OHL Team Previews – TheOilKnight.ca
 

Category: OHL Team Previews

By the OilKnight 08/23/19

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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.

credit: Sean Patrick Ryan
credit: Sean Patrick Ryan

 

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. 

 

 

THE FORWARDS

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. 

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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. 

2018 Knights draftees: Gerard Keane, Antonio Stranges, Sahil Panwar, Luke Evangelista

 

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.

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THE DEFENCE

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. 

#72 Alex Regula of the London Knights

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. 

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GOALTENDING

#31 Jordan Kooy of London (Getty Images)

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.  

 

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2019-20 OUTLOOK

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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By the OilKnight 03/30/19

Guelph Storm 40-18-6-4 vs. London Knights 46-15-6-1

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.

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Guelph Storm

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.

courtesy of guelphstorm.com

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.

G Anthony Popovich struggled a bit this year, but always seem to give the Knights fits. 18 yr old Nico Daws is a very capable backup if Popovich falters.

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London Knights

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).

Evan Bouchard of London Knights (Claus Anderson/Getty Images)

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.

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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.

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WINDSOR SPITFIRESCoach: Trevor Letowski (32-30-0-6)

 

 

2017-18 Season

Windsor won the Memorial Cup in 2016-17 but went into last season without their coach Rocky Thompson who had moved on to the AHL. They also lost several key players like Jeremiah AddisonMikhail SergachevJeremy BraccoGraham Knott and others so last year was a bit of a rebuilding one for the Spitfires. By midseason, they went full rebuild moving vets like Aaron LuchukLogan Brown and Sean Day. Despite all those personnel losses though, Windsor still managed to finish the season with a winning record and 6th in the Conference thanks to their outstanding goaltender Michael DiPietro who was stellar yet again and arguably the best goalie in the league. 

That 6th place finish however set them up with an unfortunate 1st round matchup versus the Sarnia Sting who despite finishing the season with the 2nd most points in the OHL (97 pts) were the #3 seed.  It was a back and forth series initially as Windsor stole Game 1 in Sarnia and it was tied after 4 games.  DiPietro did his best to keep his team in the series posting a fantastic .934 SV% but in the end it wasn’t enough as the Windsor ultimately bowed out in 6 games. 

Considering how many players the Spitfires lost in a short period of time it was actually a pretty good season for them when all was said and done. They didn’t score a lot last season (5th lowest in league) but they didn’t give up a ton of goals either (7th best in OHL). They have an extremely young but talented defence core that got some much needed experience and should be better off for it this year. 

Windsor was also able to re-stock their Draft pick supply by unloading a bunch of veterans while acquiring a couple of talented young forwards to build around in the future in Curtis Douglas Cody Morgan. It has actually been an incredible transformation in such a short period of time as this team went from Memorial Cup Champions one season, unloaded a pile of players the following year while still making the playoffs and now set themselves up for what looks to be another strong season. 

 

2017 Memorial Cup Champion Windsor Spitfires. (Courtesy of CHL.ca)

 

 

2018-19 Outlook

This year’s Windsor Spitfires look to be a highly competitive team. Of course, a lot depends on whether their stellar goaltender Michael DiPietro returns. He signed his entry level contract with the Canucks this offseason and is determined to make the team out of camp. While you have to love his determination that is highly unlikely as 19 yr old goalies RARELY make the NHL at that age but you never know….

If he were to stick with Vancouver that would be a huge blow to Windsor as that tweet mentions. He is vital to their success this year and if nothing else they could flip him to another OHL team worst case scenario and get a huge haul for him. However, if he does not return to the OHL at all it will set the Spitfires back considerably. So needless to say whatever happens to DiPietro is the critical component for success in Windsor. 

Assuming he does in fact come back, Windsor is set up nicely to make a nice run with their talented roster. Their defence is really deep and should be even stronger this season with the return of 6 of their Top 7 defencemen from last year (Four 17 yr olds). Up front, they should be able to improve on their Goals For last season which means we’re probably looking at a middle of the pack playoff team again with the potential to go further depending how the preseason shakes out.

Gone is Jake Smith who was a veteran of the QMJHL until last season when he came over and contributed 20 goals & 48 points for the Spits. Zachary Shankar who was acquired midseason from Niagara also moves on. 

 

Michael DiPietro of the Windsor Spitfires. Photo by OHL images

 

 

 

Offensively how good could they be?

Windsor has a couple of big, dominating Centers over the last few years in Gabriel Vilardi and Logan Brown who have had great success under this regime. Curtis Douglas is the next one in line and he is bigger than everyone.

Douglas, is a massive 6’8″, 252 LB center who has some nice hands and good speed for such a big man, came over in the Aaron Luchuk trade and had an immediate impact scoring 15 goals & 28 pts in 38 games. Now, he becomes the main man in the middle looking to build on last season where he ended up getting drafted in the 4th round of the NHL draft. He has the potential to put up 30+ goals in this his 3rd OHL campaign. 

Flanking Douglas on one side will be 19 yr old RW Cole Purboo who returns as the Spits leading scorer from last season. He scored 21 goals & 49 pts in 68 games.  18 yr old LW Mathew MacDougall will likely man the left side of the Top line after coming off a 17 goal campaign. 

That should give Windsor the makings of a pretty solid Top line. The question will be who else will step up and provide this team with some secondary scoring. There are several options including 17 yr olds in Cody MorganDaniel D’Amico and Tyler Angle all who showed promise last season as 16 yr olds. 

Luke Boka is another player who should be able to help contribute more after posting a 15 goal, 40 point season last year. The brother of Nick Boka (6th rd, MIN) is a feisty forward with good size who goes hard to the net. He went undrafted by the NHL in his draft year +1 but works hard and brings experience and leadership to this young team. 

If Igor Larionov jr. returns as an overager it should also help this top 6 tremendously as he had 23 points in 32 games including 3 pts in 4 games in the playoffs. He battled concussion and knee injuries last year but was highly productive when healthy. 

Lastly, Jean-Luc Foudy brother of Liam Foudy (1st rd, CLB) of the London Knights is a blazing fast player like his older brother and is known for his high hockey sense. He is a diminutive player who can fly and who should be able to step in and play regularly right away though likely won’t contribute a lot offensively in his rookie year. 

 

 

2019 Draft Eligibles

#28 Cody Morgan of Windsor

Cory Morgan was acquired in the blockbuster trade with Kingston midseason. He was drafted in the 1st round (12th overall) in the 2017 OHL draft. He is a highly skilled forward who has a tremendous shot and release. His skating is a bit of a concern but he plays a solid 2 way game and is capable of playing in all situations. He scored 6 goals & 14 pts in 32 games with Windsor and will be relied on to increase his productivity significantly in his draft year. Tough to tell what kind of an NHL prospect he will be yet but he has a chance.

LW Daniel D’Amico is a playmaker who sees the ice extremely well and can make some beautiful passes. He scored 12 goals in 59 games last year too so he’s got some offensive skill. Smart, possession type winger who is a nice OHL player but probably won’t be drafted in June due to his lack of size and physicality.

C Tyler Angle, is another smaller forward who plays bigger and has good speed. He appears to be more of a grinder than a natural goal scorer but did manage to chip in 10 goals last season. It’s unlikely he will be drafted by an NHL club.

Overall, there is certainly talent here in this group. Douglas should be a monster up front and he has a few vets to work with but the real key will be how much production they get from their 16 & 17 yr olds. Adding another veteran or two might not be a bad idea either if the kids struggle early. 

 

How good is the defensive unit?

Connor Corcoran. Courtesy Getty Images.

Connor Corcoran (5th rd, DAL) was basically thrown to the wolves last year after Sean Day & Austin McEneny got traded midseason. He was playing with fellow 17 yr old Thomas Stevenson while the Spits had four other 16 yr olds garnering regular ice time. That meant Corcoran had to play big minutes for this club in all situations and against the other team’s top lines regularly. While there were some rough patches at times he managed to hold up remarkably well and was outstanding in the playoffs limiting the OHL‘s most dangerous player Jordan Kyrou to only 1 goal & 1 assist in 6 playoff games

Corcoran was one of the most underrated players in the 2018 NHL draft. He is actually a converted forward who only started playing defence full-time once he got to the OHL in 2016. He is considered a shutdown defenceman right now but skates very well, has good size and mobility and is an excellent puck mover. He’s pretty solid in all areas quite frankly and with his big shot he has sneaky offensive upside as well. He will be leaned on a lot again this year but I suspect will handle it with extreme poise and could break out offensively if given more opportunity. 

Stevenson, as mentioned partnered with Corcoran for the majority of the second half of the season and did an admirably job himself. He has the ability to jump up and join the rush but really worked hard on his defence last season playing top pair. 

 

2019 Draft Eligibles

As mentioned, the Spitfires have four 17 yr olds now patrolling the blue line led by former NHLer Steve Staios‘ son – Nathan Staios.

#44 Nathan Staios. OHL Images.

LD Nathan Staios was the 17th overall pick in the 2017 OHL Draft. He inherits a lot of the same qualities his father had – he’s smart, he’s a leader, he works hard, he’s highly competitive and he plays bigger than his size. The young  Staios also has a big shot and is capable of running a powerplay which should bold well for this team as he is probably the most natural doing so. He’ll need to continue to get stronger and hopefully bigger while also improving his skating along the way. He is a decent skater now with good edgework but lacks top end speed which got him in trouble a bit last year. If he’s able to get stronger in that area he could be a player of interest in the 1st couple rounds of the NHL draft. 

RD Grayson Ladd was also drafted in 2017 OHL draft. In fact, he was selected 5 picks ahead of Nathan Staios by Kitchener (13th overall). He is rangy defender who is a tremendous skater that plays a solid 2 way game. Often referred to as a “toolsy” player he has untapped potential as a mobile puckmover but is highly inconsistent. Ladd should be a staple on the second pair but likely needs to improve his offensive production considerably if he is going to develop into a legit NHL prospect.

LD Lev Starikov is another massive player for the Spitfires. Listed at 6’7″, 190 on hockeydb.com  he is surprisingly mobile for such a big man and actually has some nice puck rushing ability. His combination of size and speed could be tantalizing for some NHL team and his game is somewhat reminiscent of Nikita Zadorov at this stage.

Louka Henault is a 5th rd pick in the 2017 OHL Draft. He is a good skater with good size but has limited offensive ability and will likely not be selected at the NHL draft. 

Overall, this defensive unit was the youngest in the OHL last season after the midseason trades and held up surprisingly well all else considered. It helped they had a stellar goalie behind them but make no mistake this is a talented group. The key obviously will be the maturation and development of their four 17 yr olds but they are much more experienced now and it should show up on the statsheet.

 

 

Goaltending

Michael DiPietro, was all-world for this team last season and pretty much his entire OHL career up to this point. If he does come back to Windsor for his 4th year he is expected to be nothing short of superb yet again. He is extremely athletic and capable of making acrobatic saves. His recovery time is the best in the league and he lateral movement cross crease is outstanding. He’s confident and battles hard each and every night. If he does ultimately come back to the OHL and gets traded to a contender eventually, that team would be an immediate favourite to win the OHL. He’s that good. 

Kari Piiroinen, was drafted in the 2018 Import draft to backup DiPietro. Considered by GM Warren Rychel as “the best goaltender in Finland in his age group” he is expected to eventually replace him and dominate in the OHL. He is touted as a very athletic goalie who is fundamentally sound. He posted a 2.78 GAA & .912 SV% last season for HIFK-U18.  

 

Summary

This is a good Windsor team that is really strong on defence and in net. The development of some of their forwards up front is key as they have a chance to be really good if a couple of them break out. Piiroinen is also a huge wildcard. If he can step into the OHL and have success early it might accelerate a trade of DiPietro and bring back some valuable assets – assuming of course he is even back in the first place. Either way, this is definitely a playoff calibre team who could surprise. 

 

 

 

 

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