League brimming with NHL-calibre talent

TERRY KOSHAN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:40 AM ET

John de Gray departed the Anaheim Ducks rookie camp last week with a valuable piece of advice tucked away in his hockey bag.

"(Ducks coach) Randy Carlyle specifically made a comment that even though they won the Stanley Cup last year, it means nothing this year," de Gray, the captain of the Brampton Battalion, said. "From their perspective, this is a whole new year and what happened previously does not mean anything."

A Ducks third-round pick in 2006, de Gray is ready to apply Carlyle's words to the 2007-08 Ontario Hockey League season for the Battalion.

"Last year our season ended too soon," de Gray said. "This year we are going to prove that we can be a contender in the league."

While the Oshawa Generals' John Tavares continues to try to convince the NHL it should let him into the entry draft a year early and the St. Michael's Majors settle into their new digs at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga, the Battalion will attempt to make the playoffs for the eighth time in 10 seasons. That should happen, given the additions of offensive defenceman Bobby Sanguinetti (who is with the New York Rangers, at least through the weekend) from the Owen Sound Attack, and first-round pick Matt Duchene. Sophomore forward Cody Hodgson is being tabbed as a first-round pick in the 2008 NHL draft.

The Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds visit the Saginaw Spirit tonight in the OHL season opener, and after a couple of games tomorrow night, the majority of clubs get going on Friday night.

Among the early favourites for the OHL title are the London Knights (but only if Patrick Kane and Sam Gagner don't stick in the NHL), the Kitchener Rangers and the Niagara IceDogs. Tavares will not be the only individual show going in the OHL -- among others, big things are expected of Sarnia Sting centre Steven Stamkos, who should be the No. 1 pick next year.

Battalion coach/director of hockey operations Stan Butler has been around junior hockey long enough to know that gaudy prognostications don't lead necessarily to success. But he likes his club as it sits.

"I think we will be improved," said Butler, whose team opens Friday night when the Ottawa 67's visit. "We're still pretty young, but we have some experience. We've set ourselves up pretty good for this year, but better than that, for the next few years as well."


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