Sunday CHL preview: Spitfires vs. Frontenacs

Lawson Crouse has been crucial to Kignston's success this season. (Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

Having already wrapped up the East Division, the Kingston Frontenacs have set their sights on securing the first Eastern Conference title in franchise history.

The Frontenacs will look to inch closer to that goal on Sunday when they take on the Windsor Spitfires, who are in a battle with Sarnia to win the West Division and earn the No. 2 seed for the playoffs. If they should falter, the Spitfires will likely end up in fifth place in the conference and have a much tougher first-round opponent.

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Kingston’s defensive game is a collaborative effort, but its defencemen are highly underrated. A pre-emptive strike by GM Doug Gilmour to bring in Stephen Desrocher from Oshawa has impacted Kingston more than expected. Desrocher has good size (6-4, 198), a big-league shot and can log minutes like a horse. Roland McKeown has found his game and is looking more and more like a pro everyday. Chad Duchesne has a quiet, but honest game. In his 16-year-old season, Jacob Paquette has been given veteran responsibilities and has handled them well. Liam Murray is a battler and Nathan Billitier is versatile.

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Kingston is at its best when its top two lines are going. The trio of Michael Dal Colle, Warren Foegele and Spencer Watson are expected to score, but the line of Jared Steege, Lawson Crouse and Juho Lammikkois equally important. This “second” line is always pitted against the opposition’s best and that usually means more favourable matchups for Kingston’s scoring line. The bottom six can also have an impact by forechecking and playing physically to wear down opponents -- Cody Caron, Ryan Cranford and Zack Dorval play this role well. Jason Robertson has produced well and can sneak up on opponents in a bottom-six matchup.

The Frontenacs have two very capable goalies who are both playing well. Last year’s goalie of the year, Lucas Peressini, has been challenged by the strong play of Jeremy Helvig, who has earned a bulk of the minutes of late. Helvig has started five of the last six games, but only lasted a half period in Kingston's comeback win over Saginaw on Friday after allowing three goals before being yanked. Head coach Paul McFarland may have a difficult decision on not just who to start on Sunday, but who to start once the playoffs begin.

Kingston Frontenacs
41-15-2-2 (19-9-0-2 Road), 6W, 1st East Division, 1st Eastern Conference, 8th BMO CHL Top 10

Individual Stats          
Top Scorers GP G A PTS Note
Spencer Watson 58 36 43 79 11th OHL Pts
Michael Dal Colle 54 31 40 71 18th OHL Pts
Lawson Crouse 42 19 32 51  
Juho Lammikko 52 18 28 46  
Warren Foegele 46 10 33 43  
In Goal          
Lucas Peressini (25-13-2-1, 2.72, .910%)          
Team Stats     Rank    
PP 48/223=21.5%   6th    
PK 38/253=85%   1st    
GF/gm 3.55   7th    
GA/gm 2.78   4th  

NHL drafted/signed players
Michael Dal Colle -- New York Islanders, fifth in 2014
Lawson Crouse -- Florida Panthers, 11th in 2015
Roland McKeown -- Los Angeles Kings, 50th in 2014 (traded to Carolina)
Warren Foegele -- Carolina Hurricanes, 67th in 2014
Juho Lammikko -- Florida Panthers, 65th in 2014
Stephen Desrocher -- Toronto Maple Leafs, 155th in 2015
Spencer Watson -- Los Angeles Kings, 209th in 2014

NHL Central Scouting midterm rankings
Konstantin Chernyuk, No. 104

Under The Radar
Chad Duchesne plays top-four minutes, moves the puck well and on most nights he’s hard to notice, which is a compliment.

The last time we saw Windsor on Sportsnet, the Spitfires were in the midst of a five-game losing streak. Since that time, they have won five of six after dropping a 2-1 decision to Sarnia Friday night. Throughout that six-game stretch, Windsor has leaned heavily on rookie netminder Mario Culina and draft eligible Logan Brown. Culina started each of the six games, and Brown has scored the game-winner in three of them.

The Spits are just one of three CHL teams to feature two rookie goalies. Up and coming Michael DiPietro has taken a backseat to the older rookie lately. DiPietro was fantastic early in the season and is highly thought of, but Culina has allowed more than three goals in a game just once in the 16 games he’s played.

Defensively, Windsor features two surefire first-rounders in the upcoming NHL draft. Mikhaill Sergachev started playing hockey at age nine. He’s still learning the nuances of the game, but he has an all-world skill set and unlimited upside. Logan Stanley may be the most improved player in the OHL. He is learning daily about how to deal with his ever-growing six-foot-seven body but plays with bite and has much more to unearth offensively. After a hot January, Jalen Chatfield cooled off in February, but he is a threat the opposition must be aware of, while Tyler Nother and Patrick Sanvido provide size and shut-down ability.

Windsor has a dynamic forward group. Good things happen whenever Christian Fischer is on the ice. Brendan Lemieux can talk the talk and walk the walk. Brown is starting to really take off and his timing couldn’t be better for Windsor. Hayden McCool and Connor Chatham are similar players that have benefitted under coach Rocky Thompson’s tutelage. Cristiano DiGiacinto is a TampaBay Lightning pick who can impact the game with his speed, toughness or shooting ability. Bradley Latour has a MasterCard Memorial Cup ring as does Mads Eller. Gabriel Vilardi is going to be a star in the league, and Aaron Luchuk and Cole Carter have both exceeded expectations. Similar to the strategy employed by Kingston, Windsor also feels it has the forward depth to wear you down by scoring with the top six and grinding it out with the bottom six.

This matchup is intriguing in that both teams play a similar style, have had great seasons and have high expectations for the playoffs.

Windsor Spitfires
36-19-6-0 (19-7-4-0 Road), L, 2nd West Division, 5th Western Conference

Individual Stats          
Top Scorers GP G A PTS Note
Christian Fischer 59 34 46 80 10th OHL Pts
Logan Brown 52 16 46 62  
Brendan Lemieux 41 31 27 58  
Aaron Luchuk 61 25 25 50  
Bradley Latour 61 23 24 47  
In Goal          
Mario Culina (10-4-1-0, 2.23, .913%)          
Team Stats     Rank    
PP 58/246=23.6%   4th    
PK 47/241=80.5%   12th    
GF/gm 3.66   5th    
GA/gm 2.85   6th  

NHL drafted/signed players
Brendan Lemieux -- Buffalo Sabres, 31st in 2014
Christian Fischer -- Arizona Coyotes, 32nd in 2015
Cristiano DiGiacinto -- Tampa Bay Lightning, 170th in 2014
Markus Soberg -- Columbus Blue Jackets, 165th in 2013
Patrick Sanvido -- Dallas Stars, 195th in 2014

NHL Central Scouting midterm rankings
Mikhail Sergachev, No. 10
Logan Brown, No. 14
Logan Stanley, No. 23

Under The Radar
Connor Chatham was brought in from Flint to add size and skill. While the pure numbers aren’t as good as they were in Flint, he’s playing a more complete game and is better prepared to turn pro.