The East Division will look a little different this season with Belleville moving to Hamilton, but don’t look for things to change too much. The Oshawa Generals cruised to a 2nd straight East Division title last season, finishing 27 points ahead of 2nd place Ottawa. Even though the Generals lost quite a few key players from last season, those who are returning should still make Oshawa one of the top teams in the conference. The Generals could very well win their 3rd straight division title this season, but the door could be open for the next in line. With Oshawa giving up a substantial amount of picks and a few prospects, they might be looking at trading away some talent to help them restock their cupboard of draft picks. This could clear the way for a new team in the East Division. Kingston and Ottawa could put some pressure atop the division. Hamilton will have a relatively young team during their 1st season, look for them to be competitive but still a year or so away. Similar case in Peterborough, strong goaltending will help them keep pace in the East.
Hamilton Bulldogs (formerly Belleville Bulls) (27-33-3-5) 62 points – 7th in Eastern Conference
WHAT WE KNOW: Charlie Graham was a major reason why Belleville had the success they had in the first half last season. The Bulldogs will be a bit younger than the Bulls were, but should still have enough to stay in the thick of things. Matthew Strome (brother of Dylan and Ryan) will be one of four 1999 born players to start the season on the Bulldogs’ roster.
WHAT WE DON’T KNOW: The Bulls showed promise early last season but failed to keep that up over the course of the long season. On the plus side the team is one year older and more experienced, the excitement of moving to a new city could work also in their favour. The Bulldogs will need contribution from young and old this season.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: OA Stephen Harper and 19 year-old former first round pick Niki Petti, whose 18 goals are the most of any returning player, will be two of the elder statesmen on a young Bulldogs team. Grimsby native Brandon Saigeon will be counted on to take some steps in his development during his second full OHL season. Justin Lemcke will have a lot to prove after being passed over in the 2015 NHL draft. The Dman scored 9 goals last year and really started to become that two way threat that made him a first round OHL draft pick.
WHO’S GONE: Jordan Subban has moved on to the Vancouver Canucks, while OA’s Brett Welychka, Brett Gustavsen and Adam Bignell have graduated. David Tomasek and Alex Yuill are both gone as well.
EXPECTATIONS: Much the same as in Flint, the team could ruffle some feathers during the first season in their new city, but more will be expected in years to come. Bulldogs fans may need to adjust to the OHL, and it could be a bit of a learning curve. The good news, plenty of young talent on this team to become familiar with. With a good core of 1997-born players Hamilton could be in very good shape next season. Depending on what impact the younger guys can make will likely decide where Hamilton ultimately ends up in the East.
Kingston Frontenacs (32-28-5-3) 72 points – 6th in Eastern Conference
WHAT WE KNOW: The Fronts are set in net, with reigning goalie of the year Lucas Peressini. He earned the award on the strength of a 2.32 GAA and .922 save percentage and will be expected to lead the way again. The offence should be strong too, with Spencer Watson and potentially Lawson Crouse leading the way. Kingston also will get another season of Roland McKeown, who could make a case for being the best defenceman in the league.
WHAT WE DON’T KNOW: Kingston was hit hard with graduations, and it’s left them a little thin on depth. There will be a lot of opportunity for players to step up, but until that happens, it leaves the roster very top heavy with talent. As good as Peressini was last season, it was the guys in front of him that kept Kingston from advancing past the first round once again. Similar to Sam Bennett last season, Lawson Crouse may or may not be back with the club, he still has a chance at making the Florida Panthers out of camp.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: The Los Angeles Kings drafted Spencer Watson with the 2nd last pick (209th overall in the 2014 NHL draft., pretty low for a guy who has 76 goals during three seasons in Kingston. He’s never scored less than 20, and will be counted on to likely net 30 during what will likely be his last. Crouse is the prototypical power forward. He’ll miss time with camp and the World Jr’s, but his impact will be felt in the games he plays. This is if the Florida Panthers return him to Kingston. With McKeown on the point and Peressini in net, goals will be hard to come by for opponents. Connor McGlynn will be a physical presence and offensive force for Kingston in his OA year.
WHO’S GONE: While he only played 11 games last season, Sam Bennett’s loss is a huge one, playing a big role with the Fronts since joining the league in the 2012-1013 season. He moves on to the Calgary Flames. Evan McEneny moves on after one season, but it was a big one, and his graduation leaves a gaping hole on the back end. He’ll move on to the AHL. Rob Polesello was nearly point per game for Kingston, his scoring will be missed.
EXPECTATIONS: Kingston heads into the season with a lot of top end talent, but lacks enough depth to be considered in among the elite. However with guys like Crouse and Peressini, a playoff run is certainly a possibility. The main core has played together for a while now, and will be hungry for a taste of playoff success. If Kingston has a rough first half, expect guys like McKeown, Watson, McGlynn and Peressini to garner a lot of interest from teams looking to load up.
Oshawa Generals (51-11-2-4) 108 points – 1st in Eastern Conference
WHAT WE KNOW: Things will come back to normal in Oshawa after a Memorial Cup Championship last season. Although they wont be the 51 win team they were last year, they could still have enough to get a sniff at their third straight division title. There’s still talent, with Matt Mistele and Ken Appleby returning to lead the way. There is also opportunity for players like Anthony Cirelli to step up. The top D pairing of Mitch Vande Sompel and Stephen Desrochers.
WHAT WE DON’T KNOW: Who is going to step up? The cupboards are pretty bare after loading up for last years run. There is potential that Michael Dal Colle could be back, if that’s the case expect him among the league leaders. Depth and scoring will likely be the biggest issue for the Generals.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Matt Mistele was lights out after being acquired near the trade deadline, he’ll be looked to as a leader for the offence. Ken Appleby was one of the strongest goalies in the league. While he may end up sticking in the Devils system, odds are he’ll be back. If Dal Colle is back, look for him to put up a ton of points and represent Canada at the world juniors.
WHO’S GONE: *Takes deep breath* Michael Dal Colle(maybe), Tobias Lindberg, Cole Cassels, Michael McCarron, Hunter Smith, Dakota Mermis, and Josh Brown all graduate to the pros. The list would get longer if Appleby mangaes to impress the Devils staff.
EXPECTATIONS: The Generals still have some talent, and strong goaltending will keep them in the thick of things. The real goal was to win it all last year, and with that mission accomplished, this year can be more of a sit and wait year. If their support guys from last year can step into lead roles this season than they might be ok. If that’s not the case, Oshawa could deal some of their older guys to replenish some of those draft picks.
Ottawa 67’s (38-25-4-1) 81 points – 4th in Eastern Conference
WHAT WE KNOW: The 67’s are set up front, with Dante Salituro and Travis Konecny bringing a strong 1-2 punch. Salituro lead the 67’s in scoring with 78 points last season, and Konecny, who is was a 1st round pick in this year’s NHL draft, scored 29 goals and 68 points. Jeremiah Addison, Nathan Todd and Sam Studnicka provide veteran depth to the unit. Liam Herbst and Leo Lazarev will split the starts in net, with both trying to garner the attention of NHL scouts. Herbst will likely start as the #1 goalie after being given the crease in the playoffs. Jacob Middleton, Evan de Haan and Nevin Guy will return as experienced defencemen. Middleton could emerge as one of the best defencemen in the OHL this season, if he isn’t already considered in that class.
WHAT WE DON’T KNOW: One of the big issues is apparent just from looking at the previous section. Todd, Studnicka, de Haan and Guy are all overagers, and teams are only allowed to dress three OA players. A decision will have to be made as to who to keep. The defence is shaky after the 3 veterans, so expect de Haan and Guy to stay. Whichever of the OA players is cut will leave a void at their given position. Alex Lintuniemi ate up a lot of minutes last year, they will have to replace him by committee.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: It goes without saying that Travis Konecny is a player to watch. The former #1 pick in the OHL draft has been as good as advertised, playing a 200 foot game, and mixing grit with skill. Speaking of skill, Dante Salituro has it in spades. Ottawa fans should expect an encore of last season’s breakout. The goalies, Liam Herbst and Leo Lazarev bear watching, as both were high OHL picks who figure to breakout this season. Jacob Middleton is a smart, 2-way defenceman. The former Kings draft pick will look have the added pressure and expectations of leading a defence corps that is in transition.
WHO’S GONE: The biggest loss is defenceman Alex Lintuniemi. The Finn was a dependable two-way player, and chewed up minutes for the 67’s. Ottawa will have to either replace him by committee, or hope for a breakout season. Also gone is winger Brendan Bell, who had 22 goals in his OA season. Lintuniemi will join the Kings farm system, either in the AHL or the ECHL.
EXPECTATIONS: While the aren’t receiving the buzz of the other contenders, likely due to the defence, the 67’s have a good shot to be near the top of the East at years end. The team is mostly the same as the group that finished 4th last year, and with the likely drop of the Generals, it’s only natural that Ottawa moves up near the top of the conference. However they may find themselves lacking in firepower compared to Barrie and Niagara, making Ottawa a prime candidate to make moves around the midway point of the season.
Peterborough Petes (26-36-1-5) 58 points – 8th in Eastern Conference
WHAT WE KNOW: The Peterborough Petes are celebrating their 60th season in franchise history. The goalie tandem of Matt Mancina and Dylan Wells could be one of the better 1-2 punches in the entire league. The Petes have a nice core from the 2013 and 2014 OHL drafts. Guys like Lizotte, Spencer, Wells and Ang are expecting to have bigger roles this season. This means there are good things on the horizon in Peterborough.
WHAT WE DON’T KNOW: The Petes will be a young team this year, especially on the back end with Matthew Spencer, Cameron Lizotte and Kyle Jenkins as the most experienced blue liners. The team begins the season with a pair of OA’s on the roster in Hunter Garlent and Greg Betzold.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Jonathon Ang’s 20 points in 59 games last season doesn’t exactly jump out at you, but he became a much more dangerous player offensively as the season went on. Ang could very well start piecing it together more consistently during his sophomore campaign. Matthew Spencer and Cameron Lizotte will likely be relied on as the top two guys on the back end.
WHO’S GONE: Last year’s overagers Nathan Pancel, Michael Clarke and Josh MacDonald all move on. Steven Varga decided not to return for his OA year this year to pursue his education, Artem Vladimirov, Matt McCartney
EXPECTATIONS: Chances are the Petes wont cap off their 60th season with an OHL championship, but should expect to be one of the better teams in the East next season. Saying this, both Mancina and Wells are very capable of stealing games. If that’s the case the Petes should find themselves in the middle of the pack in the East.
Other Division Previews: