CHL Notebook: Greyhounds’ goalie situation a major plot point

Joseph Raaymakers of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. (Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

Nearly every OHL team is busy this week, so naturally, the mind wanders to how the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds’ situation with a goalie who is not playing at all will be resolved.

Three weeks is far too small a sample to make firm conclusions about who the teams to beat are, but it’s fun to do it anyway. Sault Ste. Marie (.786 point pct., third Western Conference), with the likes of wingers Boris Katchouk (TB) and Tim Gettinger (NYR) applying the philosophy of everyone on the ice being in attack mode, looks as though it will fulfill projections of being among the upper crust of the Western Conference. The Sarnia Sting (.857, first overall), among others, have had an early breakout, scoring the most goals in the league largely through Jordan Kyrou (STL), Adam Ruzicka (CGY) and 20-year-old defenceman Jordan Ernst.

Playing a style like the Soo’s requires formidable goaltending, which Sault Ste. Marie seems to have through Matthew Villalta (LA), an 18-year-old who rates third in the OHL in both goals-against average (1.96) and save percentage (.930). Away from the ice, the status of the goalie whom Villalta outplayed to become the Greyhounds’ No. 1 netminder is a dangling plot point. Sault Ste. Marie has an asset burning a hole in its pocket in 19-year-old goalie Joseph Raaymakers, who was the starter in the playoffs but asked for a trade at the start of training camp in late August. While Raaymakers’ potential and performance got him a look-see from the Tampa Bay Lightning last month, he’s yet to grace an OHL rink this season.

Raaymakers could help another OHL team and the return could make the Greyhounds stronger. There is no apparent reason why the ‘Hounds are desperate to act here but another team will, soon enough. Point being, the Soo could be even stronger for it, whenever the move happens.

All but two of the OHL’s 20 teams are playing three games this week, as the schedule starts to intensify with front-line players returning from NHL teams. That should provide a better idea of who’s for real.

Hurting Hart needs some healing

The timeline for Carter Hart (PHI) to be 100 per cent recovered from illness might cut close to the build-up for the world junior championship. The goaltender who emerged as Team Canada’s starter at the 2016 WJC is out for the Everett Silvertips after being diagnosed with mononucleosis last week.

Typically, the illness takes a player out of action for one month, and another month can be tacked on before being back to one’s old self. It’s a less than ideal situation for Hart with the World Juniors not that far away. There is presumably virtually zero chance that Hart, assuming no further misfortunes, will not be in the picture for Team Canada come Dec. 26 in Buffalo. But how quickly the 19-year-old goalie gets back into form upon returning will be interesting to watch.

Hart is one of six players from the silver-earning 2017 team who’s returned to his developmental league team, with three other 19-year-olds still in the NHL. With the Windsor Spitfires’ Michael DiPietro (VAN), among others, off to a strong start, there is a good chance Canada will go into the tournament with a strong tandem.

While there would never be a good time for Everett to lose the two-time WHL goaltender of the year, Hart fell ill while the ’Tips were early in a stretch of playing nine consecutive away games. One bright spot came last Saturday when 18-year-old Dorrin Luding earned his first WHL shutout in a 1-0 win against the Calgary Hitmen in the Saddledome.

0-nly the lonely for Blazers

The Kamloops Blazers took the lead in a game for the first time all season on Sunday, but it didn’t hold. After that loss against Seattle, Kamloops is 0-8-0-0 with a minus-23 goal differential, leaving it as the only team in the entire CHL which has yet to win a game. It’s also the worst start in the WHL team’s history.

Kamloops is in transition, having lost four of its top five scorers from last season. Leading returning scorer Garrett Pilon (WSH), had 12 shots over two games last weekend and didn’t score a goal. New No. 1 goalie Dylan Ferguson (VGK) is replacing Connor Ingram, who was part of Team Canada last season. Nevertheless, it’s unusual to see a team with a donut in the win column after three weeks.

The Blazers host Calgary, who’s in the Central Division basement, on Wednesday. If they don’t break their 2017-18 streak then, well, their next four games are on the road.

Canadian NHL team prospect of the week: Adam Ruzicka, C, Sarnia Sting (OHL)

Ruzicka, a 2017 fourth-rounder (No. 109 overall) of Calgary, is on a tear with seven points in the past three games for the somewhat surprisingly streaking Sting, who collectively are on a five-game undefeated run. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound centre, whose upward mobility is probably yoked to how well he can develop his first-step acceleration over the next two years, comes into the week tied for the OHL scoring lead with seven goals and 12 assists across seven games.

Ruzicka capped off the week in style with an overtime goal for the Sting during a win against the Hamilton Bulldogs.

As a general rule with players who migrate from Eastern Europe at age 17, it’s the second season where it becomes evident of how their skills translate to North America. Last season, Ruzicka, who’s from Bratislava, Slovakia, needed 16 games to get to 12 points.

New name to know: Ty Kolle, C, Portland Winterhawks (WHL)

League sanctions and trades meant Portland did not make a pick in the 2015 WHL bantam draft until early in the fourth round, so they had to make it count. Kolle, chosen with that No. 69 overall choice, enters the week on his first point streak as a junior after registering four points (2G-2A, +5) in three games last week.

The 17-year-old centre, who is compact of frame at 5-foot-9 and 172 pounds, showed enough promise to play in 13 games in Portland early last season, ultimately returning to the Cariboo (B.C.) Cougars midgets to gain more seasoning with a lead role. Kolle is now in a good place for an undersized forward, since Portland has helped similarly proportioned players such as Chase De Leo and Brendan Leipsic reach the pro level.