Catching Up: Mid-season check with 2017/18 OHL Players to Watch

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Ivan Lodnia
LONDON, ON - MARCH 10: Ivan Lodnia #27 of the Erie Otters skates with the puck against the London Knights during an OHL game at Budweiser Gardens on March 10, 2017 in London, Ontario, Canada. The Otters defeated the Knights 4-1. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Every OHL season starts with a clean slate. Draft eligible players have a chance to strut their stuff and prove pre-season rankings right or wrong. A team that didn’t live up to expectations the year before can catch the league off-guard a year later. Players can take on new roles and thrive, gaining notoriety in the league and with scouts alike.

Before this season with our OHL season previews, we identified a player to watch on each team. While it would easy to pick out a draft eligible player, we tried to mix it up with rookies and veterans alike. Now, with the OHL season at the halfway point, it’s time to see how accurate the preseason picks were.

Italics designate draft eligible player

Midwest Division

Ivan Lodnia, Erie Otters: GP: 34, G: 16, A: 23, PTS: 39

Lodnia was a relatively safe pick before the start of the season, so long as he stayed in Erie. Through 34 games this season, he has been a key cog for the team offensively. Adding to his value, his preseason work at centre has carried over into the regular season. He has taken 622 faceoffs (41% success rate) this season, after just 155 in his first two seasons. Now it’s a matter of seeing whether or not Erie wants to move him ahead of the January 10th deadline.

Tag Bertuzzi, Guelph Storm: GP: 20, G: 1, A: 4, PTS: 5

It took until December 1st, but Tag Bertuzzi finally notched his first OHL goal. Three injuries, including a concussion, had held Bertuzzi to just seven games through mid-November. Now healthy, Bertuzzi may be ready to generate a little momentum post-Christmas. The 2019 top prospect has just a goal and two assists since returning to the lineup November 16h (14 games).

Greg Meireles, Kitchener Rangers: GP: 34, G: 9, A: 12, PTS: 21

Meireles is pretty much in line with his 2016/17 season after finishing that year with 17 goals and 42 points. Meireles has nine goals and 12 assists through 34 games so far this year. He’s mixed in a couple of three-game point streaks and a three-point game in his third season. A strong stretch run may still be in the cards for Meireles, on a top-of-the-division Kitchener team.

Lucas Rowe, London Knights: GP: 14, G: 0, A: 0, PTS: 0

Despite the first round pedigree, it has been tough sledding for Lucas Rowe in his rookie season. In and out of the lineup, Rowe is stilling looking for his first point through 14 games. The returns of Max Jones, Sam Miletic, Robert Thomas and Alex Formenton certainly didn’t help things, pushing him farther down the depth chart. Perhaps he can generate some positive momentum with Thomas, Formenton and Jones away at the World Junior Championships.

Markus Phillips, Owen Sound Attack: GP: 32, G: 3, A: 13, PTS: 16

Phillips’ season is well off of how he finished his draft year. After posting 13 goals and 30 assists in 16/17, he has just 16 points through 32 games this season. More troubling may be the fact his +41 from last year is down to a -10 this season. While it is one-off of a team-worst mark, that’s also indicative of Owen Sound’s troubles keeping the puck out of their net. His teammate Sean Durzi has turned into the player to watch however, as he is enjoying a career season.

West Division

Ty Dellandrea, Flint Firebirds: GP: 33, G: 12, A: 14, PTS: 26

Dellandrea has had a massive impact on Flint so far, sitting second in team scoring. He’s a point off of a tie for the team lead, and tied for tops on the Firebirds in goals. The draft-eligible is a goal off of last year’s finish and has already surpassed his single-season high in points. His points-per-game are up by 0.3, and he’s shown a 3% bump in his faceoff efficiency. Dellandrea also entered the Christmas break on a high, notching his first five-point game in the OHL.

Blade Jenkins, Saginaw Spirit: GP: 32, G: 12, A: 12, PTS: 24

After the first month of the season, it looked like Jenkins may need a little more time to learn the OHL game. Then, he started November off with goals in three-straight games including his first OHL hat-trick. Overcoming a slow start with two goals and add two assists in his first 13 games, Jenkins has been electric. Jenkins has 20 points over his last 19 games, an even ten goals and ten assists. He’s steadily climbed the scoring ranks in Saginaw, despite entering the break with one point in his last five games. If Jenkins can keep the offence coming, he’ll be one of the most talked about draftees in the OHL.

Hugo Leufvenius, Sarnia Sting: GP: 35, G: 15, A: 16, PTS: 31

In his first season in North America, Leufvenius is sixth on the Sting in scoring. Things run a little bit deeper than that, however. Jordan Kyrou is dominating the OHL with a league-leading 58 points, and the four players ahead of the Swede all have 33+ points. The 22nd overall pick in the Import Draft is actually playing at a point-per game pace with 15 goals and 16 assists. Insulated by a powerful Sarnia attack, Leufvenius has made his mark with a strong first half.

Matthew Villalta, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds: 21-2-1, 2.49 GAA, 0.909 SV%

There’s no bigger story in the OHL than the Greyhounds winning streak. A big reason for that has been the play of Matthew Villalta. While his save percentage and goals-against average aren’t quite in line with last year’s totals, the Los Angeles Kings prospect is four wins from matching last year’s mark. He has also lost three total games, with two of those coming in regulation. It will be fun to watch the league-leader in GAA and wins down the stretch. Especially if the Hounds’ domination continues.

Connor Corcoran, Windsor Spitfires: GP: 27, G: 1, A: 8, PTS: 9

Corcoran was our player to watch for Windsor, because it looked like he had an opportunity to have an impact on the blueline at the start of the season. So far, he has just one goal this year, but he’s a point shy of last year’s final total of ten. Corcoran’s impact is difficult to measure without constant viewings because his game isn’t centred on offence. He has earned a ‘C’ rating from NHL Central Scouting, however, and he’s making the most of his ice time.

Central Division

Andrei Svechnikov, Barrie Colts: GP: 16, G: 14, A: 17, PTS: 21

Svechnikov’s OHL career was off to a blistering start, but a broken hand saw a quick end to that. Sidelined from late October to early December, Svechnikov’s lead atop the Prospect Power Rankings evaporated. Outside of a scoreless return to the lineup, the Russian is up to his old tricks with four goals and three assists in six games. The first overall pick in the Import Draft is on a 1.31 point-per game pace, and definitely remains one to watch.

Ryan McLeod, Mississauga Steelheads: GP: 34, G: 9, A: 26, PTS: 35

Despite the inconsistencies coming out of Mississauga this season, McLeod continues to produce. Entering his draft season, McLeod spent the first part of it away from the shadow of his brother. While Michael McLeod was in New Jersey at camp and recovering from a knee injury, Ryan enjoyed a 14-game point streak. After a cooler stretch, he’s back to his scoring ways with points in five of his last eight and a pair of three-point games. McLeod enters the Christmas break seven points shy of tying his career-high, He’s also a goal shy of his first 10-goal season.

Akil Thomas, Niagara IceDogs:  GP: 32, G: 8, A: 25, PTS: 33

Entering the season with the potential to be a big draft riser, Thomas has done nothing but embrace the role. An impressive 53% success rate on faceoffs mixes well with his point-per-game pace. Although Thomas is a bit off of last year’s goal-scoring numbers, his assist totals are up. He’s two shy of his career high. The sophomore is a point out of a three-way tie for first in team scoring, and enters the break with points in nine of his last 11 games. Expect Thomas to keep it up as he approaches his 100th career game.

Justin Brazeau, North Bay Battalion: GP: 34, G: 24, A: 13 PTS: 37

After finishing with 37 points in 67 games last season, Brazeau has matched that single-season high in just 34 games this year. He’s also surpassed his high for goals in a year and is three shy of setting a new mark for assists. In just 2017, he has 11 multi-point games, including a four-point game and two three-point games. Leading the Battalion in scoring, Brazeau was good enough to earn Player of the Week honours for the first full week in December. With a strong January, he should cross the 100-point mark for his career.

Jake McGrath, Sudbury Wolves: 6-11-3, 3.98 GAA, 0.884 SV%

After a strong rookie year that helped the Wolves make the playoffs, it has been another tough year in Sudbury. The Wolves are last in the East, two points behind the Steelheads and three points out of a playoff spot. McGrath and the Wolves have struggled, as his GAA risen by .21 and his save percentage has fallen by 12 points. It took McGrath until his fifth appearance to earn his first win and has just two wins over his last nine games. At this point, it seems like the Wolves are destined for another top three pick.

East Division

Will Bitten, Hamilton Bulldogs: GP: 34, G: 10, A: 24, PTS: 34

After a bit of a down year during his first season in Hamilton, Bitten’s enjoying a turnaround. After averaging 0.97 PPG in his draft eligible season, that fell to 0.88 last year with the Bulldogs. Expectations for a third-year OHL player are typically fairly high, but Bitten wasn’t able to match his 15/16 totals. While others have dominated the goal scoring department, Bitten’s 24 assists have him in line to establish a new career high. Third on the Bulldogs in scoring, Bitten is hoping to keep Hamilton atop the East division.

Cody Morgan, Kingston Frontenacs: GP: 28, G: 4, A: 2, PTS: 6

After recording three points in three preseason games, Morgan’s production hasn’t quite matched in the regular season. Morgan started his season off well with goals in each of his first two games and added a two-point game November 26. He has had long scoreless stretches, but part of that can be attributed to sliding up and down the depth chart. With Kingston sitting third in goals-for in the East, it’s likely taken external pressure off of Morgan, allowing him to learn the league at his own pace.

Allan McShane, Oshawa Generals: GP: 34, G: 10, A: 22, PTS 32

McShane continues to make Generals’ brass look ingenious for picking him up at last year’s deadline. Sitting second in team scoring, McShane is an assist off the team lead and one of four Generals with 10 goals. He’s also done this while shrugging off a pair of four-game pointless streaks. Although he’s categorically streaky (he had just two goals through October and one assist in November), he is a focal point for Oshawa. He even enters the Christmas break on a three-game point streak.

Kevin Bahl, Carter Robertson, Ottawa 67’s

Bahl and Robertson continue to chug along as draft eligibles on the 67’s blueline. Bahl was recently invited to the Top Prospects Game, while the two continue to put in quality minutes in their own end. Like many defencemen, their value can’t be accurately measured by point totals, That said, Bahl has 11 in 34 games and Robertson has five in 23. Bahl has also been the subject of NHL.com’s 2018 Draft Diary, which gives some unique insight into the lives of players preparing for the NHL Draft.

Pavel Gogolev, Peterborough Petes: GP: 32, G: 11, A: 9, PTS: 20

Gogolev is navigating a bit of an uneven year. After starting the year with a three-game scoreless stretch, game number four was a four-point night. Since then he’s also worked his way through an eight-game scoreless stretch but heads into Christmas with points in nine of his last 11. Gogolev’s calling card is his goal-scoring (38 in 46 games in Russia), and scored in three-straight before being held off the scoresheet in the final pre-Christmas game. Expect a few more stretches of red-hot play from Gogolev as he and the Petes try and find their footing in a tough East Division.

 

 

LONDON, ON – MARCH 10: Ivan Lodnia #27 of the Erie Otters skates with the puck against the London Knights during an OHL game at Budweiser Gardens on March 10, 2017 in London, Ontario, Canada. The Otters defeated the Knights 4-1. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

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