In some ways, it was tough luck for the West Division last season. For one team however, everything fell just right.
The Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds were the class of the division last year. They finished two wins shy of 50 and were the only team that didn’t play in the Midwest Division to finish with 100 points. While it got them an easy first round match-up with rival Flint, they ran into the Owen Sound buzzsaw in round two.
At the bottom of the division it was more tough luck. After making a massive trade to bring him in the season before, the Sarnia Sting lost Travis Konecny to the NHL. Then they lost Pavel Zacha to the pros. And then Jakob Chychrun.
The Firebirds rebounded after a tumultuous first season in Flint to make the playoffs, but there’s still some growing to be done there. The same can be said of the Saginaw Spirit, who missed the playoffs after four straight first round exits.
Then there’s the Windsor Spitfires. They suffered some injuries early in the season, and had to look up at the Otters, Attack and Knights in what was supposed to be their year. When it came to the playoffs, a first round, seven-game loss to London propelled a big conversation about reformatting the seeding. Then, after nearly a month and a half between games they ended up as MasterCard Memorial Cup champions.
Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
2016-17 season: 48-16-3-1, 100 points, 2nd in Western Conference, lost 4-2 in Conference semi-finals (Owen Sound)
Who’s behind the bench? Drew Bannister has taken his team to the second round of the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, racking up 81 wins along the way. The Greyhounds won 15 more games last year than they did in 2015-16.
Leading Scorer: Bobby MacIntyre – 28 goals, 52 assists, 80 points
Will he be back? No, the overager will be moving on this year. After 183 points in 306 games, he signed with Cleveland of the AHL.
Who to watch: Matt Villalta
A rookie last year, Villalta took over between the pipes for the Greyhounds for 33 games and threw down a 25-3 record to go along with a 2.41 goals-against-average and 0.918 save percentage. The Los Angeles Kings invested a third round pick in him, and they’ll get to see how he stands up to a full season in the OHL.
2016-17 season: 41-19-5-3, 90 points, 5th in Western Conference, lost 4-3 in first round (London); MasterCard Memorial Cup champions
Who’s behind the bench? The Memorial Cup champions lost Rocky Thompson, the man who guided them through that monstrous layoff, to Chicago of the AHL. Trevor Letowski takes over behind the bench after spending the last two years in Windsor as an associate coach.
Leading Scorer: Jeremy Bracco – 25 goals, 58 assists, 83 points
Will he be back? No. The Spitfires leading scorer (who they acquired from Kitchener at the deadline) will be playing pro this year. He’s likely headed to the Toronto Marlies.
Who to watch: Connor Corcoran
If there’s anywhere where there’s an opportunity in Windsor, it’s on the blue line.There are big minutes to fill with the trade of Logan Stanley, and the likely departures of Sean Day and Mikhail Sergachev. A second round pick in last year’s draft, Corcoran is eligible for the NHL draft this year. He should get plenty of chances to strut his stuff.
If you like tall defencemen, keep an eye on 6’6″ import Lev Starikov. He’s a year away from being eligible for the NHL draft, but could be interesting to watch develop.
2016-17 season: 32-28-3-5, 72 points, 7th in Western Conference, lost 4-1 in first round (SSM)
Who’s behind the bench? Ryan Oulahen returns for a second season behind the bench in Flint. The team saw a 26 point improvement under him, moving to four games above .500 (they were 22 games under .500 the previous year).
Leading Scorer: Ryan Moore – 39 goals, 51 assists, 90 points
Will he be back? Moore had a tryout with the Orlando Solar Bears at the end of last season, but he’ll be back to round out his OHL career in Flint.
Who to watch: Ty Dellandrea
After a slow start to the season, Dellandrea picked it up towards the end. Over the last 18 games he notched seven goals and five assists. He wrapped up his rookie year with 24 points in 57 games, and could wind up being a first round pick in this year’s NHL draft.
2016-17 season: 31-30-6-1, 69 points, 8th in Western Conference, lost 4-0 in first round (Erie)
Who’s behind the bench? Derian Hatcher enters his third season behind the Sarnia bench. He has taken them to the playoffs in both seasons, but has yet to make it past the first round. His record stands at 73-49-7
Leading Scorer: Jordan Kyrou – 30 goals, 64 assists, 94 points
Will he be back? It’s hard to see the St. Louis Blues 2016 second rounder making the jump, but it’s not impossible. If he doesn’t knock the Blues socks off, expect to hear his name a lot in the OHL and internationally. He should be a star at this years World Juniors.
Who to watch: Hugo Leufvenius
Leufvenius was draft eligible last year but, despite being rated among the top 100 European skaters, went undrafted. He brings good size at 6’3″ and 218 pounds and reportedly plays a ‘heavy game.’ Sting general manager Nick Sinclair has been following him for a while, and it should be interesting to watch his transition to North America.
2016-17 season: 27-32-7-2, 63 points, 9th in Western Conference, missed playoffs
Who’s behind the bench? OHL veteran Troy Smith takes over the coaching duties, after leaving the Bulldogs early last season. Smith has plenty of experience behind the bench, spending two years in Hamilton and nine with the Kitchener Rangers. The last two those seasons he spent as head coach in Kitchener, where he won 54 games.
Leading Scorer: Hayden Hodgson – 38 goals, 28 assists, 66 points
Will he be back? No. After his final season in the OHL, Hodgson is going the USports route. He committed to the University of New Brunswick earlier this summer.
The UNB Varsity Reds have added forward Hayden Hodgson for the 2017-18 AUS MHKY season. pic.twitter.com/qagfWzomFL
— Victor Findlay (@Finder_24) August 11, 2017
Who to watch: Blade Jenkins
The Spirit took Jenkins fourth overall last year, and it raised plenty of eyebrows. Jenkins had already committed to the USNTDP and had a scholarship in hand from the University of Michigan. Instead, Jenkins agreed to join the Spirit in early May, meaning general manager Dave Drinkill’s gamble paid off. Jenkins has plenty of skill, scoring 56 goals in 65 games during his OHL draft season, and played last year against more mature competition. Entering his NHL Draft season, time will tell if the move paid off. Right now though, it gives the Spirit’s core another exciting young piece to work with.