Every year in the Ontario Hockey League there are a few surprise teams that exceed expectations and have much more success than many expected. In this week's hot-stove, the panel attempts to project which teams will do that this year.
My surprise team for this year is none other than the Guelph Storm. They took a huge step forward last year in making the playoffs and giving the Plymouth Whalers a run for their money in the first round, and I think they’ll build off that this year.
They have a very deep, balanced attack up front lead by Scott Kosmachuk, Brock McGinn and 2013 draft eligibles Jason Dickinson and Hunter Garlent.
Guelph has a strong defense core lead by Captain Matt Finn and Andrey Pedan and they have a very good goaltender in Garret Sparks between the pipes.
If they can stay healthy, I think they’re deep and talented enough to make some noise this year in a very tough Western Conference.
Who will exceed expectations? Oh geez. I guess I am staying in the East for this. Can London exceed expectations of winning it all? Okay, back to the East. I think this answer is from the 'weaker' conference. And this year it may hold more weight than usual. Quickly think about who can win the East…only 1.5 teams come to mind. But it isn't even a lock. Mississauga would have been a smart pick if you asked 12 months ago. I guess I would have to go with Peterborough. There is some talent here despite going winless in preseason. A lot of good strong youth and I have pumped up their goaltending duo more than anyone. If their expectation is to make the playoffs, something they have had trouble doing frequently in the last 6 years, I would say the Petes winning their first round playoff series would be exceeding expectations. I like their older D. I like their crease pair. Ritchie will lead the youngins while Findlay and Menard will take some pressure off him. I also think there are some tricks up Dave Reid's sleeve. But as of right now. The Petes would be my pick to exceed expectations of just making the playoffs.
I chose our friends from the far East because they are the easiest pick. The 67's are well coached, they are always good and always in the mix in the OHL's East Division and Conference.
Few teams in the OHL and even fewer in the East are as consistent as the 67's. Winners of the last three Leyden Trophies as regular season East Divisions leaders, the 67's will be in tough for a fourth straight Leyden, with the Belleville Bulls ready to make a push, but the 67's can not be counted out. As the road to the OHL final through the East will run through the Nation's Capital.
The 67's will be lead by Sean Monahan. Monahan is the OHL’s top prospect for the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. Monahan will be the leader on this team and Ottawa’s new #1 centre. Monahan will be a force and will be one of the top players in the OHL and he won’t be alone. Even with the loss of Tyler Toffoli, Shane Prince and others. Steven Janes, Brett Gustavsen and Ryan Van Stralen all have offensive upside and can be counted on to chip in.
On the back end Ottawa is lead by Ottawa Senators draft pick Cody Ceci. After finishing 2nd in OHL D-Man scoring last season Ceci should put up great numbers again and will be in the running for the Max Kaminsky Trophy. Add OA Jake Cardwell and Sean Callaghan to give the 67's a nice top 3 to play in front of former Brampton Battalion goaltender Keegan Wilson and rookie Jacob Blair.
I have two choices. The first won't really be a surprise, but I'm expecting a lot more than most from the Belleville Bulls. Brendan Gaunce will continue to improve. Daniil Zharkov will find the consistency he lacked last season and prove to be a pure sniper. Malcolm Subban is more than capable of stealing games on his own and younger brother Jordan will have a break out year, all which will lead to great things from the Bulls.
Secondly, the Kingston Frontenacs. GM Doug Gilmour has assembled some very good, young talent. Add that to an excellent coach in Todd Gill and one can expect a marked improvement over last season. It's not hard to argue that an improvement won't take much, but I expect their improvement to be a huge one.
My surprise team is going to be the Kingston Frontenacs as I think they had a very strong draft in the spring and picked up a couple players mid-season a year ago that could be difference makers for them this season.
Ryan Kujawinski is a player that will probably rise up a lot of scouts draft board this season as he put up 30-points-in-30-games after being acquired for star Ryan Spooner prior to the trade deadline. He had only 6-points-in-29-games prior to the trade and as a second year player I'd expect him to keep getting better. The native of Iroquois Falls was the 4th overall pick in the 2011 Priority Selection. They also picked up Billy Jenkins from the Niagara Ice Dogs where he struggled. In a year-and-a-half with the Ice Dogs he had 11 points in 73 games, and as a Frontenac the Ottawa native he had 25 points in 31 games.
Both Jenkins and Kujawinski should continue to grow and mature as players, but when you throw into the mix 2nd overall pick from last spring, defenseman Rowland McKeown (who would have gone 1st overall if not for Connor McDavid being grated exception prior to the draft) and 9th overall pick winger Samuel Bennett, to go with a young line-up that will enter the season with an added year of experience and you should have a team good enough to make the playoffs in the weak Eastern Conference.
Another player to keep an eye on is 17-year-old Marc Beckstead, was privileged to watch him play a lot in Jr. A last year with the Cumberland Grads and he has the potential to be a steal as a 14th rounder from '11.
Not to mention that I think having Todd Gill behind the bench has made a world of difference for this struggling organization. There is a reason he was the head coach for Team Canada at the U-18's this summer and he is the right man to guide the Fronts back to contention.