The Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights are known as a model of consistency and are viewed as the ideal way of building a squad across the Canadian Junior circuit. For a lack of a better term, they are the Detroit Red Wings of junior hockey.
They are coming off back-to-back OHL Championships but a heartbreaking loss in the Memorial Cup in 2012 and a disappointing defeat in 2013. They are the hosts of the 2014 Memorial Cup and the hope is that the third time is a charm.
London’s top two defensemen are off to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ orientation camp and will take part in their rookie tournament. Scott Harrington could either make the big club or be assigned to their American Hockey League affiliate. Olli Maatta’s only option is to make the Penguins out of camp or return to the Knights.
Nikita Zadorov, the 16th overall pick of the Buffalo Sabres in June’s NHL Draft should return and have a big year for the Knights after a season in which he acclimated well to the North American game. Canadian visa issues kept Zadorov from attending the opening of the Knights camp. Miles Liberati who played in 42 games last season returns to camp eager and ready to be a regular. The offensive defenseman has added some bulk and worked on his defensive game. Dakota Mermis played 27 games last season joining the Knights mid season after jumping ship from the University of Denver will have an expanded role.
Justin Sefton was a third round pick (89th overall) by the San Jose Sharks in 2011, and without an NHL contract, will return as an overage player looking for more ice time after being relegated after the Knights acquired him from the Sudbury Wolves last season. With overager Tommy Hughes moving on, it’s up to Sefton to earn the shutdown role.
In goal, both Anthony Stolarz and Jake Patterson will battle for time in the cage. Stolarz also joined the Knights mid-season after leaving the University of Nebraska – Omaha. He’s a second round pick (45th overall) of the Philadelphia Flyers and will attend their rookie camp and his first main camp. Once Stolarz arrived, Patterson mostly watched from the bench as the season went on but at the Memorial Cup, he was coach Dale Hunter’s go to guy.
Up front, Seth Griffith will join the Boston Bruins’ AHL affiliate in Boston. Alex Broadhurst could join the Chicago Blackhawks AHL affiliate in Rockford or return for his overage year with the Knights. Even if the Knights were to lose both, the impact will be minimal as the Knights have a truck load of talent on the front end. Max Domi and Bo Horvat are likely to return. Chris Tierney will play a bigger role as will Josh Anderson. Ditto for Remi Elie and Kyle Platzer. The Rupert twins will be.... well, the Rupert twins. The list never seems to end.
The biggest additions this season have to be the recruitments of Michael McCarron and Christian Dvorak. McCarron is a first round draft pick of the Montreal Canadiens who had committed to play for Western Michigan. Dvorak is a top prospect for the 2014 NHL Draft who had a verbal commitment to play for the University of Wisconsin.
The Knights have as many as 17 players heading to NHL camps and it could be a rough ride at the start of the season. But it won’t last. If there is any weakness in this team, it may just be on the blue line. But as history has proven, if there’s a hole to be filled Mark and Dale Hunter and assistant GM Rob Simpson will move to fill that hole.
And while exhibition season is just beginning and rosters haven’t been completed, it’s never too early for a prediction and here’s mine: The Knights will win the Western Conference and will meet the Eastern Conference Champion Kingston Frontenacs for the OHL Championship. Win or lose, both will head to the Memorial Cup.