Knights absent from trade table

RYAN PYETTE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:06 AM ET

Forget the trade deadline -- most of the contenders in the OHL are stocking up on top-end talent right now.

The Soo Greyhounds, who roll into London tonight, picked up slick Owen Sound forward Wayne Simmonds. The Memorial Cup-host Kitchener Rangers added former Attack captain Scott Tregunna.

The Windsor Spitfires already boast ex-Plymouth goalie Michal Neuvirth. The Sarnia Sting traded to get disgruntled Guelph sniper Jamie Arniel.

Now, St. Thomas native Cory Emmerton -- Kingston's best player -- has been bumped to Brampton where the Battalion gave up forwards Thomas Middup, Justin Levac and five high draft picks over three years for his services.

And where were the Knights in all this?

Stuck on the bench, mostly.

"I'm just watching our team," said GM Mark Hunter said. "I talked to some people but we weren't (in the sweepstakes for the top guns). I don't know what's going to happen. All I know is we have until Jan. 10 to set our roster and it's still December. I don't know (if there will be any quality players available at that time)."

Hunter isn't surprised by the early flurry of moves from teams trying to bolster their chances of winning.

"It's a little different in a year when the OHL has the Memorial Cup," he said as the tournament is in Kitchener in May. "There's not just one spot available. There's two, so more teams look at that. That's why there are more trades like this."

But the most surprising part is the Knights aren't in the conversation yet. It's an eyebrow raiser for everyone in the league, who have become accustomed to wondering what trump card the Hunters have up their sleeve.

"It's unfortunate we didn't get any of the guys that were made available and we're used to seeing our team in the mix (for trades)," said goalie Steve Mason. "I think this weekend is a good test for us. We have two games against the Soo and Kitchener, who have improved themselves. It's a chance to see where we stand."

The Kitchener game on Sunday could be Mason's final appearance in London in nearly a month -- or ever if they decide they aren't good enough and choose to move him. He leaves for Calgary on Monday for the world junior camp and if he makes that team, he won't be back until the trade deadline.

In his absence, the plan is to go with Stephen Heming and Michael Zador and see how it works out. Hunter doesn't expect decisions on the future of his team to hinge on this weekend or even on the games Mason is gone.

"We could be without Jadran Beljo (injured knee) for a while and he has (14) goals," Hunter said. "I don't know what we're doing (with the five-man defensive unit when Kevin Montgomery is with the U.S. at world juniors). Tony DeHart could be back (by next weekend).

"We have to wait and see."

It could turn out Hunter's only option is to stand pat and hope his team can be a playoff surprise the way Craig Hartsburg's Soo Greyhounds were last season in nearly upsetting the Knights. The 'Hounds beat Kitchener at home in a shootout on Sunday and their recent transactions suggest they feel they're in a class with the Rangers.

"It was a close game and I think they would tell you they could play better and we felt we could've been better," Hartsburg said. "I don't believe in announcing that a team is 'going for it.' I think a team should go for it every year. When we lost to London in the playoffs, we were trying to win, believe me. We're just in a position this season to make some moves that we probably couldn't have made last year.

"London, they've been flying under the radar. Their record over the last 20 games (15-3-0-2) speaks for itself. You can't underestimate a team run by the Hunters."

As Canada's world junior head coach, Hartsburg will decide whether Mason plays in the Czech Republic or returns to London. He had a shot at making the club last year but was injured in Windsor only days before camp.

"I talked to Steve and told him to try not to get conked in the head this time," Hartsburg said. "(If hard-shooting 'Hound Josh Godfrey is winding up for a slapper) hopefully, it goes in the net, not at his head."

KNIGHTWATCH

Tonight: vs. Soo Greyhounds, 7:30 p.m. at the John Labatt Centre.

Tomorrow: at Erie, 7:30 p.m.

Sunday: vs. Kitchener, 6 p.m. at the JLC.


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