Thursday CHL Preview: Spitfires vs. Rangers

Logan Brown (OHL Images)

Our first CHL playoff game takes place in the OHL’s Western Conference where the Kitchener Rangers host the Windsor Spitfires Thursday evening at the Aud in Game 1. In the OHL’s conference playoff format, Kitchener represents is the fourth seed and Windsor the fifth. The two franchises last met in the 2010 playoffs; Windsor won after coming back from a 3-0 deficit. The Spitfires went on to win their second of two straight Mastercard Memorial Cups that year.

Windsor has had an up-and-down season typical of a young team. The third week of November saw the Spits lose seven of eight and a similar stretch at the end of January—which began with a loss to Kitchener—saw them drop seven of nine. Those streaks ultimately Windsor’s fate: falling out of the West Division lead and into fifth spot in the conference.

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Windsor Spitfires
40-21-6-1 (19-12-2-1 Road), 2nd West Division, 5th Western Conference

The Spitfires are one of just three teams in the 60-team CHL that feature a rookie tandem in goal. Michael DiPietro and Mario Culina split the final four games of the season and save for a six-game win streak by Culina in February, the duo has shared the net. Culina is two years older, but the pure numbers favour DiPietro. Both are likely to see action in the series.

Defensively, the Spitfires are big and bigger. It will be an important time for draft eligibles Mikhail Sergachev and Logan Stanley. Scouts will be keeping a keen eye on their ability to handle pressure-packed situations. Sergachev ranked third in rookie and defencemen scoring in the league. Stanley put up just 17 points, but 103 PIM. Many think he’s the most improved player in the league. Both will go in the first round of the NHL draft in June.

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Some think Stanley is the most improved player in the league. (OHL Images)

Dallas Stars prospect Patrick Sanvido and Tyler Nother are 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-4, respectively. Andrew Burns and Jalen Chatfield check in at 6-feet. There’s a nice combination of size, skill, offence and defence in the group, but just 14 games worth of playoff experience.

Windsor’s forward group has great potential. Arizona Coyotes prospect Christian Fischer finished 10th in league scoring. Brendan Lemieux got off to a torrid start after coming over from Barrie, but had just two goals in his last 10 games and didn’t play the final three games of the season. Logan Brown found his stride and finished the season having scored eight goals in the last nine games.

Coach Rocky Thompson does have some secondary scoring options in Aaron Luchuk and Bradley Latour. The Spitfires can play it tough too. The likes of Cristiano DiGiacinto, Connor Chatam and Hayden McCool combined for over 250 PIMs. Thompson has said all season that his team is built for playoff hockey. The Spitfires are big, can score and use size and physicality to defend.

Individual Stats            
Top Scorers GP G A PTS Note  
Christian Fischer 66 40 50 90 10th OHL Pts  
Logan Brown 59 21 53 74    
Brendan Lemieux 45 32 30 62    
Mikhail Sergachev 67 17 40 57 3RD OHL Rookies  
Aaron Luchuk 68 27 26 53    
In Goal            
Michael DiPietro (16-8-1-1, 2.45, .912%)            
Team Stats     Rank      
PP 66/280=23.6%   3rd      
PK 56/272=79.4%   13th      
GF/gm 3.72   7th      
GA/gm 2.94   7th    

NHL Drafted/Signed Players
Brendan Lemieux (BUF, 31st 2014)
Christian Fischer (ARI, 32nd 2015)
Connor Chatam (NJ, 71st 2014)
Cristiano DiGiacinto (TB, 170th 2014)
Patrick Sanvido (DAL, 195th 2014)

NHL Central Scouting Mid-Term Rankings
Mikhail Sergachev, No. 10
Logan Brown, No. 14
Logan Stanley, No. 23

Under The Radar
Hayden McCool has found his game under Thompson. He’s less focused on point production and more worried about process. With his size and newfound reliability, pro hockey is on the horizon.

Kitchener Rangers
44-17-5-2 (24-7-2-1 Home), 3rd Midwest Division, 4th Western Conference, No. 6 BMO Top 10

Kitchener exceeded expectations all season, going toe-to-toe with Midwest Division heavyweights Erie and London. All three were mainstays in the CHL’s top 10 rankings. The Rangers play a team game through and through, thanks to tight chemistry and buy-in on what the coaching staff has been selling.

The Rangers play a puck pressure/possession style of game that limits the opposition’s space. Head coach Mike Van Ryn has stressed skill development above all, and with the likes of former NHLers Daniel Tkaczuk and Jay McKee to help spread the word, the players have responded. Assistant coach Mike McKenzie is also the assistant GM and has a great rapport with the players, their families and the billets.

In goal, St. Louis prospect Luke Opilka will shoulder the load. In his last two starts, however, he yielded nine goals on 53 shots, including allowing five to Windsor last week. Dawson Carty did see more minutes over the last month and a half and should be ready if called upon.

The Rangers won’t be the same on defence as the team that ranked fifth in goals against average. Frank Hora, Dmitri Sergeev and Brian Brosnan are all doubtful to play and if any of them do suit up, they won’t be at 100 percent. The team has no choice but to lean on the rookie trio of Elijah Roberts, Connor Hall and the recently converted Joseph Garreffa. That leaves veterans Miles Liberati, Dylan Di Perna and Doug Blaisdell with a boatload of responsibility.

Kitchener has a balanced attack, led by Coyotes prospect Ryan MacInnis and draft eligible Adam Mascherin, who tied for the team lead with 81 points. There were no Rangers in the top 15 in league scoring, but nine Rangers had 15 goals or better. With key injuries on the back end, it is assumed that the Rangers will have to rely more heavily on offence.

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Maple Leafs prospect Jeremy Bracco has been an offensive catalyst since arriving from Boston College. (Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Jeremy Bracco was well received and Kitchener will need him to produce in the playoffs. David Miller, Gustaf Franzen and Mason Kohn all ended the regular season on high notes. Darby Llewellyn and Brandon Robinson must also provide goal scoring.

The top nine forwards in Kitchener’s lineup are deep and fast. Kitchener is at its best when moving its feet in all three zones. A smothering forecheck and intense back pressure are noticeable when Kitchener is on top of its game.

Individual Stats          
Top Scorers GP G A PTS Note
Ryan MacInnis 59 38 43 81 16th OHL Pts
Adam Mascherin 65 35 46 81 17th OHL Pts
Jeremy Bracco 49 21 43 64  
Gustaf Franzen 66 17 35 52  
Mason Kohn 60 16 30 46  
In Goal          
Luke Opilka (27-11-3-2, 2.70, .906%)          
Team Stats     Rank    
PP 50/225=22.2%   4th    
PK 51/256=80.1%   11th    
GF/gm 3.76   4th    
GA/gm 2.9   5th  

NHL Drafted/Signed Players
Ryan MacInnis (ARI, 43rd 2014)
Jeremy Bracco (TOR, 61st 2015)
Nick Magyar (COL, 93rd 2014)
Luke Opilka (STL, 146th 2015)
Miles Liberati (VAN, 205th 2013)
Dmitrii Sergeev (FA STL)

NHL Central Scouting Mid-Term Rankings
Adam Mascherin, No. 57
Connor Bunnaman, No. 81

Under The Radar
David Miller has speed to burn and while his numbers weren’t dazzling this season, he did end the campaign on a six-game point streak, and had points in seven of his last eight.

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