By the OilKnight 03/30/19
Round 2 of the OHL playoffs kick off this week. There might not be a more anticipated series in recent memory than this, as the 4th place Guelph Storm take on the 1st place London Knights. Regular season standings aside, both teams are absolutely loaded and primed for a Memorial Cup run. Problem is, only one team gets to advance. So a very good team is going home after this Round which is a shame but harsh reality. It should be a heckuva series that might take the full seven games to ultimately determine a winner.
~ ~ ~
Guelph is a veteran team loaded with experience. Of their Top 9 scoring forwards, 8 of them are already 20 yrs old or will be 20 yrs old this year. On defence, 5 of their Top 6 defencemen are or will be 20 yrs old this year. Their goalie Anthony Popovich, also turns 20 this summer. Which means, they’re all in on this season.
The Storm are led by their captain Isaac Ratcliffe (2nd rd, PHI) up front who had 50 goals this year, along with midseason additions and Team Canada alum Nick Suzuki (1st rd, MTL) and Mackenzie Entwhistle (3rd rd, ARZ). Both Suzuki & Entwhistle had 30+ goals, as did veterans Nate Schnarr (3rd rd, ARZ) & Liam Hawel (4th rd, DAL) making them a dangerous team up front. Schnarr in fact, was their leading point getter with 102 points. They are not an overlay fast group but they are physical & aggressive forecheckers, who tend to create havoc in the opponent’s zone and cause a lot of turnovers.
Sean Durzi (2nd rd, LA) heads a much improved defensive unit that really came into their own in the 2nd of the season especially with the addition of another Team Canada alum Markus Phillips (4th rd, LA). Dmitri Samorukov (3rd rd, EDM) might be the most improved player in the league since the World Juniors. In total, 11 players have been drafted by NHL clubs. They’re big, they’re experienced, and they have 4 lines that come at you hard, along with a talented and aggressive defence.
~ ~ ~
Unlike Guelph, London has a nice mix of veterans, 2019 draft eligibles & 16 yr olds who helped lead them to a 1st place finish in the OHL. The Knights only have 8 players drafted by an NHL team, though two of them are Top 10 NHL picks, while another was taken 18th overall (Liam Foudy).
London’s strength is on the backend, where they are led by captain Evan Bouchard (1st rd, EDM) and Adam Boqvist (1st rd, CHI). Both put tremendous pressure on opposing dmen with their terrific puck rushing ability & offensive pedigree. Bouchard is easily the best Powerplay quarterback in the OHL, and Boqvist might be the best pinching in from the point. Boqvist scored 4 goals in one game vs. Windsor, and Bouchard already has 10 points in 4 games. Much of London’s success depends on those two not only on the offensive end, but also the defensive end where they both really struggled at times during the regular season. Against Guelph, they will be tested by the Storm’s relentless forecheck and need to be up to the challenge. Otherwise, London will have a tough time keeping up with Guelph’s potent offence.
Up front, London is led by Alex Formenton (2nd rd, OTT), Liam Foudy (1st rd, CLB), and undrafted overager and team leading scorer in the regular season – Kevin Hancock. Formenton is a possession monster who can beat you with his dynamic speed if you’re not careful. He’s always looking for that stretch pass behind the defence. Foudy is almost as fast and dynamic as him. Both need to do a much better job of finishing though. The key in this series will be secondary scoring from guys like Connor McMichael, Nathan Dunkley & Cole Tymkin. All of whom had excellent starts to the season but faded down the stretch. If they can chip in a few goals in this series, and the defence holds up defensively, London can win this series. Jordan Kooy (6th rd, VGK) will likely be in net after a solid Round 1.
~ ~ ~
How they matchup
London went 7 for 13 (53.8%) on the PP in the 1st round against Windsor after finishing 9th in the OHL in the regular season. Don’t expect that to happen again against Guelph who had the 8th best PK this season.
Guelph went 5 for 12 (41.7%) in the opening round after finishing the season with the 3rd best PP in the OHL. London had the #1 PK unit in the league this year.
It should be an incredible series as these teams are evenly matched on paper. London really struggled defensively down the stretch, including two big losses to Guelph where the Knights were outscored by a total of 12-4. This series will come down to London‘s defence vs. Guelph‘s offence and it will probably take the full 7 games to decide a winner. Should be a doozy.
Guelph won the series 4-2 this season.
To comment, please do so via Twitter @TheOilKnight