CHL Notebook: Acquiring experience paying off for title seekers

Sam Cosentino explains why Kaapo Kakko has taken over the top spot on his best NHL draft prospects list.

All four teams remaining in the Ontario Hockey League playoffs added players with valuable experience earlier this season as they geared up for post-season runs.

The league-leading Ottawa 67’s brought in overage forwards in Kyle Maksimovich from the Erie Otters and Lucas Chiodo from the Barrie Colts after a major deal with the Windsor Spitfires that brought in goaltender Michael DiPietro (Vancouver Canucks).

“Last year we were the youngest team in the league, and we lost in the first round so adding those guys to our lineup added a lot of experience to our team,” Ottawa coach Andre Tourigny said. “Those guys have poise and have been through different situations.”

The Oshawa Generals, who the 67’s are facing in the Eastern Conference final, added a wealth of playoff experience in the form of Brandon Saigeon (Colorado Avalanche), who played a key role with the Hamilton Bulldogs last year in their OHL title run.

Oshawa coach Greg Walters said earlier this season that Saigeon is a mature player and class-act.

“You can tell when he walks into our room that they guys have respect for him and what he says,” Walters said. “He comes from a championship team and that’s how he goes about his business every day.”

In the OHL’s Western Conference final, the Saginaw Spirit brought in high-scoring forwards Owen Tippett (Florida Panthers) and Ryan McLeod (Edmonton Oilers) from the Mississauga Steelheads after both waived no-trade clauses.

The duo have brought the franchise recognition, Spirit coach Chris Lazary said.

“People look at our franchise and say, ‘They’re for real,’” he said. “They’re unbelievable kids. The way they interact with their teammates, the leadership they provide, how they’ve fit into a group that was already tight and made us tighter, it’s been cool to watch as a coach.”

A pair of members of the Bulldogs’ 2018 OHL championship team found their way to Guelph as well in forward MacKenzie Entwistle (Chicago Blackhawks) and defenceman Jack Hanley.

Guelph general manager and coach George Burnett said it was an easy choice to acquire them.

“Their experience and their willingness to do the team thing first and foremost and guide our guys through some difficult times and provide support to the guys that have been in the program in Guelph but lack some playoff success.”

In the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the Halifax Mooseheads will head into Memorial Cup hosting duties with some tournament experience.

Forward Antoine Morand (Anaheim Ducks) played a key offensive role for the Acadie-Bathurst Titan in last year’s championship win in Regina.

Morand joined the Mooseheads in the summer and was named team captain not long after.

Halifax coach Erie Veilleux said Morand is someone who can step up in critical situations like in Game 4 of the second round against Moncton, when he played a good third period to shut the series down. Veilleux added Morand is a good two-way player who is reliable offensively and defensively.

The Mooseheads have also relied on forward Raphael Lavoie, who has made a name for himself in this year’s NHL Draft.

“He’s got good outside speed. He doesn’t mind taking pucks to the net and using his body to protect that puck,” Veilleux said. “He’s got a great shot. An NHL shot already.

“He doesn’t mind the physical game either. He’s improved his play away from the puck quite a bit this year. I even have him killing penalties right now. He does it all for us.”

The Mooseheads opponent in Round 3 – the Drummondville Voltigeurs – have gotten solid goaltending this season from Antony Morrone. The 20-year-old has filled in well after an injury to Olivier Rodrigue (Edmonton Oilers) late in the regular season.

Drummondville coach Steve Hartley said Morrone’s numbers haven’t reflected just how good the netminder has been.

“He’s given us a chance to win every night,” Hartley said.

For the Rimouski Oceanic, the offensive attack from Alexis Lafreniere and Jimmy Huntington, has people taking notice.

Overage defenceman Charle-Edouard D’Astous has also been an integral part of the Oceanic attack but it wasn’t always the case.

“Four years ago he was a stay-at-home defenceman,” Rimouski general manager and coach Serge Beausoleil said. “He’s improved his game jumping into the rush in the second wave. He does it really well.”

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Speaking of highly-skilled defencemen in the QMJHL, Rouyn-Noranda Huskies blueliner Noah Dobson (New York Islanders) brings a wealth of experience with a Memorial Cup title last year with Acadie-Bathurst.

His former coach with the Titan, Mario Pouliot, just happens to be his coach this season as well and the veteran bench boss has plenty of praise for the Islanders first rounder.

“He was a pro when we drafted him (in Acadie-Bathurst) at 16,” Pouliot said. “The way he’s always preparing himself for a game, a practice. He’s taking care of all of the details. He’s a confident kid. He has a ton of poise. His hockey sense and patience is above average. As soon as the game is on the line, the better he is. The bigger the challenge, the better he is.”

In the Western Hockey League, draft eligible defenceman Bowen Byram of the Vancouver Giants has scouts taking notice, and for good reason.

“At 17, not only has he done a lot of great things offensively for us, he’s been very good defensively for us too,” Vancouver coach Michael Dyck said.

Dyck added that Bryam has done a good job of staying grounded and focused.

The Spokane Chiefs, Vancouver’s conference-final opponent got a boost when Jaret Anderson-Dolan, 19, was returned to junior by the Los Angeles Kings. Despite missing time due to injury and the world junior hockey championship, Anderson-Dolan’s impact on the team hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Chiefs head coach Dan Lambert says Anderson-Dolan leads by example and wants to have success.

“It’s probably more of what he brings every single day for the young guys to learn from,” Lambert said. “Since he’s been back and healthy, the guys are learning from him.”

The Prince Albert Raiders, who have spent much of the season as the WHL title favourite, have had strong between the pipes this season from Ian Scott (Toronto Maple Leafs).

“The most important position on your team is your goaltending, just like pitching is in baseball,” Raiders coach Marc Habscheid said. “And we think our pitching is pretty good.”

The Edmonton Oil Kings have received big efforts from Trey Fix-Wolansky (Columbus Blue Jackets) and Vince Loschiavo on their playoff run but it’s their ability to roll lines that has been part of their success.

“The season is too hard to just rely on two or three lines to get you through it,” Edmonton coach Brad Lauer said. “I really liked the core group we had returning. I liked our skill level.

“We went with four lines right away (to start the season) to get them going. We didn’t really match lines a lot. We let them play and do their job.”

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