It was an interesting season for the Central Division in 2016-17.
The Mississauga Steelheads, the early favourites, struggled out of the gate. Momentum and consistency were hard to come by for them, until Spencer Watson graced their lineup. The overager slid into the lineup and lit up the scoresheet, and they never looked back en route to the OHL Finals.
From there, the Sudbury Wolves and Niagara IceDogs made the playoffs sitting five points apart. The two non-playoff spots in the conference were taken up by the North Bay Battalion and Barrie Colts.
Despite an OHL-worst 41 points, the Colts did come away with the ultimate prize: first overall pick Ryan Suzuki. Now we get to see if the young Colts team, buoyed by veteran goalie Leo Lazarev, can makes some noise.
TRADE ALERT 🚨🚨 The Barrie Colts have traded a conditional 12th round selection in 2020 to Ottawa in exchange for G Leo Lazarev.
— Barrie Colts (@OHLBarrieColts) September 10, 2017
We also get to enjoy a division that will be powered by 2018 NHL Draft talent this season.
2016-17 season: 34-21-6-7, 81 points, 2nd in Eastern Conference, lost in OHL Finals (Erie)
Who’s behind the bench? James Richmond is back, hoping to lead the Steelheads back to the top of the Eastern Conference. In his first year behind the bench, he led a monumental mid-season turnaround to get Mississauga to second in the conference. He was also named general manager this past off-season.
Who to watch: Ryan McLeod
McLeod’s brother Michael was a first round pick, 12th overall, by the Devils, and Ryan will likely follow in his footsteps. Benefiting from a late birthday, McLeod will have a chance to lead this Mississauga team. After a 20-point rookie season, he followed it up with 42 last year. By comparison, his brother had seasons of 29, 61, and 73 points in his OHL career.
2016-17 season: 27-34-7-0, 61 points, 6th in Eastern Conference, lost in first round (Oshawa)
Who’s behind the bench? Cory Stillman takes over behind the bench, in hopes of finding the same success as a head coach he had as a player. While Stillman hasn’t led a team over the past few years, he does come to the Wolves from the Carolina Hurricanes as their director of development. Stillman takes over for David Matsos, who left the team in late May.
2016-17 season: 23-35-6-3, 56 points, 8th in Eastern Conference, lost in first round (Peterborough)
Who’s behind the bench? Dave Bell bolted for the Los Angeles Kings system and a position with the Ontario Reign. Billy Burke takes over the reigns, proving that the IceDogs are a family business. That doesn’t mean the position is being handed to Burke without hard work though. It will be interesting to see how a young IceDogs team respond to Burke in his new role.
Who to watch: Akil Thomas
North Bay Battalion
2016-17 season: 24-38-4-2, 54 points, 9th in Eastern Conference, missed playoffs
Who’s behind the bench? There’s no surprise here: Stan Butler is back. He’ll be looking to take the Battalion back to the post-season after a rare miss last year. It was the first time the Battalion franchise didn’t play in a playoff game since 2002-03.
Leading Scorer: Brett McKenzie – 29 goals, 38 assists, 67 points
Will he be back? Right now, it all depends on what happens at Canucks camp. McKenzie made it clear at the end of last year that he wanted to play pro somewhere. If he has a good camp, then he likely will be.
Who to watch: Justin Brazeau
2016-17 season: 17-44-6-1, 41 points, 10th in Eastern Conference missed playoffs
Who’s behind the bench? Entering his eighth season, Dale Hawerchuk and the Colts missed the playoffs for just the second time in his tenure. The five years in between, the Colts won 40, 44, 37, 41 and 43 games. While they may not crack the 40 mark this year, there’s a good chance we see them back in the playoffs.
Leading Scorer: Anthony Stefano – 22 goals, 34 assists, 56 points
Will he be back? No. The overager wrapped up his career in the OHL with his best season. Now he’s off to the world of USports with the University of Western Ontario.
Who to watch: Andrei Svechnikov