By the OilKnight 08/23/19
The London Knights kick off their training camp on Monday officially, but in the meantime here is a preview of what their roster might look like in 2019-20, and who to watch out for as potential surprises.
The losses in personnel this year are like most years in London – significant. Evan Bouchard, Adam Boqvist, Joey Keane, and Alex Formenton all move on the pros. William Lochead, Kevin Hancock, and Joseph Raaymakers were overagers last season and are now ineligible. That means London’s Top pair and 4 of their Top 5 defencemen, won’t be back. In addition, there is a chance Liam Foudy sticks with the Columbus Blue Jackets full-time, which would mean London would be missing their Top 5 playoff scorers from last season. They need a new captain and they need to replace their entire 5 man Top Powerplay unit. But, never say rebuild in London – it’s simply a restocking.
Last season, four 16 year olds got into games and this season at least another four should get an opportunity at some point. This is a very young team but as usual, they are still very talented.
A lot of what London is able to do offensively should stem from the play of Connor McMichael (WSH, 1st rd). After only registering 16 points as a 16 yr old (between two teams), McMichael exploded last season for 36 goals & 72 points. He had a terrific start to the season but did fade down the stretch and in the playoffs. Of course, the return of Alex Formenton and acquisition of Kevin Hancock mid-season did play a factor in that as his role was somewhat reduced. Consistency all year round should be a major focus for McMichael this season. He typically has a high compete level, soft hands, excellent speed, and a great knack for tips and rebounds in front of the net. He can also be a bit of an emotional catalyst with his goal celebrations. He will undoubtedly become a leader for this team up front.
McMichael should be flanked by his common linemate last year in Matvei Guskov (MIN, 4th rd). Listed as a center, Guskov played mainly at RW with McMichael and finished the season with 12 goals & 30 points. He brings a solid 2 way game and shows flashes of high end skill. However, he needs to take a more determined approach and attack the net with more authority. Guskov skates very well, has a very good shot and a bit of physicality in his game. Be interesting to see what he can do on the Powerplay as he barely got a sniff there last season.
At left wing, there are plenty of options but it would be nice to see Antonio Stranges step up into that role. Stuck in basically a bottom six role for the majority of last season, Stranges still managed to pot a respectable 13 goals & 34 points. He also got very little Powerplay time as indicated by the 4 PP assists he finished with the year with. Stranges is a fabolous skater with tremendous skill. His backhand is the best in the draft and his playmaking ability is outstanding. He is probably the most talented player the Knights have had since Mitch Marner. A full season in the top six and on the top PP would give Stranges a real chance to beat McMichael’s mark of 72 points last year. Could sneak into the Top 10 of the 2019-20 NHL draft by June.
Beyond those three, there are several veterans and a few young guys who could step up and provide that secondary scoring punch. Wingers Nathan Dunkley and Cole Tymkin are two solid OHL vets who should be able to help pick up some of the slack. They had 23 and 22 goals respectively, and should be good bets to get close to 25 again. C Billy Moskal and C/LW Josh Nelson both have excellent speed and might be able to chip in close to 20 each if everything goes right. Then there’s Johnny Gruden (OTT, 4th rd), who recently committed to playing in London this season after playing in the NCAA last season. While not known as an elite scorer, he does play a very solid 2 way game and should be able to chip in close to 20 goals too. C Alex Turko is a very solid penalty killer and 4th line center. Not a flashy group but several solid, experienced vets who could help lighten the load up front.
The real wildcards here though, are Luke Evangelista and Sahil Panwar. Drafted in the 1st and 2nd rounds of the 2018 OHL draft respectively, Panwar actually had the greater success as a 16 yr old last season. He registered 5 goals & 8 points in 26 games and showed off his terrific puck skills and soft hands. He can play center or the wing so depending on what happens with Foudy and Vegas 4th rounder C Paul Cotter (who is eligible to play in the AHL), he could get an early shot in the Top 6 with a good camp.
Evangelista, was actually the first player drafted for London in 2018 ahead of Stranges and Panwar. He has tremendous ability but struggled to generate much offence in his rookie season albeit in very limited minutes. He’s billed as a speedy playmaker and should get much more opportunity to impress and earn his coach’s trust this season.
Rookies Stuart Rolofs (1st rd, 2019) and Max McCue (2nd rd, 2019) should also be in the mix. Rolofs is a sniper who has a terrific shot and release, very good speed & can dangle a bit too. McCue, is the better playmaker of the two and has great vision and high hockey sense. Playing time for rookies is usually limited under coach Hunter so I wouldn’t expect too much from either player this season.
Overall, it’s a solid group of veterans complimenting the Top line, along with a few promising young players who if they can step up their games, would give this team 4 solid lines. If Liam Foudy returns like Formenton did last year, it should make this one of the Top units in the OHL.
Evan Bouchard and Adam Boqvist had 36 goals and 77 assists between the two of them last season and that included 48 powerplay points. Which means regardless of who London deems as their replacements, they are going to have a hard time trying to replace that kind of production from the back end. One things for sure though, steady rearguard Alec Regula (DET, 3rd rd) will continue to be an integral part of this defensive group.
Regula, has certainly become one of the most reliable defenders in the OHL the last couple years. He plays a very poised game now, is physical and moves the puck quickly out of his own zone. For a big guy he’s actually pretty mobile too. He got some valuable PP time early in the year that might help him moving forward this season. However, his real value is on the Penalty kill where he has excelled. He’s played a lot with Bouchard in the last 2 seasons more in a defensive role but he has sneaky offensive upside. Be interesting to see how he’s utilized this year as London is very young on D. Regula is a good candidate to replace Bouchard as Captain of the Knights.
Recently signed Hunter Skinner (NYR, 4th rd) out of the USHL will look to fill some of the offensive void left by Bouchard and Boqvist. He is billed as an athletic, offensive defenceman who likes to join the rush and could add some pop to the Powerplay with his big shot. It’s very possible we could see him on the top pair with Regula shifting over to the left side like he has done so often in his OHL career thus far.
Another kid that should make an immediate impact on the blueline for London, is Russian import Kirill Steklov. Steklov, represented Russia in the most recent Hlinka-Gretzky Cup and had a very positive showing. He’s a big kid that moves real well and GM Mark Hunter compared him a lot to Nikita Zadorov when he played in London. He is NHL draft eligible this year.
17 yr old RD Gerard Keane played 29 games for the Knights last season, and should get an opportunity to play Top 4 minutes this year. The younger brother of Joey Keane who also played in London, Gerard is an excellent skater with good hockey sense and puck moving ability.
The rest of the group should consist of basically rookies and inexperienced players with one exception. 20 yr old Riley Coome, who has played 107 OHL games the past two seasons, likely slots in as one of the Top 6 defencemen on this team. He’s not flashy but he’s a big body & is efficient defensively.
One of the most interesting training camp battles should be between 16 yr olds Bryce Montgomery and Logan Mailloux. Both are big kids, both shoot right handed, and both will be vying for a spot on the 3rd pair. Mailloux, is the more highly touted of the two having recently been drafted in the 2nd round of the 2019 OHL draft. He’s big, has good speed & and owns an intriguing skill-set. He’s a good puck mover & possesses a heavy shot. However, don’t count out Montgomery who has a lot of those similar traits including size and tremendous skating ability himself. He’s also recognized as a player with a high hockey IQ. Realistically, both will likely make the team and get their share of playing time.
18 yr old Liam Whittaker has only played a couple of games for London the last 2 season but is looking to make a good impression while 16 yr old Benjamin Roger got into 1 game last season and has an outside shot at making the team out of camp.
Connor Federkow (3rd rd, 2019) could be the biggest sleeper here. He made a good impression with a few big hits in the U17 camp for Team Canada. He’s weighed at only 148 lbs but throws every pound of that frame around and plays bigger than his size. Probably doesn’t have any outstanding traits other than his compete level which gives him a chance.
Overall, the Knights will likely sink or swim based on how quickly this relatively young and inexperienced unit is able to gel.
Jordan Kooy (VGK, 7th rd) is clearly the man in net for the Knights this season. After splitting the duties with overager Joseph Raaymakers last year, Kooy took over in the playoffs starting every game. He’s big and very athletic for his size. He seemed to gain confidence as the year went on, and appeared to be tracking pucks much better. A lot will be riding on his shoulders this season especially early as the young defence in front of him gain some valuable experience. He should ultimately be one of the top goalies in the OHL by years end.
Brett Bochu, was drafted in the 6th round of the 2018 OHL draft and is expected to be the backup this season barring a trade.
This London Knights team is young but still loaded with talent. With Connor McMichael, Matvei Guskov, Antonio Stranges & potentially Liam Foudy up front, they should be able to score plenty of goals. On the back end, there will be some growing pains but if Hunter Skinner & Kirill Steklov can come in and provide some stability and take some pressure off of Alec Regula, they should be ok there too. Jordan Kooy should be able to keep the young Knights in most games but at this point, there are plenty of “ifs” heading into training camp.
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