2017 OHL Season Preview: Central Division

It was an interesting season for the Central Division in 2016-17.

The Mississauga Steelheads, the early favourites, struggled out of the gate. Momentum and consistency were hard to come by for them, until Spencer Watson graced their lineup. The overager slid into the lineup and lit up the scoresheet, and they never looked back en route to the OHL Finals.

From there, the Sudbury Wolves and Niagara IceDogs made the playoffs sitting five points apart. The two non-playoff spots in the conference were taken up by the North Bay Battalion and Barrie Colts.

Despite an OHL-worst 41 points, the Colts did come away with the ultimate prize: first overall pick Ryan Suzuki. Now we get to see if the young Colts team, buoyed by veteran goalie Leo Lazarev, can makes some noise.

We also get to enjoy a division that will be powered by 2018 NHL Draft talent this season.

Mississauga Steelheads

2016-17 season: 34-21-6-7, 81 points, 2nd in Eastern Conference, lost in OHL Finals (Erie)

Who’s behind the bench? James Richmond is back, hoping to lead the Steelheads back to the top of the Eastern Conference. In his first year behind the bench, he led a monumental mid-season turnaround to get Mississauga to second in the conference. He was also named general manager this past off-season.

Leading Scorer: Owen Tippett – 44 goals, 31 assists, 75 points
Will he be back? He should be. The Panthers will give their first round pick a look, even maybe a couple of games. Ultimately though, unless he proves he needs to stay in the NHL, he should be back.

Who to watch: Ryan McLeod

McLeod’s brother Michael was a first round pick, 12th overall, by the Devils, and Ryan will likely follow in his footsteps. Benefiting from a late birthday, McLeod will have a chance to lead this Mississauga team. After a 20-point rookie season, he followed it up with 42 last year. By comparison, his brother had seasons of 29, 61, and 73 points in his OHL career.

Sudbury Wolves

2016-17 season: 27-34-7-0, 61 points, 6th in Eastern Conference, lost in first round (Oshawa)

Who’s behind the bench? Cory Stillman takes over behind the bench, in hopes of finding the same success as a head coach he had as a player. While Stillman hasn’t led a team over the past few years, he does come to the Wolves from the Carolina Hurricanes as their director of development. Stillman takes over for David Matsos, who left the team in late May.

Leading Scorer: Dmitry Sokolov – 48 goals, 24 assists, 72 points
Will he be back? He’s another guy who will get a good look in training camp from Minnesota, but will likely be back. 48 goals will give the Wild something to ponder, but he’ll have a chance to terrorize OHL goalies again.
Who to watch: Jacob McGrath
If McGrath can continue to improve, then he’ll turn heads in the Eastern Conference. He earned the starting gig last year and then led the Wolves into the playoffs after missing out in back-to-back years. While McGrath didn’t hear his name called at the NHL Draft this past year, a big season in 2017-18 could leave him as a second-year candidate.

Niagara IceDogs

2016-17 season: 23-35-6-3, 56 points, 8th in Eastern Conference, lost in first round (Peterborough)

Who’s behind the bench? Dave Bell bolted for the Los Angeles Kings system and a position with the Ontario Reign. Billy Burke takes over the reigns, proving that the IceDogs are a family business. That doesn’t mean the position is being handed to Burke without hard work though. It will be interesting to see how a young IceDogs team respond to Burke in his new role.

Leading Scorer: Johnny Corneil – 31 goals, 31 assists, 62 points
Will he be back? Corneil will be back and hoping to make it back-to-back 30 goal seasons. The veteran of 226 OHL games has also been named captain of the IceDogs for the upcoming year.

Who to watch: Akil Thomas

It’s difficult not to pick draft-eligible players for this each and every time. While we could look in other directions with the IceDogs, it’s safe to say their story begins and ends with Thomas this season. He’s highly ranked entering his draft year, and he’s a pretty interesting and compelling figure. He’s also exciting to watch on the ice and could become a draft darling for some.

North Bay Battalion

2016-17 season: 24-38-4-2, 54 points, 9th in Eastern Conference, missed playoffs

Who’s behind the bench? There’s no surprise here: Stan Butler is back. He’ll be looking to take the Battalion back to the post-season after a rare miss last year. It was the first time the Battalion franchise didn’t play in a playoff game since 2002-03.

Leading Scorer: Brett McKenzie – 29 goals, 38 assists, 67 points

Will he be back? Right now, it all depends on what happens at Canucks camp. McKenzie made it clear at the end of last year that he wanted to play pro somewhere. If he has a good camp, then he likely will be.

Who to watch: Justin Brazeau

Brazeau had a very quiet rookie season, coming away with just six goals and 13 points in 65 games. He bumped those totals up to 22 goals and 37 points last year. He’s also attending training camp with the Blue Jackets, so those numbers could be trending even higher with some added confidence.

Barrie Colts

2016-17 season: 17-44-6-1, 41 points, 10th in Eastern Conference missed playoffs

Who’s behind the bench? Entering his eighth season, Dale Hawerchuk and the Colts missed the playoffs for just the second time in his tenure. The five years in between, the Colts won 40, 44, 37, 41 and 43 games. While they may not crack the 40 mark this year, there’s a good chance we see them back in the playoffs.

Leading Scorer: Anthony Stefano – 22 goals, 34 assists, 56 points

Will he be back? No. The overager wrapped up his career in the OHL with his best season. Now he’s off to the world of USports with the University of Western Ontario.

Who to watch: Andrei Svechnikov

Svechnikov is yet another draft-eligible in this division, but there’s no doubt he’ll end up at the top of the board. Considered a top prospect for the 2018 NHL Draft, Barrie took Svechnikov first overall in the CHL Import Draft. The 6’2″, 187 pounds forward spent last year in the USHL where he finished with 58 points (29 goals, 29 assists) in 48 games. He’s been flaunting his talent for a while, meaning Barrie may only have a year to enjoy his services.

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