Why the Otters are a sleeper in OHL’s Western Conference


Alex DeBrincat has 17 goals and 35 points in 14 games with the Erie Otters. (Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

The Canadian Hockey League released it’s Top 10 Rankings for Week 5 on Wednesday and a familiar team appears to be working its way back up the national ladder.

That comfortable old pair of jeans is none other than the Erie Otters, who CHL fans know have been terrorizing the opposition for three years, becoming the first OHL team to post back-to-back-to-back 50-win campaigns. This season, without offensive wizards Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome, the Otters were largely written off as having missed their window. While that may be the case, they are not going quietly.

Looking at some underlying numbers provided by Prospect-Stats.com, Erie has quietly put together the most dominant five-on-five performance of the young OHL season en route to six wins in a row and the West’s second-best record.

Team GP Est.FC% GD GF% SD SF% Sh%
Hamilton Bulldogs 9 52.01 18 64.06 16 51.43 13.99
Erie Otters 10 58.22 13 60.66 51 54.77 12.33
Sudbury Wolves 11 47.88 7 56.6 -9 49.22 10.28
Kitchener Rangers 9 48.44 5 54.72 -34 46.47 12.95
Owen Sound Attack 10 57.72 4 54.55 83 57.29 7.08
Flint Firebirds 10 55.3 3 53.19 17 51.66 9.47
London Knights 8 49.22 2 53.12 4 50.53 8.9
Oshawa Generals 10 53.07 1 51.06 22 52.37 9.13
Peterborough Petes 10 47.03 1 51.06 -49 45.78 8.33
Mississauga Steelheads 9 53.54 0 50 48 54.58 8.04
Sarnia Sting 10 47.14 0 50 -16 48.57 11.03
Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds 11 52.88 -2 48.15 36 52.97 7.52
North Bay Battalion 9 40.51 -3 46.51 -43 45.25 9.76
Windsor Spitfires 10 45.54 -3 45.95 -43 45.36 7.21
Guelph Storm 10 48.72 -6 44.44 -25 47.97 7.82
Ottawa 67’s 10 47.09 -7 42.55 -37 46.35 8.51
Barrie Colts 10 50.15 -7 41.86 1 50.1 5.96
Niagara IceDogs 10 40.26 -8 41.67 -63 44.26 8.23
Saginaw Spirit 9 53.6 -6 41.18 36 53.42 4.98
Kingston Frontenacs 9 50.17 -12 33.33 5 50.57 5.38

The chart above is sorted by 5-on-5 goal differential. The surprising Hamilton Bulldogs lead the way in that category, but right there at No. 2 is Erie. The Otters are also first in 5-on-5 possession, second in shot differential and goals-for percentage and third in shooting percentage. Those are very consistent, top-end team numbers.

There are two things everyone should remember about the Otters: First, they are a battle-tested team that coach Kris Knoblauch can count on to play hard. And, second, they have Alex DeBrincat, arguably the CHL’s top offensive weapon.

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Knoblauch has 19 players back from last season’s squad, with the biggest holes coming in the form of Strome and netminder Devin Williams. You can’t fill the former, and the latter is being plugged by 2015-16 backup Jake Lawr and former Sudbury Wolves No. 1 Troy Timpano—who’s boasting a .920 save percentage early on. That many returnees to Knoblauch’s system has obviously translated into some serious offensive chemistry, even though the power play has yet to take off.

DeBrincat, in particular, is killing it out there. At 5-on-5, he’s already managed 39 shots (tops in the league) in just seven games, his shooting percentage is 23.08 percent, he’s scoring 4.07 goals/60 minutes (second overall) and 5.43 primary points/60 (first overall). If anyone thought DeBrincat’s back-to-back 51-goal campaigns were the products of playing with McDavid and Strome, well, he might just better that number this season without either feeding him the puck.

Taylor Raddysh also deserves mention. The second-round pick by Tampa Bay in June is currently tied for the OHL scoring lead, is No. 1 in overall points-per-game and tied with DeBrincat for the lead in that category at 5-on-5. He also leads in 5-on-5 P/60.

With more talent up front with the likes of Ivan Lodnia, Kyle Maksimovich, 2016 OHL first-round pick Allan McShane and imports Erik Cernak and Gera Poddubnyi, it’s tough for opponents to throw everything they have at DeBrincat and Raddysh. A blueline-by-committee is led by overage defensive stalwart Darren Raddysh and has a big hole to fill itself thanks to Travis Dermott graduating.

No doubt there are concerns, and a fourth 50-win campaign in a row simply can’t be in the offing. But a team that can score and has mettle throughout the lineup can find lightning in a bottle. So don’t sleep on the Otters just because you don’t know all their names.

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