This is not how it was supposed to be this year for the London Knights. In their first 7 games this season they have 1 win and 6 regulation losses. They’re averaging a league worst 1.85 goals per game while allowing an abysmal 4.43 goals against. Across their 7 games played they have a negative 18 goal differential. How could this happen to a team with such high expectations going into the season?
Things were supposed to be different. There was supposed to be a surplus of NHL drafted talent on the team this year. J.J. Piccinich was supposed to be the only loss and the Knights had more than made up for this by obtaining Jesper Bratt in the CHL Import draft this year. Bratt was to join a talented group of 19 year olds that included Alex Formenton, Brandon Crawley, Robert Thomas, Sam Miletic, Janne Kuokkanen, Victor Mete, Max Jones, Cliff Pu and Olli Juolevi. Goaltender Jordan Kooy had seemed a reasonable replacement to Tyler Parsons if he decided not to come back for his 4th season of OHL eligibility. This has all come undone.
Cliff Pu, Robert Thomas, Sam Miletic and Max Jones have all made their way to London after time in NHL camps. Everyone else… not so much.
The Vancouver Canucks have decided that rather than send Juolevi back to London for another year, that they would like him to play in Finland with the TPS squad of SM-Liiga. This is probably not a bad move for the young defender as TPS boasts one of the great defensive mentors in NHL history, Henrik Tallinder, on its roster. The Canucks obviously want Juolevi playing at a professional level against older competition, but do not feel they want him in their NHL or AHL system at the moment. This does not do London any favors.
Victor Mete has caught on with the Montreal Canadiens. Injuries during training camp/preseason opened a door for Mete and he has seized the day. It’s possible that when David Schlemko returns from injury, Mete will be returned to London. It’s also possible that Montreal may keep him. The Canadiens have started the season off very poorly in their own end and Mete has seen his minutes steadily increase, including some Power Play time. At first it seemed Mete was only keeping a spot warm, but his growing usage could make him indispensible to a struggling Montreal team.
The 2017 49th overall pick is still with the Ottawa Senators after training camp. Formenten was used very sparingly in his only NHL game, getting only 4:54 of playing time. It seems likely that Ottawa will send Alex back to London after his 9 game NHL exposure is exhausted. It’s possible that this time among the pros could spur Alex forward as it often does for young players. It would be nice to see him get a few more minutes though.
Crawley made a huge impression with the Rangers in preseason. Enough so that they’ve decided to keep the 2017, 123rd pick overall within close arm’s reach. Crawley has been sent down to the Rangers AHL affiliate, the Hartford Wolf Pack. The Wolf Pack are lacking in young back-end talent so it seems likely that the Rangers will be keeping Crawley in the AHL.
Kuokkanen is another NHL rookie getting to stretch his legs on NHL ice. The Carolina Hurricanes have made use of Kuokkanen in a top 6 role throughout pre-season and, so far, have used him in a bottom 6 role in their 2 games this season. Kuokkanen seems to be doing well with his opportunity, so far. Carolina may decide to keep the young Finn on the roster if he continues to show poise. It’s also possible that, depending on injuries, Carolina elects to keep Kuokkanen beyond the 9 game threshold but not the half season threshold. His impact and usage through their next few games will help determine where Janne ends up this year.
Jesper Bratt is unlikely to be seen in London, ever. After an impressive training camp, and equally impressive preseason, Bratt has carried everything over into the NHL regular season. In 2 games with the NJ Devils, the 2016 6th round pick has compiled 3 goals and 2 assists for a team leading 5 points and +4 rating. Bratt has been used in all situations, compiling a large number of Power Play AND Short Handed minutes for the Devils. In his first 2 games he has averaged 16:37 minutes of ice time, good enough for 4th among Devils forwards. It’s the first week of the NHL season and Jesper Bratt has already stolen the spotlight on a team that includes the 2017 Hobey Baker Winner (Will Butcher) and the 2017 First Overall Pick (Nico Hischier). The hype will inevitably die down and the point scoring will level out, but the damage is already done. Bratt has made a name for himself in New Jersey.
So, with all this, a team that looked to be a potential powerhouse for the 2017-2018 OHL Season instead sees a large chunk of its firepower currently in the NHL or elsewhere. To make matters worse, the Knights have not been able to provide much help to their goaltenders. Both Kooy and Johnson have started the seasons with goals against average in excess of 4.00 and save percentages well below .900. This coupled with an inability to generate offense is likely make it difficult for London to make any headway in the standings. If Mete and Formenten are returned to the OHL after their NHL stints it would go a long way for this franchise. It is still possible for London to turn their season around, but they’ve started off with a pretty big hole to climb out of.