Five OHL Thoughts: Fallout from Under-17s, London calling, can’t stop Pop

Jack Hughes Under-17s

Now that the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge is over for another year, it’s back to the OHL for this year’s rookie class.

The tournament wrapped up over the weekend, with 23 OHLers representing Canada on teams Black, White and Red. The tournament can typically serve as a launching point for first-year players. Some get a confidence boost from suiting up for their country, and it propels them the rest of the year. While some of those performances will be front and centre in the OHL, there’s one player who dominated the tournament. Now he’s put the hockey world on notice for the 2019 Draft.

Hughes holds court at Under-17s

It was a tough final day at the 2017 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge for Canada. White fell 2-1 in the bronze medal game to the Czech Republic. Meanwhile, Red fell 6-4 in the final to the United States. Despite the team results however, there were some successful tournaments from a handful of OHLers.

Flint’s Luke Cavallin (Red) was one of two goalies to play five games in the tournament. Both his 3.01 GAA and 0.904 SV% ranked top-six among the 16 goalies who played. Barrie’s Ryan Suzuki (Red) had a good tournament as well, finishing with seven points in six games, while Graeme Clarke from Ottawa led Canada White with six points in six games. Overall, eight from the OHL won silver with Canada Red, while eight came up just short for Bronze with White.

If you want the real story of the tournament though, it was Jack Hughes. Hughes’ talent was on full display, as the Steelheads prospect led the tournament with 15 points in six games. Hughes was dominant in the gold medal game as well, assisting on all three of Cole Caufield’s goals and adding one of his own. If Mississauga (or anyone else) can ever get him to commit to the OHL, watch out.

Split Decision for OHL

Just like the WHL, the OHL split their portion of the CIBC Canada Russia series. Russia took the first game 5-2 in Owen Sound, while the OHL battled back to take the second matchup 4-2 in Sudbury.

These games serve as a last chance to impress Hockey Canada ahead of training camp for the World Junior Hockey Championship. Some players play in both games, but that doesn’t always mean they’re a lock for Canada’s camp. While there weren’t any massive surprises coming out of the two games, Nick Suzuki rebounded nicely after a scoreless first game. His full arsenal of skills were on display as he notched two goals and an assist in the second. Conor Timmins had a similar rebound, coming up with three points of his own in game two.

Michael DiPietro likely staked his claim to one of the spots between the pipes for camp, and Adam Mascherin showed well with a goal on four shots. Don’t be surprised if at least three of those names from the OHL are invited to training camp.

Poppin’ Out

We didn’t get to discuss him last week, but if you’re looking for a reason for the Guelph Storm’s turnaround, maybe Anthony Popovich is it.

Popovich is second in the OHL in save percentage at 0.924 and fourth in goals-against average at 2.58. Considering that his GAA last year was 4.61 to go with a 0.876 SV%, there may be no bigger improvement over just a season. Popovich’s 10 wins are also three more than he had in 13 more games last year. Overall, his performances has the Storm two points back of first in the Midwest.

Oh, and to go along with all of that, he posted his first career shutout on October 29th against London. It was Guelph’s first team shutout in nearly two years. He’s won five of his last six starts and likely puts his personal three-game win streak on the line Thursday against London.

Swimming Upstream

While all eyes are on the returning Owen Tippett and the recovering Michael McLeod, Albert Michnac is turning heads.

Before behind held scoreless against Hamilton, Michnac was on fire. He had two hat-tricks in a four-game stretch to go with a two-goal game. He would finish that four games with nine goals and an assist, and earned Player of the Week honours last week. In his second OHL season, the Czech Republic native has gone from effective role player to offensive dynamo. He had 15 goals and 39 points in 65 games with the Storm last year, but was allowed to re-enter the Import Draft. This year, he already has 13 goals and 25 points in 19 games. He should easily shatter those career-highs.

Look out for London

Don’t look now, but the London Knights have begun their trek back up the standings. After a miserable start, London is 6-2-2 in their last ten. While they sit tied for eighth place in the  West, it likely won’t last. Rob Thomas is on fire with three-straight multi-point games, and Cliff Pu may have finally gotten on track with points in five of six. The return of Alex Formenton has been huge as well, but there may be no bigger difference maker than Joseph Raaymakers.

Raaymakers’ 2.23 GAA is a goal and a half better than what London got out of Jordan Kooy and Tyler Johnson. His 0.921 SV% is just as good too, and he’s only lost one game in regulation in eight games with London. While they still have a long way to go, the Knights are slowly gaining ground once again.