With the 2017 OHL trade deadline passing at noon on Tuesday, the major contenders for this year’s J. Ross Robertson Cup are beginning to establish themselves. Some teams, like the London Knights and Erie Otters, loaded up for deep playoff runs, while others, like the Oshawa Generals, set their focus a little further into the future.
Now that the maelstrom has cleared, a more complete picture of how the league will shape up down the stretch is emerging. With that said, here are LWOH’s post-trade deadline OHL power rankings.
Rankings will take into account current standing, trade deadline additions, and overall likelihood for playoff success.
Post-Trade Deadline OHL Power Rankings
The Otters made a couple of big moves at the deadline, adding a talented two-way centre in Anthony Cirelli (TB ’15), as well as big-bodied defenceman Cameron Lizotte. They also bolstered their top line earlier in January with the addition of overager Warren Foegele (CAR ’14). Cirelli and Foegele complete what could be the best top six in the OHL, as he joins a pair of Canadian teammates from the World Juniors in Dylan Strome (AZ ’15) and Taylor Raddysh (TB ’16).
This year is make-or-break for Erie, who have seen two very strong teams fall short in the last couple years. Strome, Cirelli and league-leading scorer Alex DeBrincat (CHI ’16) will not be back next season, so they’ve put all their stock in this last chance. Lizotte’s addition on the blueline addresses a need, and although Erie paid a steep price for their acquisitions, they’re a much more well-rounded team today.
Much to the dismay of many OHL fans, the London Knights are once again a powerhouse. They made three huge moves on Monday, adding forwards Mitchell Stephens (TB ’15) and Dante Salituro (CBJ FA), as well as defenceman Mitchell Vande Sompel (NYI ’15). The Knights now boast arguably the best blueline in the league, with Vande Sompel joining elite skater Victor Mete (MTL ’16) and offensive-zone quarterback Olli Juolevi (VAN ’16).
The defending Memorial Cup champions have added the offensive flair they were missing from last year with Salituro, and with the return of Max Jones (ANA ’16) from injury they will be a force in all areas. Team USA goalie Tyler Parsons (CGY ’16) can run with the best in the OHL as well.
With the Spits set to host the Memorial Cup this year, they’ve been stocking up since well before the deadline. Windsor added big centre Julius Nattinen (ANA ’15) and defenceman Sean Day (NYR ’16) earlier in 2016, but with the team underperforming recently they made several more additions. Perhaps the biggest trade made at the deadline was the Spitfires’ acquisition of small scoring forward Jeremy Bracco (TOR ’15), who will bring a fire to a struggling offence. Windsor leads the league in both special teams, and with players like Mikhail Sergachev (MTL ’16) and Logan Brown (OTT ’16) they are a difficult team to play against.
Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
The first-place team in the OHL, the Soo did very little at the trade deadline, surprisingly. They added some draft picks, and acquired defenceman Noah Carroll (CAR ’16) a few days before. Nonetheless, they’re still an excellent team, with a potent offensive group. Players like Zachary Senyshyn (BOS ’15) and Bobby MacIntyre have carried the team thus far, and the addition of Blake Speers (NJD ’15), who spent the first few months in the NHL and has been away recently with Team Canada, will give them an extra lift.
The Hounds have one of the most active defensive groups in the OHL as well, making them a very exciting team to watch. The jury is out on whether they can truly contend with London and Erie, but they’re in the midst of a great season.
The first Eastern Conference team on this list, the Steelheads might be the OHL’s dark horse this year. They made a couple of moves on Monday, adding two big-bodied veteran forwards in Jacob Cascagnette and Trent Fox. Those acquisitions bring some depth and experience to a team whose top six is already set.
The core of slick skater Michael McLeod (NJD ’16), highly-ranked 2017 NHL Draft prospect Owen Tippett, and overage high-scoring playmaker Spencer Watson (LAK ’14) will put up the necessary points, and a defence led by Vili Saarijarvi (DET ’15) has done the job so far. In a weaker conference, the Trout have a clear path to the OHL Final, where their Western opponent will likely be much more beat up than them.
Along with the Steelheads, Peterborough will likely be one of the top contenders in the East this year, having made a splash at the end of December by picking up skilled forward Nikita Korostelev (TOR ’15) and defender Alex Black from Sarnia. The Petes made a couple other moves on Tuesday too, paying the hefty price of five draft picks and a young player for centre Chris Paquette (TBL ’16), who went to the OHL Final last year with Niagara. In a weaker conference, Peterborough likely fancies their chances of coming out of the East.
Owen Sound Attack
The plucky Attack have one of the youngest teams in the OHL, with 17 players born in 1998 or later. Their forward group features names like 17-year old prospect Nick Suzuki and speedy, undersized forward Petrus Palmu. They added an overager with plenty of experience at the deadline, snagging Barrie Colts captain Cordell James. Owen Sound is a tough, physical team that has caused problems for many top teams, and could look to play spoiler in the Western Conference, as they almost were last year against London. At the deadline, they’re on a ten-game winning streak, and have started to edge into the top tier of Western teams. With the league’s best goalie in Michael McNiven (MTL FA), anything is possible.
Despite their seat atop the Eastern Conference, Oshawa was a seller at the deadline this year. Looking to load up for a Memorial Cup hosting bid next year, the Generals unloaded four core players, in exchange for eleven picks and two solid young prospects in Ian Blacker and Allan McShane. Losing players like Cirelli, Vande Sompel, Stephen Templeton, and Daniel Robertson hurts their stock for this year, but they certainly have a lot of assets for 2017-18. Oshawa stays in the top ten here due to their defence and goaltending, which remain strong thanks to players like Riley Stillman (FLA ’16) and goaltender Jeremy Brodeur.
After a tough December that saw them fall to sixth in the Western Conference, the Rangers went into full sell mode at the deadline. Along with top scoring forward Bracco, they dealt depth forwards Mason Kohn and Jacob Cascagnette, and took on a pair of talented young players in Andrew Burns and Cole Carter from Windsor. After contending a year ago, Kitchener has taken a step back this year, and in the tough Midwest Division they seem destined to bow out in the early stages of the playoffs to a team like London or Erie.
Like Oshawa, the Bulldogs are a finalist to host next year’s Memorial Cup. As such, they too became sellers at the deadline. Hamilton traded Adam Laishram, Trent Fox, and Stephen Templeton, adding youngster Ben Garagan and, somewhat oddly, 19-year old defenceman Jesse Saban. The Bulldogs have a young team, with talent like Matthew Strome and Will Bitten (MTL ’16), and are on the right track. In their conference, it’s not inconceivable that they cause trouble for Mississauga or Peterborough, but they seem to be a step below those two in terms of contending this year.
The bottom half of the OHL features teams either stuck in mediocrity or in the middle of a full rebuild. Four teams—Sarnia, Kingston, Niagara, and Barrie—were contenders a year ago, but with their cores graduated, the cycle of junior hockey has taken its toll and they’ve returned to the basement. Most teams from here on were major sellers at the deadline, particularly Saginaw, who raised eyebrows by failing to get a player for Mitchell Stephens. Sarnia made a big move a few days before the deadline to take on 18-year old Drake Rymsha, but other than that stood pat after making waves last January.
11. Sarnia Sting
12. Ottawa 67’s
13. Flint Firebirds
14. North Bay Battalion
15. Sudbury Wolves
16. Kingston Frontenacs
17. Saginaw Spirit
18. Guelph Storm
19. Niagara IceDogs
20. Barrie Colts
via Last Word on Hockey, by Charlie O’Connor Clarke