image courtesy of Eyes on the Prize
WJC Special January OHL Report
December has been a wacky month as the league moves on, filled with a few large trades and the winds of change blowing the league into different directions as the top teams start to pull away from the rest of the pack. I’ll also take a look at all of the OHLers who made their respective national teams and their roles at the World Juniors.
Last month, the big trade that shook the league was when Jason Robertson was sent from Kingston to Niagara for a slew of picks and 2019 eligible defenseman Billy Constantinou, but this month two big stars were dealt. The Guelph Storm dealt Ryan Merkley to the Peterborough Petes for Russian forward Pavel Gogolev and a number of picks including two second round picks and two third round picks. Guelph has had quite a good season with a 17-9-3 record, but has obviously decided to sell their players as they also dealt Tag Bertuzzi, son of Todd, to the Hamilton Bulldogs for a second round pick and two third round picks. Merkley was having a great offensive year, second in team scoring with 39 points and added three assists to his season total at his first game with the Petes. Aside from the Storm trades, the rich got richer as the league leading 25-6-3 Ottawa 76’s acquired arguably the league’s best goaltender, Michael DiPietro from the Windsor Spitfires for five second round picks, two third round picks, and the rights to potential 2019 1st round pick Yegor Afanasyev. DiPietro stopped 24 of 25 shots faced in his debut and sole game for the 76’s in a 5-1 victory over the Gatineau Olympiques at the Alexandra Cup. The London Knights added to their already stacked team trading Dalton Duhart, two second round picks and a third round pick for New York Rangers prospect and former Barrie Colt Joey Keane, adding an element of versatility to their defense.
The Ottawa 76’s had stormed off to a fantastic lead in the league standings, but the London Knights have climbed back to the top. I had ranked them in my ‘biggest disappointments’ section in November with a 7-4-1 record in the bottom half of the league, but they have since stormed back to the top of the league table and now own the best winning percentage with a 24-5-3 record, going on a 17-1-2 tear off the back of a streaking core of Connor McMichael, Liam Foudy, Adam Boqvist and Evan Bouchard. Flint has gotten five whole wins now, and is starting to “heat up” as they look more like an OHL team and less like a peewee team lead by Ty Dellandrea and a reappearance from Belarusian defenseman and 2019 eligible Vladislav Kolyachonok. Sault Ste. Marie, Niagara and Sudbury make up the rest of the top pack, lead by their respective stars and rookies.
Nine OHL players made the Canadian World Junior squad after the final cuts this year and unfortunate injuries for Gabriel Vilardi (Kingston Frontenacs) and Alex Formenton (London Knights) kept them off the team.
Team Canada OHLers:
F MacKenzie Entwistle (Hamilton Bulldogs)
F Morgan Frost (Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds)
F Barrett Hayton (Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds)
F Jack Studnicka (Oshawa Generals)
F Nick Suzuki (Owen Sound Attack)
F Owen Tippett (Mississauga Steelheads)
D Evan Bouchard (London Knights)
D Markus Phillips (Owen Sound Attack)
G Michael DiPietro (Ottawa 67’s)
With the large group of OHL players, all players will play a large role in the squad, starting with Michael DiPietro who will most likely assume the role of starter throughout the tournament. A very OHL heavy forward core for Canada this year filled with some of the league’s top performers. Suzuki, Tippett, Frost, Studnicka and Hayton will be relied upon for some big offensive performances, while Evan Bouchard will most likely contribute well from from the back end, while Entwistle and Phillips will most likely be relied upon as depth pieces for the team with limited ice time.
As far as other countries go, Swedish defenseman Adam Boqvist of the London Knights will be heavily relied upon for the Swedes and will be expected to contribute to the offense from time to time. Dmitri Samorukov of the Guelph Storm has also made the World Juniors with Team Russia and is likely to be a staple in Russia’s second pairing, providing a solid two way game. Sasha Chmelevski of the Ottawa 76’s made Team USA and will likely play an impact role on their third or fourth line, using his speed and skill to help their depth, but Niagara IceDogs winger Jason Robertson will have a big impact on the team as the sniper will find himself somewhere in the team’s middle six looking to add a scoring touch. Switzerland has a good amount of OHL talent, with a pair of Oshawa Generals in Nando Eggenberger and Nico Gross who could help the dark horses of the tournament pose a threat to other teams. Slovakian forward Adam Ruzicka of the Sarnia Sting will be heavily relied upon to provide offense for the Slovaks. The Czech Republic will have Barrie Colts center Matej Pekar at their disposal on the second line causing a commotion as well as Niagara IceDogs defenseman Daniel Bukac and Erie Otters forward Petr Cajka who will fill out some of the final spots on the roster. Finally, Finnish goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen will be the starting goaltender for the Finns, as they look to storm to a gold medal with a stacked roster. Watch out for Luukkonen to stand on his head after a fantastic half for Sudbury so far.