I was lucky enough to attend the Summer Showcase in Kitchener for the second year in a row last weekend. Several of the leagues best players were on display. You may think I am crazy but I booked the weekend off of work and forged this hockey tournament weekend into my bachelor party with a few friends meeting me in the big city of Kitchener, ON. I was able to view five games in Kitchener and also raced over to Guelph on Saturday night to view the Flint Firebirds. Below are a few comments and conclusions I formed for the upcoming season regarding Kitchener, North Bay, Saginaw, Peterborough, Guelph, and Flint.
Petes will be competitive regardless of Merkley decision: Pete’s nearly go 3-0 at Summer Showcase
The Petes played an exciting brand of hockey and showed they are ready to rise up the standings in the East. Jones and Austin led the way between the pipes and even Michael Simpson looked competent as a 16-year-old. Nic Robertson, Liam Kirk, and Cameron Butler led the offense and got solid play from Declan Chisholm, Mason McTavish, Zach Gallant and Artem Guryev. The Petes are a fairly small team but guys like Butler, Max Grondin, John Parker-Jones, and Guryev bring the physical side of the game.
I have to say I came away not very impressed with Semyon Der-Arguchintsev or Dustin Hutton (U18 draft). Der-Arguchintsev seemed to float around the ice focused on flicking the puck to an open teammate. With only six goals last season, he needs to be more aggressive driving to the net. Hutton was noticeable, but many times in good scoring areas the puck seemed to bounce off his stick or get fumbled.
The Petes have a real nice rookie core in McTavish, J.R. Avon, and Guryev. With that being said, the Petes will need more from role players like Michael Little, Gallant and Brady Hinz if they want to battle for tops in the conference. Peterborough looks to be in great shape in the net but is thin on the blueline. They have one open spot to add a 20-year-old player and would be wise to add some size or a veteran blueliner.
Flint might actually be really good this year
The Firebirds could be in for a bounce-back season from Connor Roberts if he can stay healthy in 2019-20. Flint may have the best Import duo in the league with Kolyachonok (2nd rd FLA) and Oksentyuk. The latter is small but appeared to be quite skilled vs Guelph. The two Belarussians have played together with Team Belarus and it was Kolyachonok that prompted Flint management to draft Yevgeni. Brennan Othmann clearly has the skill to win ROTY and plays a risky-but-rewarding “cherry-picking” style. I noticed he would hover deep in the opponents neutral zone, waiting for a turnover to attack the other way. Ty Dellandrea is already a 1st round pick of Dallas and should set career highs this year in points with an improved offense. Flint just added OHL champion goalie and overager Anthony Popovic to guard the crease. Finally, the glut of high draft picks for finishing in the OHL’s cellar should pay off. They are blessed with a core of high picks featuring Keppen, Vierling, Busby, and Holmes.
Its gonna be a long season in North Bay
Justin Brazeau was in attendance at the Kitchener Memorial Aud, but not in Battalion green as he is 21 now. Brazeau donned a Toronto Raptors sweatshirt and unfortunately North Bay could be in for a long year. Stan Butler decided to stay loyal to the fans and kept Brazeau last season at the deadline. North Bay doesn’t have a lot of scoring options after Struthers, Chenier, and Coe. It is virtually impossible for the Battalion to replace the 113 points Brazeau scored last year as he single handedly won them handfuls of games. To make matters worse, North Bay’s 1st round Import selection D Martin Hugo Has will not play for them this season. On Wednesday, Christian Purboo was traded to Sudbury for draft picks. The team will now run with Joe Vrbetic 17 and Christian Cicigoi 18.
Prosvetov and/or Lennox?
Surprising to some, Russian import, overage, and Arizona Coyotes draft pick Ivan Prosvetov was in uniform playing for the Saginaw Spirit. Prosvetov will likely play in Tuscon of the AHL this year. 17-year-old Tristan Lennox is ready to take over as the #1 goalie and is being groomed to play for Team Canada. Lennox led Team Canada to a silver medal at the Hlinka-Gretzky U18 tournament in August. Saginaw has lost a lot of skill in Tippett, Mcleod, Michnac, Murray and likely Prosvetov. Cole Perfetti looks like he could put up top 10 scoring numbers as an 18-year-old.
Another player that might make the AHL is D Bode Wilde. If he does, watch for Nicolas Porco on the wing and D Mason Millman to step up their production to make up for the lost points. 16-year-old rookie D Mitchell Smith looked impressive in his games showing his skating ability and also brought some sandpaper. Saginaw was also able to add an established player through the import draft in 19-year-old Ilya Solovyov. The Belarussian defender looked steady and confident on the back end during the Showcase. The Spirit went for it last year but their development in last year’s playoffs will keep them competitive all year. I don’t expect too much of a drop off this season in Michigan.
Losing Gareffa showing immediate hole in lineup
Several weeks before the start of training camp it was announced that 20-year-old Joseph Gareffa (also known as Joey G), would be making the jump to pro hockey either in the AHL or ECHL. After listening to the Farwell and Pope Kitchener podcast, it was apparent how important Gareffa was to the Rangers lineup. Gareffa bounced around the lineup last year as a seal for any and all lineup holes that were exposed. His proficiency in playing both defense and on either wing really aided coach Jay Mckee when slumps or injuries came about. Losing Gareffa may prohibit the Rangers from being a top team this season, though they looked dominant at times this past weekend.
This weekend I would pick Riley Damiani as the best Ranger on the ice. Damiani was all over the ice and set up Jonathan Yantsis several times. Yantsis had a career year last season, scoring 50 goals. As youngsters go it was New York native Declan Mcdonnell that showed off his skill. The 2018 3rd rounder set up a game-tying shorthanded goal in one game, and scored another game-tying goal with 6 seconds left vs Peterborough. Kitchener also made a big splash in the offseason acquiring 19 year old and LA Kings prospect goaltender Jacob Ingham from Mississauga. This is a large improvement, but losing Gareffa leaves a big hole on the Kitchener blue line.
No more Pressure for Storm
The Storm lost 7-5 on Saturday to an impressive-looking Flint Firebirds squad. Fan expectations won’t be high this year for Guelph though. Winning the OHL Championship removes any sting of losing a star-studded lineup of talent. Likely gone are Suzuki, Ratcliffe, Schnarr, Durzi, Entwistle, Gordeev, Popovich, Toropchenko, Samorukov and Commisso. Guelph will be a young squad led by Habs draft pick Cam Hillis. Guelph traded Ryan Merkley to Peterborough at last year’s deadline and loaded up for a big run. They actually got Pavel Gogolev for Merkley which I am sure Peterborough would reverse in a second.
Rookies Daniil Chayka and Import Andrei Bakanov will be exciting to keep tabs on. At one point last season it looked like the Storm’s season would flame out with nothing to show. Guelph did a great job to maximize their roster and pulled the right deals to win the title. Now the fans will be content with a league championship and can patiently enjoy the next crop of players with zero expectations and little pressure.