2017 OHL Season Preview: East Division

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OTTAWA, ON - DECEMBER 04: Chase Campbell (91) of the Ottawa 67's attacks the Mississauga Steelheads net in Ontario Hockey League (OHL) action at TD Place Stadium on in Ottawa, Canada on 4 December 2016. (Photo by Sean Burges / Icon Sportswire)

The 2016/17 OHL season was a good one for the East Division.

While the Eastern Conference champion didn’t come from the division, the Peterborough Petes claimed the regular season conference crown. To go with that, all five teams made the playoffs for the second time since 2014/15.

2017 OHL Season Preview: East Division

Entering this season, both the Hamilton Bulldogs and Oshawa Generals are expected to be contenders. Each bid for the 2018 MasterCard Memorial Cup, but it ultimately will be held in Regina.

The Petes will have plenty of veterans in their lineup in hopes of repeating as division champions. The Frontenacs will have a deep roster as well, and the the 67’s will be fun to watch.

Will the entire division make the playoffs again? It will be tough, but as usual, it will be competitive from start to finish.

Peterborough Petes

2016/17 season: 42-21-2-3, 89 points, 1st in Eastern Conference, lost in East Finals (Mississauga)

Who’s behind the bench? Jody Hull has been with the team since 2005/06, and head coach since 2012/13. Coming off his most successful season behind the bench, the Petes won 40 games for the first time since 05/06. In a league coming off an offseason of turnover in Hockey Ops departments, Hull and GM Michael Oke provide Peterborough with stability.

Leading Scorer: Nikita Korostelev – 29 goals, 35 assists, 64 points

Will he be back? The Petes acquired their leading scorer at the trade deadline from Sarnia, but may have only gotten 24 games out of him. Eligible for an overage season, Korostelev was re-assigned from the Maple Leafs camp to the Marlies. He’s eligible to stay in the pros if the team thinks he’s ready. Matt Timms, who would have led the team in scoring if not for Korostelev, will be back though.

Who to watch: Pavel Gogolev

The eighth overall pick in the 2016 OHL Priority Selection, Gogolev had a quiet rookie year. After finishing with just 11 points in 53 games, Gogolev went into the offseason motivated. It seems like whatever he did back home in Russia worked, as he was electric throughout training camp and preseason. A player with the talent of Gogolev, who is as motivated as he is could be a dangerous combination. And one the Petes will certainly take.

Oshawa Generals

2016/17 season: 40-23-3-2, 85 points, 3rd in Eastern Conference, lost in second round (Mississauga)

Who’s behind the bench? Bob Jones is back for year number three with a team expected to compete. Jones had the unenviable task of taking over a Memorial Cup champion the year after their run. Instead of bottoming out, he’s led the team to seasons of 27 and 40 wins. Expect to hear a lot of talk about Jones’ squad this year.

Leading Scorer: Domenic Commisso – 19 goals, 44 assists, 63 points
Will he be back? A good bet for his first 20-goal season in the OHL, Commisso will be back for the Generals. He has seen a 20-point improvement over the last two years, and should continue to trend upwards. He was able to generate a lot of positive momentum heading into the 2017 draft.

Who to watch: Allan McShane
McShane produced with the Otters and the Generals last year, proving that his rookie year wasn’t just a product of playing on a loaded Erie team. His point-per-game totals were actually better with Oshawa than Erie (0.70 with Erie, 0.72 in Oshawa), and he’s going to play a key role on a team with high expectations.

Kingston Frontenacs

2016/17 season: 33-26-5-4, 75 points, 4th in Eastern Conference, lost in second round (Peterborough)

Who’s behind the bench? Paul McFarland had a rapid ascension when it came to the OHL coaching ranks and now finds himself as an assistant in Florida. Jay Varady takes over after four years spent with Sioux City of the USHL.

Leading Scorer: Jason Robertson – 42 goals, 39 assists, 81 points
Will he be back? Robertson’s draft eligible season was good enough to make him a second round pick of the Dallas Stars. He was a fast riser last year, and may have been the OHL’s best kept secret despite his numbers. He’ll turn heads at Stars camp, but will ultimately be back.

Who to watch: Cody Morgan
A 21-goal, 41-point player for the Toronto Jr. Canadiens, Morgan was the 12th overall pick in this past OHL Priority Selection. He had a good preseason, chipping in with two goals and an assist in three games. It’ll be tough for him to get consistent playing time on a team that has plenty of returning players, but Morgan has the talent to earn his ice time.

Hamilton Bulldogs

2016/17 season: 33-27-4-4, 74 points, 5th in Eastern Conference, lost in first round (Kingston)

Who’s behind the bench? It’ll be the third OHL season for John Gruden and his second in Hamilton. After a crazy first year in Flint, Gruden settled in with Hamilton and led them to 33 wins and a playoff spot. Their matchups with Oshawa will be must-watch this year.

Leading Scorer: Matt Strome – 34 goals, 28 assists, 62 points
Will he be back? Strome was good enough to sneak into the first round last year, but ultimately landed in the fourth. He was a difficult player to peg, as his projections varied among rankings. Like his brothers Ryan and Dylan, Matthew will be back in the OHL following his draft year.

Who to watch: Will Bitten

Bitten, like Gruden, was caught up in what happened in Flint two years ago. He was able to come through it with a 65-point season though, and ended up being chosen by Montreal in the third round. After requesting a trade out of Flint, Bitten had a good year but failed to match his totals in Hamilton. It wouldn’t be surprising if a quieter offseason leads to a dynamite final year in the OHL for Bitten.

Ottawa 67’s

2016/17 season: 26-34-7-1, 60 points, 7th in Eastern Conference, lost in first round (Mississauga)

Who’s behind the bench? Early in the offseason, Jeff Brown resigned as both Head Coach and General Manager. The 67’s ended up bringing in Andre Tourigny as coach and James Boyd as GM. He spent ten years in Rouyn-Nouranda, leading the Huskies to nine playoff appearances. Since then he spent three years in the NHL and one as Head Coach in Halifax with the Mooseheads.

Leading Scorer: Artur Tyanulin – 24 goals, 61 assists, 85 points
Will he be back? After three years, 147 games and 143 points, the picture surrounding Tyanulin is….hazy. He could have come back to the OHL as an overager, but there are a lot of pro rumours swirling around him. He went to the KHL for a tryout with Ak Bars Kazan, and there’s also a lot of interest coming from Montreal. It’s safe to say that, wherever he plays, it won’t be in Ottawa.

Who to watch: Carter Robertson and Kevin Bahl
If your favourite NHL team is looking for a defenceman in the next draft, keep an eye on Ottawa this year. Bahl is HockeyProspect.com’s 30th ranked player ahead of the season, and Robertson and Bahl finished 55th and 58th respectively in Craig Button’s preseason rankings. While they aren’t the elite names of Rasmus Dahlin or Adam Boqvist, they’re both worth watching.

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