in Sault Ste. Marie and you could feel this series was going to be it for the Greyhounds. They managed to fight back to even the series at two after four games but in Games 5 and Game 6 they ran out of gas ultimately falling short and being eliminated by the Bulldogs in 6 games. It was a disappointing result for such a talented team who was the best team on paper in the OHL all year. They went for it all in 2017-18 moving several future assets in order to bring in guys that could help them get to the Memorial Cup but they couldn’t quite finish the job.
#52 Jack Kopacka scores OT winner (Courtesy of soogreyhounds.com)
Early last season the Soo trade promising 16 yr old Hayden Fowler & NINE draft picks for Taylor Raddysh and Jordan Sambrook. The after effect of moving future assets for short term gain means this year the player losses are even more severe. The Greyhounds scored 317 goals last year and 211 of those goals were scored by 8 players – Morgan Frost (1st rd, PHI), Boris Katchouk (2nd rd, TB), Taylor Raddysh (2nd rd, TB), Jack Kopacka (4th rd, ANH), Tim Gettinger (5th rd, NYR), Hayden Verbeek (undrafted), Conor Timmins (2nd rd, COL) and Noah Carroll (6th rd, CAR) all of whom may not be back. That’s an enormous 67% of their goals potentially gone.
The good news is Morgan Frost and Conor Timmins are eligible to return but it is expected they will get long looks at their NHL camps and may very well get 9 games at least and possibly more. Both are among the best in the OHL at their positions and would be big losses if they didn’t return. In fact, there is a real possibility in the Soo that their top 6 forwards from last year and 3 of their top 5 defencemen all could potentially not return. That’s a ton of offence to replace.
So while The Soo could lose half their roster from last season there are still some good players returning including a couple of recent 1st rounders in Barrett Hayton (1st rd, ARZ), Rasmus Sandin (1st rd, TOR) and their stellar goalie Matthew Villalta (3rd rd, LA) who should be able to keep them in most games. Overagers Jordan Sambrook (5th rd, DET) and Mac Hollowell (5th rd, TOR) are also options that might return or get potentially traded for immediate help. Regardless, there’s no question a lot of their success rides on whether Frost & Timmins return but even if they don’t this team should still be good enough to contend for their division but just don’t expect 116 points again.
Who’s going to pick up the slack?
First of all, if Morgan Frost does indeed return then this team will be in good shape. Frost had 42 goals and 112 points in 67 games last season but was drafted by the Flyers in the 1st round in 2017 and could stick with the team if he has a good camp. It’s not the end of the world if he doesn’t return to the Soo but his absence alone probably eliminates them from Championship contention.
Barrett Hayton would become the #1 Center if Frost does in fact move on and has a chance to put up some pretty big numbers in his 3rd OHL season. He is a highly intelligent, slick pivot with a terrific release the question is how productive he will be without a lineup full of future NHL’ers around him.
F Keegan Howdeshell is one of the few forwards not drafted by an NHL club so he likely has the option to come back and play as an overager this year. He scored 16 goals and 36 points in 61 games last season after coming over from the USHL where he played as an 18 yr old. He will be looked upon heavily to help offset some of the offence lost.
F Ryan Roth is an 18 yr old who chipped in 15 goals along with 33 points mainly in bottom 6 duty last year so he should get more opportunity in the Top 6 this year as well.
After that, the roster is filled with plenty of questions marks.
F Rasmus Kupari (1st rd, LA) as drafted by the Greyhounds in the 2017 Import Draft and subsequently the LA Kings this June. There is talk he may come over to North America to play which means we could see him in the OHL playing for The Soo. He is reportedly signed for one more year for Karpat in Finland but plans could change.
F Roman Pucek and F Jaromir Pytlik were both taken in this year’s CHL Import draft and both have intriguing offensive upside. Pytlik in particular looked really good at the Hlinka-Gretzky tournament during the Round Robin games. As of now, Pucek is signed and committed to the Soo, Pytlik is not.
2019 Draft Eligibles
If there is one sleeper player who could be poised to break out this year for the Soo and provide some much needed secondary scoring it’s 17 yr old LW Joe Carroll.
Carroll, was drafted 78th overall in the 2017 OHL draft. He is a big, strong, gifted player who has a nice combination of size and speed along with a big shot. Last season as a 16 yr old he put up 9 goals & 18 points in 57 games but appears to have much more offence to give. Seeing half the forwards that were ahead of him in the lineup last year are gone he should get ample opportunity this year to boost his draft stock considerably. Sneaky good player who looks the part.
RW Cole MacKay is another 17 yr old who got into some games last year and showed some flashes of potential. He is a smart, reliable player who brings a ton of energy each and every game. He was also a prolific goal scorer in Minor Midget leading Kitchener of the AHMMPL in goals in 2016-17 with 30 in 32 games. He potted 5 goals and 14 points last season for the Soo but should be capable of tripling that at least this year.
Overall, even if Frost does come back this team is not nearly as deep or balanced as last season. They’re still good up front just not great.
How good is the defensive unit?
Like the forwards, a lot depends on who comes back which is still up in the air at this moment. As mentioned, it’s possible Conor Timmins could return. However, it’s just as possible he makes the Colorado Avalanche full-time as Cale Makar, another Colorado draft pick is likely still a year away from making their team. So the Soo should be prepared for that scenario just in case.
Rasmus Sandin is one player who will be back. He provided a steady influence when Timmins was out last season and could be asked to shoulder the load again this season full-time. He’s such a smart, reliable defender who sees the ice real well and can generate offence from defence quickly with his smooth transitional game. He had 12 goals & 45 points in 51 games.
Mac Hollowell and Jordan Sambrook are both overagers who could be back as well though odds are one is moved before the season if that’s the case. Hollowell, is eligible to play in the AHL for Toronto but will likely return to play Top pair if Timmins does in fact move on. He scored 12 goals & 56 points last season. Sambrook, was released from the Detroit Red Wings so is a free agent currently. Surely, he’ll look to improve his stock playing in the OHL somewhere if not in the Soo.
The other two defencemen we know will be back for sure are 19 yr old Anthony DeMeo and 17 yr old Jacob Leguerrier. Neither player will blow your socks off with their offensive flair but are pretty solid defensively and decent puck movers.
18 yr old Holden Wale got into 37 games last year so he is a possibility to get spot duty again and another 18 yr old Phil Caron appeared in 24 games notching 2 assists.
Overall, this unit should be strong again and will likely be the backbone of the team. It is still unknown exactly who will be back but it appears there will be enough talent & experience amongst whoever does return to consider it a strength for the team.
Matthew Villalta (3rd rd, LA) was one of the best goalies in the OHL last season. He led the league amongst starters with a 2.58 GAA and had a respectable .908 SV% in 49 games. He did however really struggle in playoffs finishing with a 3.30 GAA & .893 SV% which frankly wasn’t good enough. He’ll look to shake off that disappointing playoff run this season and will be relied upon to provide more stability in net with a more inexperienced defence core in front of him. His playoff performance shouldn’t be cause for concern but is something to keep in mind if he struggles early.
Backup Tyler Johnson is an overager who is eligible to return. He was terrific in spot duty last year posting a 14-1-1 record & besting Villalta with a 2.36 GAA & .916 SV%. It is possible with so many overragers on this team that he is in fact the one that gets traded to a team desperate for some goaltending help.
Sault Ste. Marie went all-in last year knowing full well they were going to lose a pile of players this season up front. Unfortunately for them, it didn’t pan out and now they are somewhat depleted at forward. They traded their 1st round pick from 2017 Hayden Fowler who could have helped filled the void so instead are relying on a couple of Import players to come in and contribute instead. It remains to be seen how much offence they will be able to adequately replace but there is no doubt they still have plenty of talent to work with especially on the back end and in goal. Either way, this is still a really good team who could win their division but a 20-30 point drop in the standings seems very possible.
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