Five OHL Thoughts: Super stretch runs for Vilardi, Culina and the playoff picture

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LONDON, ON - FEBRUARY 3: Liam Foudy #18 of the London Knights skates against the Owen Sound Attack during an OHL game at Budweiser Gardens on February 3, 2017 in London, Ontario, Canada. The Knights defeated the Attack 4-0. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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The OHL season has hit its stretch run.

With teams staring down their last 12-15 games of the season, it’s time to get playoff-ready. Some teams will be making tweaks to their lineup over the next couple of weeks. Others may rest stars and key contributors with their fingers crossed for deep runs at the Memorial Cup. Teams closer to the bottom will start to give first and second-year players more ice time, in hopes of getting an idea of what they’ll provide next season.

As we get set for the final month of the OHL regular season, the playoffs are where we’ll kick off this week’s five thoughts.

Five OHL Thoughts

Playoff picture shaping up

Unsurprisingly, the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds have their playoff spot locked up. While they’re 13 points up on the Sting for top spot in the OHL, Sarnia is locked in as well. The same goes for Kitchener and the Hamilton Bulldogs in the East.

This is the time of year when spots will start to dry up, but seeding is still up for grabs. It’s hard to fathom ninth-place Erie climbing out of a 13 point hole in the West. That means it looks like there will be plenty of jockeying from fifth to seventh. The fourth place (London Knights) and eighth place (Windsor Spitfires) teams will likely get in on it too. The Peterborough Petes poor play has seen them slip six points out of eighth in the East. Mississauga is surging and is six points out of fifth and ten points out of fourth. There’s going to be a whole lot of shuffling going on.

Super Mario

After a forgetful half-season in Sudbury, Mario Culina has done more than turn a corner in Kitchener. It has been an entire 180. To this point, he’s played 10 games with the Rangers and had played 10 with the Wolves before the trade. His numbers in Sudbury? A 3.44 GAA, 0.903 save percentage, and a 2-5-2 record. In Kitchener, he already has two shutouts to go along with a 10-0 record, a 1.70 GAA and a 0.949 save percentage. For a team that was looking for a solution in net, they seem to have found one. If this keeps up and the Rangers are the last team standing, that 2019 eighth rounder they gave to Sudbury will look like a steal.

Go Go Gabe

One of the reasons I thought the Windsor Spitfires would be competitive coming off a Memorial Cup Championship was Gabe Vilardi. Even when he was sidelined by a back injury, if he could return to the lineup, he changes the outlook of a time. While he never suited up in Windsor this season, he’s proven to be an elite difference-maker for Kingston. He has 25 assists and 36 points in 18 games so far for the Frontenacs. His points-per-game is sitting at an eye-popping 2.00. That just ekes out Jordan Kyrou (1.98) for best in the league. Just for fun, if he had played the same amount of games as Kyrou, he’d be sitting at 86 points. Where would that sit league-wide? One point ahead of Kyrou for third in the OHL. Despite a disappointing result against the 67’s on Wednesday, Vilardi notched an assist, extending his point-streak to nine. That gives him six goals and 16 assists over that stretch.

Blazin’ Brazeau

At the beginning of the season, we pegged Justin Brazeau as one to watch. So far, so good. The former 13th round pick in 2014 has been dominant for North Bay this season. He leads his team with 59 points and has a career-high 32 goals. That’s 10 more than last year’s career-high. It’s also four more than he had scored total entering this year. He’s one of just 13 30-goal scorers in the OHL this year.

No foolin’ Foudy

In the midst of his draft eligible season, Liam Foudy is the most-recent OHL On the Run Player of the Week. Foudy is coming off his best stretch of the season with seven points (five goals, two assists) in three games. In his last nine games (not including Wednesday vs Owen Sound), Foudy has nine goals and four assists. That accounts for 54% of his production this season (13 of his 24 points). The Knights are in a situation where they sold off valuable assets at the Trade Deadline but they’re still competitive. Now players like Nathan Dunkley, Connor McMichael, and Foudy are going to get a longer leash to see what they can do. Foudy has picked up his production, while Dunkley has continued to put up points, while the rookie McMichael has three points in 13 games in London. Foudy saw his three-game point streak end Wednesday against Owen Sound.

 

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