One month into the OHL season, Mark Hunter likes the look of his London Knights.
What's not to admire? The GM of the defending Memorial Cup champions has watched his team crawl back from an 0-4 start to rack up eight straight victories.
Few of London's recent games have been barn-burners. The Knights won their last four by an average of seven goals and show no sign of slowing down their torrid scoring pace.
"I like our club. There's a lot of quality leadership in the dressing room and that's important. We have veteran scoring up front and we have a fairly young defence. We lost the four (games) but if we had Adam Dennis in net right from the start, I think we would have won some of those games, too."
The Knights feel confident they have re-established themselves as contenders for the OHL title a third straight year.
Heading into the season, their biggest question mark was how much the graduation of strong players such as Corey Perry, Danny Syvret, Dan Fritsche, Gerald Coleman and Marc Methot would affect them. The answer? Not as much as many expected.
"We played Barrie (a 5-2 win at the John Labatt Centre on Oct. 7) and they're a good team," Hunter said. "I don't think we have to wait until we play more games to (figure out) where we stand."
The common thinking is Hunter will have to work the telephone for a veteran defenceman or two to make a serious bid to reach the 2006 Memorial Cup tournament in Moncton, N.B. With Matt McCready nursing a broken hand, the Knights have placed the bulk of the blue-line responsibility on 20-year-old Frank Rediker, who has a history of knee trouble, and a bunch of young players.
"I think we'll wait and see what happens and give the young guys a chance to play and develop," Hunter said. "We want to see how they're able to handle it."
Sandwiched between games in Windsor on Thursday and Oshawa on Sunday, London faces another good character test against Plymouth Friday night at home. The Whalers sit one spot ahead of the eighth-ranked Knights in the Canadian Hockey League poll, which picks the brains of NHL scouts for its results.
"There's more parity in our division than I've seen in a long time," Hunter said.
"I don't know if it's the best division (like last year) but there's a lot of teams that are close and you have to worry about."
The biggest surprises are the basement-dwelling Kitchener Rangers, who boast a stout defence on paper, and the dysfunctional Windsor Spitfires, whose distracted play has led to a conference-worst 3-10 record.
"I think Kitchener's going to get it turned around," Hunter said.
"Pete (Deboer) is a good coach."