There’s plenty to look forward to with the Ontario Hockey League regular season set to begin Thursday night.
Some of the OHL’s youngest teams last season appear as though they could be in for an improved year, while other markets that previously loaded up could be in for a rebuild.
Here are some players and storylines to watch for as the new season kicks off.
Barrie Colts: After a 31-point increase from his rookie season, Carolina Hurricanes prospect Ryan Suzuki will look to take his development a step further with a bigger role as an 18-year-old on a developing Colts team. Rookie defenceman Brandt Clarke will try to build on a 10-point performance in six pre-season games.
Erie Otters: A pair of 2020 draft prospects will look to help lead the Otters this season. Acquired in a trade last season, Austen Swankler aims hit the ground running after signing with Erie in the off-season. A late-birthdate, Swankler had a commitment to play at the University of Michigan, but chose the Otters instead. In Erie, he’ll team up with highly touted defenceman Jamie Drysdale to help the Otters get back into the OHL playoffs.
Flint Firebirds: A tough start to the 2018-19 season put the Firebirds behind the eight ball early on and the team hopes to avoid a similar fate this season. Defenceman Vladislav Kolyachonok, who recently signed with the Florida Panthers, will be a key piece on the Firebirds’ blue line with Dallas Stars prospect Ty Dellandrea leading the attack.
Guelph Storm: After winning the OHL title last season, the Storm will have some new faces in their lineup this season. Montreal Canadiens prospect Cam Hillis, who missed extended time late in the season last year due to injury, will be among the offensive leaders for Guelph.
Hamilton Bulldogs: Los Angeles Kings prospect Arthur Kaliyev is coming off a pair of strong seasons, including 102 points in 67 games last year. The 18-year-old will be among the top offensive players in the OHL in his third season.
Kingston Frontenacs: All eyes will be on 15-year-old centre Shane Wright. Granted exceptional player status to enter the OHL draft a year early, Wright will lead a young Frontenacs roster.
Kitchener Rangers: Acquired from the Mississauga Steelheads this summer, Kings prospect Jacob Ingham will look to take a step forward in his development with a new team.
London Knights: With a veteran group of forwards, newcomer Jonathan Gruden, a prospect of the Ottawa Senators, adds some offensive depth to what is already a talented group that includes Washington Capitals prospect Connor McMichael and Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Liam Foudy as well.
Mississauga Steelheads: Thomas Harley, a prospect of the Dallas Stars, took a major step forward in his development last season offensively and will lead a veteran group of defencemen on the Steelheads’ roster.
Niagara IceDogs: After loading up for a long playoff run last season, the IceDogs will rely on some new faces this season to assist returning forwards Akil Thomas (Los Angeles Kings) and Philip Tomasino (Nashville Predators).
North Bay Battalion: After dealing returning goaltender Christian Propp and Christian Purboo, the goaltending duo of Christian Cicigoi and Joe Vrbetic take the reigns this season. The Battalion will be young on the backend as well with just four veteran blueliners in the lineup.
Oshawa Generals: After being acquired from Kingston, Brett Neumann had 20 goals in 29 games with the Generals and set career-highs offensively last season. The Generals’ offence will revolve around Neumann, Serron Noel (Florida Panthers) and Allan McShane (Montreal Canadiens).
Ottawa 67’s: After going to the OHL final last season, the 67’s have seven returning defencemen from last season, including New Jersey Devils second-round pick Nikita Okhotyuk and Arizona Coyotes prospect Kevin Bahl. The veteran team looks poised to be in the mix again this season.
Owen Sound Attack: Kings prospect Aidan Dudas is Owen Sounds’ top returning scorer after a 62-point season in 2018-19. Mack Guzda will also be the go-to guy in goal after the team dealt Andrew MacLean during the summer.
Peterborough Petes: Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Nick Robertson set career-highs offensively last season, including 27 goals. Their veteran blue line also got a little older, as the team acquired overage defenceman Jacob Paquette from the Kingston Frontenacs.
Saginaw Spirit: Highly touted forward Cole Perfetti caught the attention of NHL scouts last season and will take on an even bigger role this season. The team loaded up last season, but left itself in a good position this season for another potential run.
Sarnia Sting: Overage forward Ryan McGregor will be the key piece offensively for the Sting this season as the team looks to take a step forward in the standings.
Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds: The potential return of Barrett Hayton by the Arizona Coyotes will change the look of the team by adding one of the top players in the league. On a roster that is on the young side, 2020 draft prospect Jaromir Pytlik joined the team at the trade deadline last season and will aim to improve an already rising draft stock.
Sudbury Wolves: Much like Perfetti in Saginaw, Quinton Byfield has NHL scouts taking notice with his blend of size and skill. Combined with a veteran group of forwards that includes David Levin, Carolina Hurricanes prospect Blake Murray and MacAuley Carson, the Wolves top two lines have size and some skill.
Windsor Spitfires: Sophomore forwards Will Cuylle and Jean-Luc Foudy had strong rookie seasons, and with the addition of forward Egor Afanasyev (Nashville Predators), the Spitfires look poised to improve on an eighth-place finish in the Western Conference last season.