2021-22 OHL Preview: A storyline to watch for each team

Shane Wright of the Kingston Frontenacs. (Terry Wilson / OHL Images)

A common theme around the Ontario Hockey League this season will be inexperience and to say roster sheets will get well-used by fans and media alike is an understatement.

Following a year off, not many players in Ontario got into many games of any real meaning last winter. Add to that the fact that the league will have two rookie crops coming in and there will be a lot of new faces around the league.

With the regular season opening this week, we take a look at some of the questions surrounding teams across the league.

Barrie Colts: Marty Williamson is returning behind the bench in Barrie and takes the helm with a solid group of veterans in the mix. A group on the blueline that includes Los Angeles Kings first rounder Brandt Clarke stands to be a key for the Colts entering the season. How much of a developmental step we see from the group will be key for a Colts team that expects big things this season.

Erie Otters: The Otters return a handful of forwards this season that have taken small steps offensively early on in their OHL careers. With the significant steps that we see young players take some years as they mature, the Otters could stand to see some of these veterans poised for strong years offensively with more prominent roles. Exactly how much of a step forward they take will go a long way in determining what kind of season will be had in Erie.

Flint Firebirds: Riley Piercey put up good numbers offensively after being acquired by the Firebirds midway through the 2019-20 season from Barrie. In 27 games in Flint, the 19-year-old topped his numbers from any point during his time in Barrie. With the potential for an even bigger role this season, what can we expect from the veteran forward who will be one of the go-to guys in a Firebirds uniform?

Guelph Storm: The last time we saw the Guelph Storm on the ice, Nico Daws was the main man in goal and turning heads. Nearly 17 months later, the Storm will be inexperienced in goal. Some experience on the blueline will be important for a Storm team that has some questions between the pipes. Owen Bennett returns as the veteran in goal with 27 games of experience and will be joined by 2004 birth year Jacob Oster.

Hamilton Bulldogs: Logan Morrison returns to the Bulldogs lineup as a 19-year-old this season and the former first rounder showed a steady incline offensively in his first two seasons in Hamilton. Despite the lost season in 2020-21, the question will be what kind of seasons Morrison stands to have with additional minutes and an even bigger opportunity.

Kingston Frontenacs: With COVID leading to the cancellation of last season, Shane Wright’s time in the league will be even shorter than anticipated. The consensus top OHL player eligible for the 2022 NHL draft, what Wright will do for an encore after a quality rookie season is going to be fun to watch. Is 50 goals a possibility? After 39 in 58 games in year one, 50 should be possible, even with time out of the lineup.

Kitchener Rangers: Though they will be without Jacob Ingham (Los Angeles Kings) between the pipes due to graduation, the Rangers will look to 19-year-old Pavel Cajan and 16-year-old Jackson Parsons. With a resume that includes international experience representing his country, one has to wonder exactly how Cajan will manage the adjustment to playing a full season in North America.

London Knights: While some teams enter the season with some questions in goal, the question for the London Knights between the pipes is more along the lines of, what will Brett Brochu do for an encore? Now 19, Brochu posted 32 wins in his rookie season with the Knights in 2019-20. With an inexperienced group in front of him, Brochu will be expected to carry a heavy workload this season.

Mississauga Steelheads: With experienced goaltenders at a premium across the league, the Steelheads looked west and added 20-year-old Roman Basran, who previously played with the Western Hockey League’s Kelowna Rockets. Two years ago, Dylan Myskiw and Bailey Brkin made similar jumps to Ontario and were solid in London and Sault Ste. Marie, respectively. Can Basran do the same for the Steelheads?

Niagara IceDogs: What can we expect from Tucker Tynan this season? If the pre-season is any indication, Tynan has returned to the IceDogs in fine form after a life-threatening injury suffered in December 2019. Tynan has impressed early on and is entering the regular season with plenty of confidence ... and we all know how much the confidence a goaltender shows spreads to the team in front of him.

North Bay Battalion: Rookie defenceman Ty Nelson, the top pick in the 2021 OHL Priority Selection has people around the league excited. After a solid pre-season showing with the Battalion, eyes will be on the 17-year-old to see what he brings to the table after COVID-19 meant a delayed start to an OHL career for the Toronto product.

Oshawa Generals: A team that was looking to build for a Memorial Cup run last season before COVID-19 ended any hope of a season, the Generals will look to fill the void of losing Phil Tomasino (Nashville Predators). In lead roles with the Generals, how will Brett Harrison (Boston Bruins) and Ty Tullio (Edmonton Oilers) handle the added offensive pressure without Tomasino in the mix?

Ottawa 67’s: After back-to-back 50-win seasons, the 67’s roster will look very different from the one that took the ice at the end of the 2019-20 season. The blueline will see an extreme change with the top four of Noel Hoefenmayer, Merrick Rippon, Nikita Okhotyuk, and Kevin Bahl having graduated, players like Nashville prospect Jack Matier will take on a significantly increased role on the blueline in the nation’s capital.

Owen Sound Attack: Greg Walters replaces Alan Letang behind the Attack bench in one of a number of coaching moves in the league prior to the new season. Walters had success in his previous spot, leading the Oshawa Generals to 75 wins over two seasons with the club. With a veteran goaltender in Mack Guzda and some experience on the blueline, it could be an interesting year to watch Walters work with what could be a solid roster in Owen Sound.

Peterborough Petes: After spending the 2020-21 season in Switzerland on loan and playing well in 13 games at the pro level, Mason McTavish remained in camp with the Anaheim Ducks this week. With McTavish still in camp, the Petes will look to others to cover the offensive void in the meantime. Who will play that role remains to be seen in the early part of the season.

Saginaw Spirit: With Cole Perfetti turning heads in Winnipeg with the Jets, it will be up to the remaining returnees in the Spirit dressing room to take over the offensive production in Saginaw. Returning overage forwards Dalton Duhart and Camaryn Baber and recently acquired overage Nick Wong will play a role in filling that void.

Sarnia Sting: As a 16-year-old, Benjamin Gaudreau got into 28 games as an OHL rookie. Despite not seeing any game action last season, Gaudreau stepped into his first action of the season with the Canadian entry at the World Under-18 Hockey Championship and posted impressive numbers in five games and was then drafted by the San Jose Sharks. What will that confidence do for the young netminder as he heads into his second OHL season?

Soo Greyhounds: The team made the decision over the summer to start the year with a pair of rookie goaltenders. How the duo of 2003 birth year Samuel Ivanov and 2004 birth year Charlie Schenkel handle playing at the OHL level will play a role in the success the Greyhounds have this season with veterans in key positions otherwise to start the year.

Sudbury Wolves: With some pro experience under his belt, Chase Stillman (New Jersey Devils) stands to be the offensive catalyst for the Wolves this season. The last time he played an OHL game was on a Sudbury roster that included Quinton Byfield (Los Angeles Kings) and Matej Pekar (Buffalo Sabres) among others. How will Stillman handle being the go-to guy this time around?

Windsor Spitfires: It’s his first gig as a major junior head coach, but Marc Savard is very familiar with the OHL. One has to wonder how much of an impact Savard being at the helm will have on the offensive game of the Spitfires, of only for the fact that he’s a former two-time OHL scoring champ. If there’s anyone who knows how to put up numbers in the league, it’s him.

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