So with the Regular trade deadline over yesterday and the overager Trade Deadline passed by noon today it’s time to look at some of the teams that made the biggest improvements heading towards the OHL playoffs. Before doing so take a peek at the OHL standings as of today…
It’s important to note that 16 of 20 teams make the playoffs. That means 8 teams in each Conference get a chance but in reality a few of those teams have no chance really. The OHL traditionally is always top heavy. This is due to the insane ability to trade handfuls of picks (sometimes up to 10 years later) for players in trades (can’t trade 1st rd picks). #7 seed Sault Ste. Marie upset #2 Sarnia a couple years ago but other than that, no other #7 seed in either Conference the last 10 years has advanced and no #8 seed has won more than 2 games in the Opening round dating back to 2007. The last #8 seed to even win 2 games was Oshawa in 2012 when Boone Jenner scored 4 goals & 4 assists in 2 games.
Boone Jenner of the Oshawa Generals. Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images
Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (34-3-2-1)
So going into the deadline the best team was easily the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. They still haven’t lost in regulation since Oct. 27th (Sarnia won 6-3) having gone 25-0-0-1 with only a loss in a shootout to Mississauga (Owen Tippett was incredible). The Soo are led by OHL scoring leader C Morgan Frost (PHI, 1st rd pick) & Top goaltender G Matt Villalta (LA, 3rd rd). They also have Team Canada standouts D Conor Timmins (COL, 2nd rd) & LW Boris Katchouk (TB, 2nd rd). As if that wasn’t enough, at the deadline the Soo added another Team Canada teammate in F Taylor Raddysh (TB 2nd rd) and D Jordan Sambrook (DET 5th) from Erie. Finnish Import & Overager Jonne Tammela (TB, 4th rd) was also added. They are easily the favourites to win the league and represent the OHL in the Memorial Cup.
Hamilton Bulldogs (25-9-3-3)
The top team in the Eastern Conference is the surprising Hamilton Bulldogs. They are led by a bit of an unheralded group in C Will Bitten (MTL 3rd rd), LW Matthew Strome (PHI 4th rd), RW Marian Studenic (NJ 5th rd), C Ryan Moore (20 yr old Undrafted) and F Brandon Saigeon (Undrafted). All good players who are very well coached (John Gruden) but lack the star quality of the Greyhounds. So GM Steve Staios went out at the deadline and acquired my favourite OHL’er – C Robert Thomas of the London Knights for highly touted 16 yr old F Connor McMichael and a boatload of draft picks. It was a bold move to strengthen an already impressive team but they really didn’t have much of a choice with divisional rival Kingston making so much noise in the days before. They also added veteran defencemen Riley Stillman (FLA, 4th rd) & Nick Mattinen (TOR, 6th rd) to solidify their back end.
Kingston Frontenacs (20-13-3-3)
No team made more big moves around the deadline than the Kingston Frontenacs. Before they made the deals, they were pretty much a two man with Top 5 scorer LW Jason Robertson (DAL 2nd rd) & G Jeremy Helvig (CAR, 5th rd) leading the way. They did have 2 promising 18 yr old Finns in D Eemeli Rasanen (TOR, 2nd rd) & undrafted RW Linus Nyman but it was hard to see them advancing far in the playoffs without some drastic additions. Well, enter C Gabriel Villardi (LA 1st rd), D Sean Day (NYR 3rd rd) from Windsor and F Max Jones (ANH 1st rd) & F Cliff Pu (BUF 3rd rd) from the London Knights (who went full-on rebuild). All were added at the deadline making Kingston an immediate threat to everyone in the East and maybe, just maybe to the rest of the OHL.
Sarnia Sting (27-12-2-3)
You may have noticed the Soo had 184 goals to date which is 35 more goals than every team in the OHL except for one – The Sarnia Sting. The Sting have 181 goals this season and have a fantastic coach in former NHL’er Derian Hatcher (I know right?). They are led by arguably the best player in the OHL Jordan Kyrou who was the Top scorer in the league before heading to the World Juniors. They are also the last team to beat Sault Ste. Marie in regulation back in Oct. 27th when they beat them 6-3 in Sarnia thanks to a Jordan Kyrou hat trick. They are a legit contender and quite possibly the biggest threat to the Greyhounds. So what did they do at the deadline? Well, they strengthened their defence by adding North Bay’s best player D Cam Dineen (ARZ 3rd rd) & Peterborough’s 2nd leading scorer Jonathan Ang (FLA, 4th rd). Two great additions to an otherwise unheralded group that looks to knock off the mighty Soo.
Kitchener Rangers (25-13-2-0)
If there is a sleeper team this year in the playoffs it could be the Kitchener Rangers. They do lead their division but trail Sarnia & Sault Ste. Marie in points overall and perhaps talent wise as well but they shouldn’t be underestimated. They are an experienced group and are led by LW Adam Mascherin (FLA, 2nd rd), C Connor Bunnaman (PHI 4th rd) & undrafted overager RW Kole Sherwood up front along with Logan Stanley (WPG, 1st rd) on the back end. At the deadline, they added the massive Logan Brown (OTT, 1st rd) & Givani Smith (DET, 2nd rd) They’re big & strong, very experienced and can score but their achilles will be their goaltending which wasn’t upgraded enough in my opinion. Overager G Mario Culina was also added to compete in net.
Other notable big names that moved:
LW Sam Miletic went to Niagara Ice Dogs (Should play on Maksimov’s line)
RW Dmitry Sokolov went to Barrie Colts (For Alexei Lipanov)
F Brett McKenzie went to Owen Sound
There’s been a lot of talk recently of how it’s unfair that teams can load up by offering up draft picks up to 10 years from now. It does seem kind of ridiculous when you think about it but as of now it appears there is no plans to change it. Organizations are restricted from trading away their 1st rd picks in trades so they don’t completely sell the farm something that may also been under review in the near future.
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*all stats and transactions are courtesy of Ontariohockeyleague.com