It’s been a busy week in the OHL. London acquires arguably the highest risk player in the league and Mississauga continues to struggle.
It was a week of blowout games as well. North Bay gave up 11 goals in Sudbury on Friday night while Sarnia allowed nine against Saginaw’s potent offense.
Let’s find out who else is making headlines around the O this week.
Buying High, Selling Low
The Ryan Merkley saga has finally come to an end in Peterborough.
After the team announced Merkely was not welcomed back, it became all about finding a suitor. On the surface, it should not be hard to find a place for him to play. A former first overall OHL pick and an NHL first-round pick and prospect. An offensive defender and a 19-year-old in a league that covets veterans.
Unfortunately, it was a lot harder than perhaps Petes’ GM Mike Oke thought it would be. That is until London came calling having realized Adam Boqvist would be heading to Rockford of the AHL instead of an OHL return.
London acquired the offensive defenceman from the Petes for a third-round pick in 2022 and a conditional second-round pick or third-round pick in 2024. The conditions of those picks are unknown however the return is startling less than what was paid just 10 months earlier.
The Petes paid dearly to acquire Merkley with five draft picks and former 30 goal scorer Pavel Gogolev heading west in the deal. Trades do not always work out and this is an example of one of those situations.
Merkley heading to London seemed a foregone conclusion. London has a strong group of forwards but had a very inexperienced defense this year. Alex Regula was the only player with multiple years of OHL experience returning. It just seemed to fit.
There is no doubt Merkley is a high-end talent. The San Jose Sharks believe in the skill and character. The question now everyone has on their mind is how Merkley and Knights coach Dale Hunter will get along.
It could make for some great theatre. Hunter could also find a way to get through to Merkley on a level no other OHL coach has thus far.
This move will likely work out well for London as Merkley seems motivated to harness some of the reputation he has in the hockey world. There is no better person in the league than Hunter to help him capitalize on his immense skill set while keeping the player in line.
FIVE IN THE BOX
Solovyov comes to the OHL and has wasted little time making an impact in Saginaw. While everyone was concerned about the loss of Bode Wilde, Solovyov has made the adjustment easier.
The 19-year-old has exploded out of the game with a goal and nine assists in his first four OHL contests. The defenceman leads the Spirit in scoring through the early part of the year and already has a five-point game on the books.
While Solovyov will surely slow down in terms of his point totals, his early success has turned many heads around the league. The Spirit no doubt love the offense but would likely appreciate a little more balance
Oksentyuk has started the year with four points in his first three games. His breakout game of this early season came out on Saturday night against the visiting Niagara IceDogs.
Oksentyuk had a goal and an assist in the first seven minutes of the contest. More importantly for coach Eric Wellwood, the Belarus native looked dangerous all night with Connor Roberts and Evan Vierling. the trio combined for five points on the night.
If they are able to form a solid second line for Flint, the Firebirds will have a dangerous top-six group of forwards. That scoring depth could propel these Firebirds into the top half of the conference for the first time since moving to Flint.
It’s early but the fans in Flint finally have a reason for optimism this season.
Many wondered how things would be in the Niagara goal crease this season with the graduation of Stephen Dhillon.
The favorite to earn the heavier workload was said to be Christian Sbaraglia. Sbaraglia has not disappointed when he has been in goal with a .940 save percentage in 79 minutes of action.
The problem you ask? Well, that is simple. He has only played 79 minutes of hockey and now will sit for five games as the result of a slashing major on Thursday night.
The good news for Niagara is simply that backup Tucker Tynan has been outstanding as well. Tynan has appeared in all four games this year and has not lost in regulation. Tynan’s .938 save percentage is by far one of the biggest surprises and has helped Niagara earn six of eight available points.
It should be an interesting battle going forward to see who will become the number one in Niagara. Of course, Sabaraglia will need to complete a full 60 minutes before that evaluation can begin to take place in full.
Popov is off to a hot start for Owen Sound with seven points in the Attack’s first four games.
Popov has always been highly touted as a scoring threat since joining the OHL however he is finally putting it all together.
The 19-year-old, now on his third team, is making the most of his opportunity. Popov is finally getting to play top-line minutes for the first time in his OHL career.
The left winger’s previous season-high was 25 points and he looks poised to destroy that mark if he can sustain his early-season pace.
Wright gained early entrance to the OHL has a 15-year-old this season and has found the adjustment tough thus far.
It’s one thing to be his age in the league. It’s also another thing to be counted on to provide offense at his age on a team that will struggle to score yet again.
Kingston only scored 144 goals last year with Jason Robertson and Brett Neuman accounting for 44 of those before being dealt. Another 19 of those came from the now-graduated Ryan Cranford as well.
Removing those players from the equation, the Frontenacs return a team that collectively scored just 81 goals across the 68 contests a year ago.
Where they will get more scoring this year remains a mystery and Wright will be looked upon to help out in that area.
Typically teams will acquire some veterans to help out in this area but with Kingston failing to insulate Wright it will be a tough year for the rookie.
The good news for Wright is that he will be plenty of ice time in what will be the greatest learning year of his young hockey career.
The CHL Top Ten – What’s The Point?
The CHL top ten list released this week has four OHL teams in that top grouping. It appears to be a great year for the OHL but what does the list really mean?
Unfortunately, it does not mean a lot. It means your team evaluates good on paper and has had good results.
It is not a precursor for things to come in a lot of cases. The ranking needs to be taken lightly because these three leagues change dramatically based on trade throughout the year.
The fact is that the OHL, QMJHL, and WHL have very different trading rules. Teams in the WHL are able to trade first-round draft choices where you cannot do so in the OHL. They also draft players a year earlier in the WHL as well.
Until you have a level playing field across all leagues, it is really hard to compare and contrast these teams.
Should you be happy as a fan if your team is in the top ten? Sure, but do not use it as a true measure of what your team is; especially at this time of year.
The list is fun but meaningless in a large sense. It’s a fun read each week but with each passing season, the list loses much of its luster. The only list that matters is the top four each May that play in the Memorial Cup tournament.
Thanks for reading the Monday Night Major and enjoy all of the action this week. I will be back next week to recap those players and stories that stood out.