After a long off-season, the wait is finally over. It’s time for the OHL’s opening week!
For the Hamilton Bulldogs, it was a summer of celebration. For the 19 other teams, it was a summer of imitation. As in, how can that be us next year?
Like every other season, draft eligibles will come out of nowhere to dominate in the biggest year of their hockey careers. Veterans who have been steady for a few seasons will finally have it all click. And a handful of rookies will look right at home in their first steps onto the ice.
With the new season having kicked off and with the first full weekend firmly in our sights, here are some burning questions to start the season.
Five questions to kick off the 2018-19 OHL season
Who stands out in 2019 NHL Draft Class?
The OHL will not be front and centre when it comes to talk surrounding the 2019 NHL Draft class.
That is unless Jack Hughes miraculously finds his way North of the border.
Just because the focus won’t be squarely on the OHL, doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of talent to follow this year. And it’s relatively wide open.
Barrie’s Ryan Suzuki is typically the name that comes up among forwards. Coming off a 44-point rookie season and an excellent showing at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, he’s in the driver’s seat. But then there’s the question of what Tag Bertuzzi will bring following an injury-shortened rookie year.
🇺🇸Arthur Kaliyev (LW) (HAM)
🇨🇦Ryan Suzuki (C) (BAR)
🇨🇦Blake Murray (C) (SBY)
🇷🇺Nikita Okhotyuk (D) (OTT)
🇨🇦Michael Vukojevic (D) (KIT)
The OHL is lacking in high end talent for the #2019NHLDraft
— 2019 NHL Draft (@NHLDraft2019) September 15, 2018
What about the dynamic Blake Murray up in Sudbury? Or Arthur Kaliyev in Hamilton?
Among defencemen, Kitchener’s Michael Vukojevic is one to watch as well. He played a top-four role in his rookie season, and should be a draft darling.
Is Morgan Frost a lock for the OHL scoring title?
After Morgan Frost was returned to the Greyhounds by the Philadelphia Flyers, the rest of the league took a deep sigh. While it was more than a likelihood all camp long, one of the most dangerous players in the league is officially back.
Hexy says Morgan Frost needed to show more puck possession, a little more maturity in his game. “It was pretty obvious, not only in his game but in practice, he wasn’t ready for this…Like I told him today, ‘It’s not a crime at 19.’ “ #Flyers
— Sam Carchidi (@BroadStBull) September 18, 2018
All eyes will be on Frost for two reasons this year. The first, is whether or not can improve upon last year’s 112 points. It was good for second in the league in 2017, but the Greyhounds lack the same level of talent they had. All year long, Frost will have the likes of Nick Suzuki, Jason Robertson, and Sasha Chmelevski chasing him down.
Nick Suzuki has the potential to lead the OHL in scoring this year; nice add by Montreal https://t.co/RgYJWuQiv9
— Ryan Kennedy (@THNRyanKennedy) September 10, 2018
The other reason? If Frost performs as expected, he’ll be one of the most expensive trade chips on the market come Christmas time.
Will we see Brady Tkachuk in a Knights’ uniform?
This is a question that was asked during the playoffs last year.
It's possible that Brady Tkachuk will end up w/ the London Knights but it reminds me of Tyson Jost last year. I kept hearing how he would end up in Regina for their Memorial Cup run but I knew he'd negotiated "Pro only" when he signed with Colorado. Could be the same for Tkachuk.
— Guy Flaming (@TPS_Guy) August 13, 2018
But beforehand, some mentioned that this was a roundabout way to get him to London. Play the year at BU, get drafted, sign the entry-level contract and, if he wasn’t ready for the NHL, off to the Knights he goes.
London doesn’t need Tkachuk’s help this year, but they would surely welcome it. His brother Matthew Tkachuk, a Knights’ alumni, was good enough to make the jump his rookie year. Brady could be too.
— Sens Prospects (@SensProspects) September 19, 2018
But if he isn’t? Or the drama surrounding the Senators becomes too much for the franchise’s future? Tkachuk’s path to the OHL is now clear.
Who can challenge for DiPietro’s crown?
There was no question last year who the best goalie in the OHL was. It was, and still is, Windsor’s Michael DiPietro.
But who is number two?
I think if you asked 10 people who the second best goalie was in the OHL you'd get 7 or 8 different answers.
— Tony Saxon (@SaxonOnTheStorm) September 18, 2018
The easy answer is the Greyhounds’ Michael Villalta, who guided Sault Ste. Marie through the playoffs last year. This year will be his proving ground, however, as he’ll be one of the factors that determine how good the ‘Hounds are this year.
Will Kyle Keyser challenge for that spot with Oshawa poised to contend? What about an OA like Stephen Dhillon?
Undoubtedly someone will emerge over the course of the season, coming out of nowhere to carry their team.
Who emerges among Imports?
The answer to question four might also be found in the answer to question five.
|Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, Finland||Sudbury Wolves||3rd overall|
|Ivan Prosvetov, Russia||Saginaw Spirit||15th overall|
|Kari Piiroinen, Finland||Windsor Spitfires||30th overall|
|Maksim Zhukov, Russia||Barrie Colts||48th overall|
Now that goalies are allowed back into the CHL Import Draft, there are a couple of names to keep an eye on.
Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen may have finally solved the riddle between the Sudbury Wolves pipes. Luukkonen posted solid numbers with LeKi in Finland’s second tier last year and should be ready for North American competition. He was selected third overall in the Import Draft.
Ivan Prosvetov (Saginaw), Kari Piironen (Windsor), Maxim Zhukov (Barrie) were drafted as well and have signed with their respective teams.
Liam Kirk is a big feel-good story among Imports. Kirk is the first British born and trained player to be drafted into the NHL (7th round, Arizona), and is hoping to continue his development with the Petes.
— Chasing The Puck (@CTPHockey) September 2, 2018
Petr Cajka (Erie), Yegor Postnov (North Bay), Tim Fleischer (Hamilton) and Matvei Guskov (London), are all eligible for the 2019 NHL Draft.
Marco Rossi’s two-year development in Ottawa should be interesting to watch as well. The 16-year old isn’t eligible for the NHL until the 2020 draft.
Main Photo: LONDON, ON – MARCH 4: Morgan Frost #16 of the Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds skates against the London Knights during an OHL game at Budweiser Gardens on March 4, 2016 in London, Ontario, Canada. The Knights defeated the Greyhounds 6-4. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)