While the Ontario Hockey League playoff races have begun to take shape, the end of the National Hockey League lockout really threw a monkey-wrench into the plans of certain teams heading down the stretch. Many top OHL players have been gone from their junior clubs over the past couple of weeks in attempt of making the jump to the big league, leaving some teams with uncertain futures.

First and foremost, the Sarnia Sting now know that they will be without the services of premier forward Alexander Galchenyuk, as the third overall pick of the Canadiens last summer has stuck in Montreal, and will remain with the Habs. The Sting have sputtered in his absence, and have gone 3-5-0 in their last eight games, losing control of first place in the West Division to the Plymouth Whalers, who had Tom Wilson (Washington’s 1st round 2012) returned to them. The news changes things in Sarnia, as instead of being the second seed they fall into a battle for sixth, and could wind up facing a team such as Owen Sound, Kitchener, or the aforementioned Plymouth in the first round of the playoffs.

Kitchener is a team that could have been seriously hampered by the end of the lockout, but all four of the players who left for NHL camps were returned to the team. Being able to keep netminder John Gibson(Ducks), defenders Frank Corrado(Canucks) and Ryan Murphy(Hurricanes), as well as forward Radek Faksa(Stars) in their lineup makes the Rangers an incredible team to watch over the final few months of the season, and a team that has enough skill to compete with anyone in the West.

Looking east, perhaps no team was affected more by the players away than the Niagara Icedogs, who have tailspined out of contention for first in the Eastern Conference with a seven-game losing streak. The streak coincides with the departure of several key components for the Icedogs, most notably Dougie Hamilton, who has impressed early in the NHL season with the Boston Bruins. While it appears likely that Hamilton has played his last game for Niagara, the same cannot be said for Icedogs forwards Ryan Strome (Islanders) and Brett Ritchie (Stars), as both have rejoined the team for the playoff run.

Much like the Kitchener Rangers in the West, the Oshawa Generals appeared likely to be hurt by the end of the lockout, as star forwards Boone Jenner (Blue Jackets) and Scott Laughton (Flyers) both left for camps with intentions on making the team. While Jenner was returned to Oshawa before long with Columbus, Laughton would excel in camp with Philadelphia, earning himself a five-game stay with the team. Sunday afternoon, Laughton was sent back to the Generals, giving Oshawa their core group of forwards to challenge the likes of Belleville and Barrie for the Eastern Conference championship. Speaking of Barrie, the Colts are eagerly awaiting word on what the Winnipeg Jets will choose to do with Mark Scheifele. Many are expecting him sent back to Barrie, but if the Jets choose to keep him, his absence may open the door for another team in the East.

Players Of The Week

Top Forward

Vincent Trocheck (Plymouth Whalers) – While many players were dealt to new clubs in the days leading to the OHL Trade Deadline earlier this month, perhaps no player has had a bigger impact on his new team than Vincent Trocheck, who has absolutely dominated the league since pulling on a Whalers jersey. Vincent is our choice as the league’s Top Forward this week after registering three three-point games over the last seven days, increasing his totals in Plymouth to sixteen points in just eight games, after posting 50 points in 35 games with Saginaw this season. Last Monday, Trocheck would tally three helpers, leading the Whalers to a big win over Erie. On Thursday, Vince scored twice, including one shorthanded, and added another assist as Plymouth pounded Windsor. Sarnia was able to solve the Trocheck mystery on Friday, keeping Vince off the scoresheet and defeating the Whalers, but in the rematch a night later, he was back, scoring twice more and picking up another apple in the Plymouth victory. Vincent played four games this week, and made them count, finishing the week with four goals and nine points.

Top Defenceman

Ryan Murphy (Kitchener Rangers) – Never the flashiest player, Ryan Murphy continues to make a steady contribution to the Kitchener Rangers attack, and impressed in his showing this week. Perhaps playing to show Carolina Hurricanes management that he should have stayed with the club, Ryan took his game to another level upon his return to Kitchener, helping the Rangers to three straight wins in the process. Friday night, Murphy scored one and added two assists, all in the second period, to lead Kitchener over Erie. In the rematch on the road Saturday, Ryan was held off of the scoresheet, but was a regular presence in the contest, posting a +2 in a 4-1 Rangers win. Murphy registered another goal and assist Sunday evening in Guelph, his marker being the game winner in a 3-2 game. Ryan Murphy’s two goals and five points, along with his +6 rating in three games earns him another nod as our OHL Top Defenceman of the week.

Top Goaltender

Malcolm Subban (Belleville Bulls) – Many have pointed to the recent additions on offense being key in their emergence as the team to beat in the East Division, the return of Malcolm Subban from the World Junior Tournament has been the much-needed boost that pushed the Bulls into first place. While he would only see action in two of Belleville’s three games this week, Malcolm really shined when called upon, giving up only a single goal in each contest while facing quality competition. Wednesday night, Subban was calm, cool, and collected, turning aside 32 of 33 Oshawa shots to help the Bulls reclaim first place, and made 22 more saves on Saturday against the visiting London Knights, helping his club defeat the league’s top team 3-1. In stopping 54 of the 56 shots sent his way, Malcolm Subban is this week’s choice as Top Goaltender, posting a .964 save percentage.

OHL Power Rankings

1. London Knights – (Last Week: 1) For the eighth straight week, the London Knights hold position atop the OHL Power Rankings, as they continue to ride the 28-game point streak that lofted them comfortably into first place in league standings. The Knights won two of three games over an eastern-Ontario road-trip, beginning with an impressive win in Ottawa on Thursday night. London would be shut down in Belleville on Saturday night, but replied with another win to end the week, defeating Kingston Sunday afternoon. It should be an interesting week for the Knights as they play twice over the weekend, hosting Brampton on Friday night, before heading to Owen Sound for a game a night later.

2. Barrie Colts – (Last Week: 2) Still the cream of the crop in the Eastern Conference, the Barrie Colts hold at number two this week, winning twice to erase a mid-week loss on Wednesday night in Owen Sound. The Colts picked up the win in overtime the next night in Niagara, then returned home to defeat Peterborough on Saturday. Barrie begins a six-game road-trip this week with two contests away from the BMC, as they head back to Owen Sound for another Wednesday night clash before playing in Kingston on Friday night.

3. Kitchener Rangers – (Last Week: 8) A perfect three-game weekend for the Kitchener Rangers sees them with one of the week’s biggest jumps in the OHL Power Rankings, as they leap five spots to enter the top three. The Rangers used a pair of victories over Erie, Friday night and on the road Saturday, before winning again Sunday evening in Guelph. Winners of four in a row, and seven of their last eight, Kitchener hopes to keep the streak alive with a pair of home games this weekend, hosting Owen Sound on Friday night, and Erie Sunday afternoon.

4. Belleville Bulls – (Last Week: 4) By earning five out of six possible points, the Belleville Bulls re-established themselves this week as the team to beat in the OHL’s East Division, winning a battle for first with the visitors from Oshawa on Wednesday night. A night later, Belleville was dropped in a shootout in Peterborough, leaving a valuable point behind, but the Bulls regrouped for an impressive win Saturday night, defeating London on home-ice. With three games this week, Belleville has a real chance to put some distance between themselves and the rest of the division. The Bulls host Kingston on Wednesday and Sarnia on Saturday, before another big contest in Oshawa on Sunday afternoon.

5. Saginaw Spirit – (Last Week: 12) The biggest leap on this week’s OHL Power Rankings belongs to the Saginaw Spirit, who are up seven spots to enter the top five, and enter the top ten for the first time this season. The Spirit would win all three games this week away from home, bringing an end to a January that saw Saginaw go 9-2-0. A win in Erie on Wednesday was followed win wins in Mississauga and Niagara on Friday and Saturday, respectively, and Saginaw will look to keep their recent success going with a pair of games back at home this weekend. The Spirit play host to Peterborough on Friday and Sault Ste. Marie a day later.

6. Guelph Storm – (Last Week: 3) After a big leap a week ago, the Guelph Storm regress slightly on this week’s rankings, winding up at number six, even though they would win twice over a tough three-game weekend. On Friday night, the Storm defeated the visitors from Owen Sound, and won again the rematch a night later in Owen Sound. Guelph finished the weekend on a sour note, dropping a Sunday evening game back at home to Kitchener. The Storm play just twice in the week ahead, both against Windsor, playing at home on Friday night before the team’s battle again in Windsor Sunday afternoon.

7. Plymouth Whalers – (Last Week: 11) The Plymouth Whalers played four games since the writing of last week’s Power Rankings, and picked up seven points in the process, allowing them to climb four spots this week. The Whalers won big on Monday afternoon at home to Erie, and did so again in Windsor on Thursday night. After losing in a shootout in Sarnia on Friday, Plymouth returned home to win a rematch with Sarnia Saturday night. The Whalers remain on home-ice for both of their contests this weekend, as Sault Ste. Marie comes to town on Friday night, while Peterborough visits Saturday.

8. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds – (Last Week: 10) The Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds continue to impress with their play so far in the second half of the season, and climb two spots to number eight this week in the OHL Power Rankings by earning five of six possible points in the last seven days. The Hounds got a big overtime win in Sudbury on Wednesday night, but couldn’t pick up the bonus point in extra time on Friday, losing a shootout at home to Windsor. The Soo rebounded on Saturday, defeating the visitors from Oshawa, and have earned points in eight of their last nine games (6-1-2). The Greyhounds cross the border for a pair of games this weekend, playing in Plymouth on Friday, and in Saginaw on Saturday.

9. Sudbury Wolves – (Last Week: 6)  Down three spots this week, the Sudbury Wolves continue to find a way to earn points as the Eastern Conference standings begin to tighten among the top eight. The Wolves completed a five-game home-stand this week, losing in overtime Wednesday against Sault Ste. Marie, and in a shootout Friday night against Oshawa, before finishing the stand with a big win Sunday afternoon over Windsor. Sudbury has picked up points in five straight, and hope that trend continues when they play three games in four days coming up, beginning Thursday night in Niagara. Saturday night, the Wolves are in Erie, then play again Sunday afternoon, this time in Brampton.

10. Owen Sound Attack – (Last Week: 5) A week that started well didn’t end so, and it sees the Owen Sound Attack slide five spots this week, landing at number ten in the OHL Power Rankings. Wednesday night, the Attack were nearly perfect at home, posting a shutout over Barrie, but met their match in games against Guelph on Friday and Saturday, finding themselves on the other end of a shutout at home in the latter contest. Owen Sound will look to right the ship with three more games this week, including another Wednesday matchup at home against Barrie. Friday night, the Attack are in Kitchener, before returning home to face London on Saturday.

11. Oshawa Generals – (Last Week: 9) The Oshawa Generals continue to slide down the OHL Power Rankings, falling another two spots this week after losing two of three games, including a first place battle Wednesday night in Belleville. While the Gens rebounded with a shootout win in Sudbury on Friday, they couldn’t muster enough the next night, losing in Sault Ste. Marie. Oshawa has two must-win games ahead of them this week, battling in Mississauga on Friday night, before a big rematch with Belleville, back at home on Sunday afternoon.

12. Sarnia Sting – (Last Week: 7) The Sarnia Sting are coming off of a tough week that saw them win just one of their three contests, perhaps getting used to life without star Alex Galchenyuk, now with the Montreal Canadiens. The Sting lost in Mississauga Wednesday night before beginning a home-and-home series with Plymouth. Friday night, Sarnia grabbed the home win in a shootout, but lost in Plymouth a night later. The Sting continue a road-trip with three games in eastern Ontario this weekend, beginning Friday night in Ottawa. Sarnia plays in Belleville on Saturday, and wraps up the week in Kingston on Sunday afternoon.

13. Brampton Battalion – (Last Week: 14) The Brampton Battalion may have only played once this week, but a win on home ice over Niagara on Sunday afternoon was all the troops needed to boost one spot this week in the OHL Power Rankings. Brampton is 3-0-1 in their last four, and hope the recent light schedule doesn’t hamper their momentum, as they return with three games this week. The Battalion play host to Mississauga on Thursday before traveling to London for a Friday night contest. Brampton wraps up the weekend Sunday afternoon, back on home ice, taking on Sudbury.

14. Windsor Spitfires – (Last Week: 13) Losses in two of three games this week drops the Windsor Spitfires a single spot this week, as they wind up at number fourteen on the rankings. After getting roughed-up at home Thursday night versus Plymouth, the Spits fought for a shootout victory in Sault Ste. Marie a night later. The defence wouldn’t hold in Windsor’s final game of the week, as they were roughed up again Sunday afternoon in Sudbury. The Spitfires have three games in four days this week, which begins with a visit from Peterborough on Thursday night. Friday night, the Spits play in Guelph, before the same two teams tangle on Sunday afternoon back in Windsor.

15. Peterborough Petes – (Last Week: 17) The Peterborough Petes climb to number fifteen on this week’s OHL Power Rankings, their highest mark in a calendar-year of rankings, after splitting a pair of games. The Petes knocked off their division-rivals from Belleville on Thursday night, winning at home in a shootout, but couldn’t muster enough in Barrie on Saturday to make it a perfect week over two Eastern leaders. Peterborough heads out for three road-games in three days this week, beginning on Thursday night, when they play in Windsor. Friday night, the Petes are in Saginaw, and finish the stretch Saturday in Plymouth.

16. Erie Otters – (Last Week: 15) Four losses this week hurt the Erie Otters, who slip one spot to sixteen on this edition of the Power Rankings. After losing big in Plymouth on Monday afternoon, the Otters earned a point for their troubles on Wednesday, losing a shootout at home to Saginaw. Erie then dropped both ends of a home-and-home series with Kitchener on Friday and Saturday, losing both in regulation. The Otters face another three-game weekend coming up, playing home games against Niagara on Friday and Sudbury Saturday, before traveling back to Kitchener for another contest Sunday afternoon.

17. Mississauga Steelheads – (Last Week: 19) After falling dangerously close to the bottom of the OHL Power Rankings, the Mississauga Steelheads jump back up two spots this week, settling in at number seventeen after wins in two of three home games put a stop to a seven-game slide. A Wednesday night victory over Sarnia ended the slump, but a Friday night visit from Saginaw handed the Steelheads another loss. Mississauga got right back in the win-column Sunday afternoon, defeating Ottawa in a shootout. The Steelheads will look to put a winning-streak together this week with three games in as many days, as they play in Brampton on Thursday night to get things started. A night later, Mississauga is back on home ice, against Oshawa, before traveling down the road to Niagara for a Saturday night tilt.

18. Kingston Frontenacs – (Last Week: 16) An impressive first-half of the season has come to a crashing halt for the Kingston Frontenacs, who will be glad to see a disastrous January behind them, as a shootout loss at home to Ottawa Friday, and another home loss against London on Sunday extended the Fronts winless-streak to eight games. Kingston is 2-7-2 so far in January, with one more contest Wednesday night in Belleville to end the month. As February begins, the Frontenacs will look for a change in fortune, as they host Barrie on Friday and Sarnia on Sunday afternoon.

19. Niagara IceDogs – (Last Week: 18) The Niagara Icedogs continue to struggle with the loss of Dougie Hamilton, and after three more this past week, have now lost seven in a row and ten of their last eleven. Not even home ice has been a help to the ‘Dogs, though they picked up a big point Thursday night, losing to Barrie in overtime. Another home loss Saturday night to Saginaw would be coupled with a loss in Brampton Sunday afternoon, as Niagara continues to trend in the wrong direction, with home-ice hopes for the playoffs slipping away. The Icedogs play three games in three nights this week, starting back in Niagara on Thursday versus Sudbury. Friday night, Niagara plays in Erie, then returns home to battle Mississauga on Saturday.

20. Ottawa 67’s – (Last Week: 20) Likely playing out the schedule in the Eastern Conference, the Ottawa 67’s show no signs of relinquishing the cellar of the OHL Power Rankings anytime soon, now their sixth straight week at the bottom. The 67’s weren’t really a bad club this week, and it showed, as they picked up three points from as many games. After being completely outmatched at home Thursday night against London, Ottawa tightened up defensively, and had their next two games decided in a shootout. Friday night, the 67’s won the shootout in Kingston, but were on the wrong end of the outcome Sunday afternoon in Mississauga. Ottawa has just one game on the schedule in the coming week, as they begin a seven-game home stand Friday night against Sarnia. The 67’s will only travel away from home for three games in February, staying within the division, and eastern Ontario, all month long.

The ITO Players of the Week and OHL Power Rankings can be found every week for the rest of the season, right here at OHLWriters.com. Until then, you can regularly find my ramblings about the Ontario Hockey League, as well as the Toronto Maple Leafs, @N24Nicholson.

Anthony Nicholson is the Sports Editor for Toronto News 24 covering the Toronto Maple Leafs and regular contributor to OHLWriters.com. Contact Anthony anytime for a conversation by joining him on Twitter, or send mail to anicholson@n24.ca.

Photo: Ryan Murphy of the Kitchener Rangers was impressive upon his return from the Carolina Hurricanes camp, earning our Top Defenceman honors for week 18. (Photo Courtesy: Terry Wilson/OHLImages)