OHL 2007-'08 Preview

RYAN PYETTE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:40 AM ET

LONDON KNIGHTS

Coach: Dale Hunter (seventh year). Team has 211 regular-season wins in the past four years.

Last year: 50-14-1-3, first in OHL for the fourth consecutive season. Lost 4-1 in conference final to Plymouth.

Keep your eye on: F Sam Gagner (35-83-118). If he returns from Edmonton, he has the skills to win the scoring title. F Patrick Maroon. Philly prospect was North American Hockey League scoring champ. G Steve Mason, coming off a league-record 45 wins.

Gone: F Sergei Kostitsyn (40-91-131) was an underrated star. F David Meckler (38-36-74) had 15 playoff goals on a broken foot.

Fast fact: The past three teams to beat the Knights in the playoffs all won the OHL title.

Big question: Will Pat Kane and Sam Gagner be back this season? Outlook: Even with so many roster questions, the Hunters make it hard to bet against them.

KITCHENER RANGERS

Coach: Peter DeBoer (seventh year)

Last year: 47-17-1-3, second in Midwest division. Lost 4-1 to Plymouth in second round.

Keep your eye on: If F Matt Halischuk (33-33-66) has a red-hot start like last year, he has potential to score 50 goals ... F Justin Azevedo (17-39-56) needs to stay healthy.

Gone: D Jakub Kindl (11-44-55) was a point-per-game guy last year.

Fast fact: Kitchener has won two Memorial Cup titles (1982, 2003) -- both in the province of Quebec.

Big question: Can the Rangers win the Memorial Cup on home ice at the Aud?

Outlook: Everyone expects the Rangers to make some trades to put them over the top in their Memorial Cup run. Right now, that looks like a good idea.

PLYMOUTH WHALERS

Coach: Mike Vellucci (seventh year) is the reigning coach of the year.

Last year: 49-14-2-3, first in West division. Won OHL championship 4-2 over Sudbury.

Keep your eye on: G Jeremy Smith, a Nashville pick, and Michal Neuvirth, who could be back from Washington, limited the opposition to a league-low 173 goals last year ... F Chris Terry (22-44-66) is expected to provide more scoring punch after 18 points in 20 playoff games.

Gone: Eight players signed pro contracts, including big F Tom Sestito (Columbus) and standout F James Neal (Dallas).

Fast fact: The Whalers raise their OHL championship banner Saturday against the Erie Otters. Big question: Were their winning ways a one-time deal?

Outlook: There's no way they can be as big and good as last year, even if both goalies return.

WINDSOR SPITFIRES

Coach: Bob Boughner (second year)

Last year: 18-43-2-5, fifth in West division. Missed playoffs.

Keep your eye on: F Joshua Bailey (11-24-35) dominated offensively during the pre-season ... Over-age D Elgin Reid, acquired from Owen Sound, has Memorial Cup experience with Ottawa in 2005.

Gone: Over-age D Keith Wynn, the team's second-leading scorer on defence last year, was dealt to the Ottawa 67's.

Fast fact: Windsor's new east-end arena -- expected to be finished in December 2008 -- will be called the Windsor Family Credit Union Centre.

Big question: Will the Spits make a splash in what should be their final full season at old Windsor Arena?

Outlook: They were so young last year that they have to get better with age, right?

ERIE OTTERS

Coach: Peter Sidorkiewicz (second year)

Last year: 15-50-1-2, fifth in Midwest division. Missed playoffs.

Keep your eye on: F Ryan O'Reilly was the first pick in this past OHL draft ... F Zack Torquato (20-26-46) is a former Stratford Culliton with a nose for the net.

Gone: G Kevin Beech, acquired in a trade from Sudbury as an over-ager last year, is a Tampa draft pick and played with AHL Springfield at the end of the Otters season ... F Josh Vatri (18-16-34 in 111 games over two seasons) was dealt to Kingston.

Fast fact: Brad Boyes will be the first Otters player to have his number retired (16) in a ceremony on Jan. 26.

Big question: Can the youngsters shed the recent losing culture?

Outlook: Should battle all season for a playoff spot. It won't be easy, though.

BELLEVILLE BULLS

Coach: George Burnett (fourth year)

Last year: 39-24-0-5, first in East division. Lost 4-2 to Sudbury in conference final.

Keep your eye on: F Keaton Turkiewicz had 20 goals in Windsor last year . . . Montreal draft pick D P.K. Subban had 56 points in 68 games, then 13 points in 15 playoff tilts.

Gone: F Tyler Donati (54-75-129) was deemed the league's top over-ager last year ... G Kevin Lalande was a workhorse ... Late-season addition F Tyler Doig had 31 points in 25 games.

Fast fact: The Bulls franchise record for wins in a season is 44 (1999-2000). There's no reason this team can't take a run at the mark.

Big question: Can it rise to the top of the OHL?

Outlook: Balanced scoring and veteran returnees makes this one of the more interesting teams.

OSHAWA GENERALS

Coach: Brad Selwood (third year). Lost 4-0 to Belleville in second round.

Last year: 31-29-3-5, second in East division. Lost 4-0 to Belleville in second round.

Keep your eye on: F John Tavares. The scoring phenom had 72 goals last year. At age 17, 90 isn't out of the question . . . As a rookie at 16, D Michael Del Zotto (10-47-57) was his team's highest-scoring defenceman.

Gone: G Loic Lacasse (3.94 GAA) was a nice addition after four years in the Quebec league.

Fast fact: F Brett MacLean will miss the first four games of the season with a suspension carried over from the playoffs.

Big question: Is this Tavares' final season in Oshawa?

Outlook: Three seasons in, it would be a shame if a team featuring Tavares can't finish top four in the league or make the third round of the playoffs.

BRAMPTON BATTALION

Coach: Stan Butler (10th year).

Last year: 27-36-1-4, fourth in Central division. Lost 4-0 to Barrie in first round.

Keep your eye on: D Bobby Sanguinetti (23-30-53), who should help prop up the power play ... D John de Gray is the Battalion captain for the second year in a row and a Ducks prospect ... G Bryan Pitton appeared in 61 games last year.

Gone: D Kyle Sonnenburg (8-33-41) was the team's highest scoring defenceman ... Well-travelled D Dalyn Flatt, a Manitoba native, finished his junior career in Brampton.

Fast fact: F Cody Hodgson's father, Chris, was a cabinet minister.

Big question: In nine year, Stan Butler's Troops have finished first twice, third three times, fourth twice and fifth twice -- but never second. Will this be the year?

Outlook: Middle of the pack.

PETERBOROUGH PETES

Coach: Vince Malette (second year)

Last year: 24-39-1-4, fifth in East division. Missed playoffs.

Keep your eye on: G Trevor Cann had a .909 save percentage for a team that missed the playoffs ... F Yves Bastien had 12 points in 27 games after coming from Kitchener and is capable of much more.

Gone: D Kyle Raftis (11-44-55) ended up the team's leading scorer after Dan Ryder and Steve Downie left ... Big D Craig Cescon led the team with 198 penalty minutes.

Fast fact: Team will raise a banner honouring former coach Dick Todd on Oct. 11.

Big question: Who is going to step up as the offensive leader? Outlook: When the Petes last missed the playoffs, in 2004, they bounced back to become one of the better teams in the league. That cycle should continue.

MISSISSAUGA ST. MICHAEL'S MAJORS

Coach: Dave Cameron (first year)

Last year: 20-41-4-3, fifth in Central division. Missed playoffs.

Keep your eye on: All-star F Matt Caria scored 33 goals last year ... F Michael Pelech (12-35-47) is big and strong and the younger brother of Calgary Flames first-rounder Matt Pelech.

Gone: F Michael Haley (30-24-54) wasn't just the fourth-leading scorer on the team ... St. Michael's College School Arena -- tradition-laden bandbox downtown swapped for rink in the suburbs (Hershey Centre).

Fast fact: The Majors moved from one of the oldest rinks in the OHL to one of the newer ones. The IceDogs left for Niagara and now play in one of the oldest rinks in the league. Touche.

Big question: Will people come watch this team play?

Outlook: Owner Eugene Melnyk will try to get the Majors into the league final. Just not this year.

SOO GREYHOUNDS

Coach: Craig Hartsburg (fifth year) is also coach of the Canadian junior hockey team.

Last year: 37-23-1-7, third in West division. Lost 4-3 to London in second round.

Keep your eye on: D Josh Godfrey (24-33-57). Might have the most powerful shot in the league and scored nine goals in the playoffs last year. F Dustin Jeffrey (34-58-92). This guy knows how to produce offence.

Gone: F Cody Thornton (36-40-76) was a heart-and-soul guy. Fast fact: Nearly the entire defence returns intact. Quality scoring chances against should be at a premium.

Big question: How will the Soo respond after shedding its beloved underdog status?

Outlook: West division winners. Down 3-0 to London, they opened eyes by nearly completing an impossible playoff comeback and forcing a Game 7.

SARNIA STING

Coach: Dave MacQueen (second year)

Last year: 34-24-5-5, fourth in West division. Lost 4-0 to Kitchener in first round.

Keep your eye on: F Steve Stamkos (42-50-92). Odds-on favourite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2008 NHLdraft ... F Justin DiBenedetto (28-35-63) was plus-21 last season.

Gone: F Trevor Kell enjoyed his best OHL campaign (37-36-73) in 2006-07 to help return the Sting to the playoffs ... G Parker VanBuskirk, a favourite to be the starter this season, was sent home.

Fast fact: The Sting's last playoff series victory was in 1997. Big question: Can it keep the puck out of the net enough to contend?

Outlook: Everyone will be watching Stamkos but it's his supporting cast that will ultimately determine Sting success.

GUELPH STORM

Coach: Dave Barr (fourth year)

Last year: 33-23-3-9, third in Midwest division. Lost 4-0 in first round to Plymouth.

Keep your eye on: G Thomas McCollum made the Western Conference all-star team as a rookie last year and finished with a 2.39 goals-against average in 55 games ... D Corey Syvret, a former London first-rounder, had 14 points in 27 games with the Storm following his trade.

Gone: F Mike McLean (29-29-58) finished second on the team in goals behind F Jamie Arniel's 31.

Fast fact: Guelph's arena -- the Sleeman Centre -- became the fourth in the league with a brewery as title sponsor (London, Barrie, Sault Ste. Marie).

Big question: Will the Storm improve on breakaways after losing a league-high nine shootouts last year?

Outlook: They'll need to add scoring punch up front.

SAGINAW SPIRIT

Coach: Todd Watson (first year) arrives after being an assistant coach for OHL champion Plymouth.

Last year: 44-21-0-3, second in West division. Lost 4-2 to Sault Ste. Marie in first round.

Keep your eye on: D T.J. Brodie. The 17-year-old from Dresden was plus-seven in 20 games last year and shows poise beyond his years ... G Ryan Daniels had 38 wins last year and will need to stand on his head to repeat that.

Gone: F Tyler Haskins had a team-best 60 assists last season.

Fast fact: The Spirit drops the puck on home games at 7:11 p.m. -- a promotional tie-in with 7/11 convenience stores.

Big question: Will TV funnyman Stephen Colbert again adopt the Spirit as his favourite sport team?

Outlook: Todd Watson wants his team to "compete." That's hockey-talk for, "We'll need some time to put together a winner here."

OWEN SOUND ATTACK

Coach: Mark Reeds (first year)

Last year: 31-30-3-4, fourth in Midwest Division. Lost 4-0 to London in first round.

Keep your eye on: F Wayne Simmonds (23-26-49). He finds a way to get to the puck and create scoring chances.

Gone: F Bobby Ryan (43-59-102), the team captain and franchise leader in points, is a Ducks prospect ... D Bobby Sanguinetti is in Brampton and deadly on the power play.

Fast fact: The Attack spend part of camp at the Meaford Army Base for training and team building.

Big question: Can this team make the post-season with fewer than a dozen players returning this season?

Outlook: They've lost so much high-end talent that if GM Dale DeGray's hire, Mark Reeds, gets to the playoffs, he should be the automatic choice for coach of the year.

NIAGARA ICE DOGS

Coach: Mario Cicchillo (first year) Last year: 43-21-0-4, second in Central division. Lost 4-1 to Sudbury in first round.

Keep your eye on: Alex Pietrangelo, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound D, had 52 points and was plus-40 as a rookie. Some feel he could top of NHL draft class. F Jordan Foreman knows what it takes to win -- it's all he knew in London.

Gone: The whole team, literally, from the Hershey Centre in Mississauga. The Niagara entry will operate out of ancient Jack Gatecliff Arena in St. Catharines ... D Nathan Martine, Pietrangelo's former defence partner, now a big piece with London.

Fast fact: The IceDogs were the OHL's highest scoring team last year with 326 goals.

Big question: How will Niagara support junior hockey?

Outlook: If it all falls into place, there's no reason Niagara can't have a stirring first season.

OTTAWA 67'S

Coach: Brian Kilrea (31st year) Last year: 30-34-0-4, fourth in East division. Lost 4-1 to Belleville in first round.

Keep your eye on: F Cody Lindsay (9-18-27) and D Tyler Cuma (3-16-19) helped Ontario Under-17s win gold at the Canada Winter Games . . . F Logan Couture (26-52-78) has the skill set to become the best all-round forward in the league.

Gone: F Brett Liscomb (24-31-55) was the third-leading scorer on the team ... D Joe Grimaldi led the team with 185 penalty minutes.

Fast fact: Former 67 and San Jose GM Doug Wilson has created a pipeline to the Sharks with Couture, McGinn (46-43-89), D Derek Joslin and former D Brad Staubitz in the team's system.

Big question: Can the timeless Killer coax another winner out of the nation's capital?

Outlook: They'll be good if they protect home ice where they were just 16-15-0-3 last year.

BARRIE COLTS

Coach: Marty Williamson (fourth year)

Last year: 48-19-0-1, first in Central division. Lost 4-0 to Sudbury in second round.

Keep your eye on: G Andrew Perugini (40 wins, .917 save percentage, 2.83 GAA) had some of the better numbers in the league last year ... F Vladimir Nikiforov (19-32-51) had five game-winning goals last season.

Gone: F Bryan Little (41-66-107) topped the 40-goal mark and 100-point plateau twice with the Colts ... F Hunter Tremblay (35-54-89) seemed to cash in when it counted.

Fast fact: The Colts never have missed the playoffs since entering the league in 1995-96.

Big question: Can the Colts overcome the loss of so many top power-play producers?

Outlook: Topping the 40-win mark for a third year in a row a long shot.

KINGSTON FRONTENACS

Coach: Bruce Cassidy (second year).

Last year: 31-30-5-2, third in East division. Lost 4-1 to Oshawa in first round.

Keep your eye on: F Cory Emmerton (29-37-66 in 40 games) will be captain, best player and top scorer if healthy ... Import F Bobby Nyhom (13-21-34) nearly lost his left hand in a freak accident during a pickup hockey game in Finland in April.

Gone: Likely 170 goals from its offence and the top three forwards: Bobby Hughes (40 goals), Chris Stewart (36 goals) and Peder Skinner (29 goals).

Fast fact: The team will honour David Ling -- the only Front to win CHL player of the year -- retiring his No. 17 jersey Friday.

Big question: Will the new arena really be open by the Feb. 22 deadline?

Outlook: Getting into the new rink will be a major step.

SUDBURY WOLVES

Coach: Mike Foligno (fifth year) recently signed a four-year contract.

Last year: 29-30-3-6, third in Central division. Lost 4-2 in OHL final to Plymouth.

Keep your eye on: G Sebastian Dahm stopped 77 shots in one overtime loss to Plymouth in Game 5 of the league final ... F Jared Staal (2-1-3 in 63 GP) will improve his offensive numbers.

Gone: D Marc Staal was the OHL's playoff MVP, had 20 points in 21 games and finished with a plus-17 post-season rating ... F Akim Aliu (20-22-42 in 53 GP) landed in London with the Knights.

Fast fact: Last season was Sudbury's first visit to the OHL final since falling to the Hamilton Fincups in 1976.

Big question: How far can they fall after last spring's exciting playoff run?

Outlook: Making the playoffs won't be easy.


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