The start of the 2013-2014 OHL season is under way. This is Season 33 for the Belleville Bulls and as much as it will be a season of change, some things will remain the same.
The lineup will change, we all knew it was going to, Belleville was set up to win last year, and although it didn't end the way the Yardman faithful envisioned it, the 2012-2013 season was a success and we will get one more chance to applaud that team on Saturday night when the Bulls raise their East Division banner before their home opener Vs North Bay.
One thing that will stay the same is GM and Coach George Burnett and his staff. Burnett has had a really nice run with the Bulls this is his 10th season at the helm and he has been very successful. His Belleville teams have only missed the playoffs once in nine years and have reached the Conference Final or better 4 times. If Coach Burnett can keep his team in the top 4 of the Eastern Conference this season, we will make a bold prediction and say he finally wins an OHL Coach of the Year with Belleville (he won 2 with the Niagara Falls Thunder in 90-91 & 91-92). And we know that GM Burnett isn't afraid to make the moves he needs to improve his club like the one he made today sending a 7th round pick in the 2016 OHL Priority Selection to Guelph for 18 year-old Milton native, goalie Jason DaSilva, a graduate of the Halton Hurricanes Minor Midget program.
The mentioned DaSilva will back up Charlie Graham. We have talked a lot about Graham over his time in Belleville and with good cause, he's been really good. Coach Burnett didn't officially name Graham the starter for this season last season but he could have because it was no surprise when he announced that Charlie would be the number one guy this season. Charlie has earned it, he was very strong for the Bulls last season going 15-5-5 with a 2.59 GAA and a .922 SV% with 3 SO in 25 games played. Graham has proven that he comes very prepared. Goaltending shouldn't be a problem.
We talked about the nine new rookies in the lineup and if you need a refresher here's the link.
Belleville could be without Captain Brendan Gaunce for a while, maybe even for the full season, as Gaunce continues to impress at the Vancouver Canucks training camp. Alan Quine could turn pro, and with Daniil Zharkov already playing in the KHL, that puts a lot of pressure on guys like Scott Simmonds and former Erie Otter Luke Carins to produce. Carins has to the potential to be a 25 goal guy in the OHL. As for Simmonds he finished last season on a high note playing with Gaunce and Tyler Graovac but he enter's his 4th season in the OHL with a career high of 6 goals, and I'm not saying anything bad about Simmonds I really like him and he fits in to Burnett's system perfecitlly he just doesn't score a whole bunch. Bulls will need a breakout year from Garrett Hooey. Coach Burnett told CJBQ the other day that import player David Tomasek is farther ahead at this stage in his development then Zharkov was at the same age. If Belleville wants to be a dark horse in the East they will require big years from 2nd year players, Chad Heffernan, Aaron Berisha, Michael Cramarossa and Niki Petti. For the rookies, look for Jake Marchment to have an impact.
The defence will be lead by Jordan Subban who could lead the team in scoring, and big Brady Austin (6'04", 225lbs). Right now we know that Austin and Scott Simmonds will hold 2 of the 3 OA spots. For now and as long as Alan Quine is away, defence men Jake Worrad will hold the 3rd spot. Daniel De Sousa will need to play more, but the Bulls used him up front in the preseason and with 1st round pick Justin Lemcke needing to play and Adam Bignell eating up big minutes where does De Sousa fit in ? Will he be happy in a 5th or 6th man role ? Bignell has beening wearing the C with Gaunce away and no reason to think if Gaunce stays gone why it can't stay on number 9.
If everything falls in to place the Bulls will be okay, top 4 in the East is a reachable goal.
Earlier in the week ITO did some predictions here is my picks.
Leading Scorers : East : Zach Hall Barrie, Andreas Athanasiou Barrie, Sean Monahan -Ottawa (if he makes his way back to the OHL)
West : Pick a Knight - Max Domi, Bo Hovart, Alex Broadhurst and Eric Locke Saginaw.
Top D-Men East: Jordon Subban Belleville, Aaron Ekblad Barrie, Dylan Blujus Northbay
West: Anthony DeAngelo - Sarnia, Connor Carrick Plymouth, Nikita Zadorov London
Top Rookie - East : Sean Day Mississauga, Travis Konecny Ottawa, Jake Marchment Belleville
West : Dylan Strome Erie, Blake Speers SSM, Nikita Korostelev Sarnia
Top Goalies - East : Matt Mahalak Kingston, Charlie Graham Belleville, Daniel Altshuller Oshawa.
West : Jake Patterson London, Brandon Hope Owen Sound, Jake Paterson Saginaw