Category: OHL

The Captain Came Back

The Captain Came Back

For the last three seasons, the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL have been a real contender in the OHL.  This was due, in no small part, to the contributions of last season’s captain, Michael Mcleod.  In back to back seasons in Mississauga, Mcleod averaged over a point per game while also being one of the top 2-way centers in the OHL.
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In the 2016 NHL Draft the New Jersey Devils selected “Mikey” Mcleod 12th overall, and later selected fellow Mississauga standout Nathan Bastian.  It seemed as though a course was set for these two close friends and fellow Steelheads to break into the NHL.  Therefore, it seemed as though last season would be Mikey’s final one in a Trout jersey.  He gave the Trout faithful a heck of a ride though, scoring 27 goals and 46 assists through 57 regular season games, then adding an exclamation point of 27 points and a +17 rating through 20 playoff games on their way to the final round loss to the Champion Erie Otters.

In the NHL, the New Jersey Devils struggled through 2016-17.  Over the summer the draft lottery awarded them the first overall pick in the 2917 draft.  They took Swiss phenom, Nico Hischier, a center from the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL.  Further additions to the Devils’ roster created a logjam of forwards.  Where six months before it seemed that Mcleod was a surefire lock to make the Devils opening night roster, instead he found himself locked in an intense competition.  Appearing to struggle a bit, Mcleod’s aspirations were further hampered by an injury sustained against the New York Islanders.  On September 25th, Mcleod went down with a torn meniscus in his left knee.  The injury required surgery to repair, Mcleod was speculated to mix 4-6 weeks.
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In those 4-6 weeks, The New Jersey Devils have gotten off to one of the hottest starts in franchise history and are among the top teams in the NHL.  Young rookie forwards Jesper Bratt and Nico Hischier have dazzled coaches, fans and scouts alike with their maturity and adaptation to the NHL game.  AHL veteran Brian Gibbons has finally stuck in the NHL after a breakout camp, while other younger fringe players like Blake Coleman and Stefan Noesen have asserted themselves in bottom line roles.  The Devils find themselves with nowhere on their roster to place Mcleod.

Conventional logic says that McLeod would be sent to the AHL to join Nathan Bastian and other former OHL standouts like Blake Speers, Josh Jacobs, MacKenzie Blackwood and Colton White.  However, Michael’s birthday is February 3rd, 1998.  This makes him 19 years old, forcing him to fall under the NHL-CHL agreement where a player aged 18-19, not retained by their NHL club, is to be sent back to their CHL club to fulfill their contractual obligation.

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And so, the Mississauga faithful will get to see Captain Michael Mcleod suit up in the Blue and White once again.  This boost couldn’t come at a better time for the Steelheads who currently find themselves mired in 7th in the Eastern Conference.  The return of their great Captain could be the spark that the trout need to turn their season around and make a run at an OHL Title.

Evan Bouchard is the Best Defensive Prospect That You Are Ignoring.

Evan Bouchard is the Best Defensive Prospect That You Are Ignoring.

 

Evan Bouchard was not active on the international hockey stage this summer. So, while Rasmus Dahlin and Adam Boqvist made their names known to the world and rocketed to the top of everyone’s draft board, Evan Bouchard’s draft stock sat stagnant. So stagnant that some projections have pushed him out of the first round. Now, do not get me wrong, it is an exciting crop of young defenders for 2018. But I refuse to believe this kid is not top 15 and MAYBE even top 10 talent. That’s right, I’m going there. It’s October of 2017, the draft is over 9 months away and I’m telling you, right here, right now, that this kid is a future NHL stud.

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Bouchard checks in at 6’2 and 181 pounds. At 18 he already sports more facial hair than a lot of NHL rookies. His build makes him seem massive against similarly aged competition. The thought that he could get even bigger with an NHL training regiment is tantalizing. So right off the bat, he’s got the size you look for in a top pairing NHL guy with the potential to get bulkier. He is a right-handed shot with a good release. That release saw him pot 11 goals through 68 games last season. His release also opportunities for rebounds and deflections as his 33 assists can attest to. But Bouchard is not limited to scoring from the point. He has the speed to join the rush and the skill to stick-handle in tight. Evan seems as at home in the offensive zone as he is in the defensive zone.

In the back-end he’s a smart physical defender. He understands the concept of making quick, decisive plays with the puck in your own zone as well as establishing body position on attacking forwards. He uses his superior skating talents to cut off lanes and eliminate scoring chances before they even develop. Sometimes it even seems like he knows where his opposition is going before the opposition has figured it out. His movements on the ice show a strong hockey IQ and a guy who thinks the game a step faster than he plays it. A lot is made of hockey IQ and for good reason.

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London has gotten off to a rough start this season. This could hurt his draft stock further. However, Evan has been a bright spot for them. Bouchard has 2 goals and 7 assist through 11 games at the time of publication. On October 18, Adam Kimelman of NHL.com announced that Bouchard had been selected to play in BOTH games for the OHL in the 2017 Canada/Russia Series. He is the ONLY 2018 draft eligible prospect that will play both games. A good showing at the series could be the ticket to get Bouchard back in the 2018 draft conversation. Right now, young, top pairing capable, right-handed defenders are one of the single most sought after positions in the NHL. Because of this, Evan Bouchard should gradually climb up the draft board of many NHL franchise as the season progresses.

London is Burning

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.

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OLLI JUOLEVI
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.

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VICTOR METE
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.

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ALEX FORMENTEN
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.

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BRANDON CRAWLEY
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.

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JANNE KUOKKANEN
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.

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JESPER BRATT
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.