OHL Monday Night Major – the 19-year-old rookie and inexperience in the “Bay”

Week three of the OHL season is now in the books and we are starting to see some things that are true around the league.

The truth you ask?  The Flint Firebirds are for real.  The Frontenacs and Battalion will struggle offensively this year.  Patience is paying off in Erie and that Byfield kid is good at this game of sticks and pucks.

Let’s find out who else is making headlines around the league this past week.

The 19-Year-Old Rookie

It is not every day in the OHL that you see a 19-year-old rookie in the league that is not an import.

The truth is that after being cut at three training camps, players or teams often give up their dream of playing in the league.

In Niagara, Lucas Theriault had attended multiple training camps with the same result.  He got cut each year.

Rather than give up the dream, Theriault continued to grind in the NOJHL, breaking out last year for 76 points in just 51 games.

That led Theriault to sign a deal with the Niagara IceDogs in May of this year.  The 2016 12th round selection finally was getting his opportunity to play in the OHL.

Of course, he also has some good hockey genes in his blood.  His Uncle is Mike Foligno and his cousins Marcus and Nick play in the NHL.

For Theriault, he is just thrilled to be in the league and Friday night he scored his first OHL goal.

Niagara’s Lucas Theriault after his first goal. Photo credit: Niagara IceDogs Hockey Club

“It was always my dream to play in the OHL and they offered me a spot here.  I was really excited about it,” said Theriault of the opportunity.

“It felt great to get the monkey off my back.  It was a little frustrating to go five, six games without scoring so I’m happy to get that first one.”

His coach in Niagara, Billy Burke, was thrilled to see Theriault contribute as well.

“He’s a great example for the young players.  Don’t quit, keep trying to get better every year.  He came to camp four times and impressed every time.  We were going to have a younger team and to have an older guy that can give us solid minutes, it’s great to see guys like that get rewarded with a goal.”

For Theriault, it does not matter the role he is asked to play.  He’s more than willing to do it after making it in his fourth attempt.

“I’ll do whatever the coach wants me to do.  If he wants me to play on the third and fourth lines, I’ll do it.  I’ll adjust to whatever he wants me to do.”

It is no doubt the result of that terrific mentality that Theriault was able to break camp with the team.  He’s reached his goal of being in the league and he has announced he can score.  Theriault never gave up and now he gets his chance.

FIVE IN THE BOX

Phil Tomasino

The Nashville Predators resident OHL speedster had a career night on Friday evening.

Tomasino scored three goals and added three assists in Niagara’s 8-4 defeat of the Kingston Frontenacs.

With the big offensive outing, Tomasino found himself in second place in league scoring as the IceDogs’ schedule concluded for the week.

Tomasino produced 72 points in the 2018-19 season and is well ahead of that pace this year.  The 2019 NHL First Round pick will be counted on heavily in Niagara and has found terrific chemistry early with import Kyen Sopa.

While it may be hard to believe, Tomasino could play himself onto the radar of Hockey Canada for the World Junior Championship should he continue to excel offensively at his current pace.

Tomasino believed coming into the year Niagara could surprise teams.  The IceDogs have a winning record thus far and have surprised many teams.  If Tomasino continues to produce, it could be a very positive year for the young IceDogs squad.

David Levin

Levin started the season late but has not disappointed since his early-season absence.

The former first overall selection in the Priority Selection Draft has burst into the top ten in scoring in just four games.

Levin’s 11 points have really helped Sudbury with their secondary scoring.

Everyone knew Byfield and Murray would score this year but the OHL is won on depth.  Skeptics wondered if Sudbury would have enough scoring depth to win.

Levin’s return has also helped Macauley Carson’s offensive output.  Carson has produced 10 points in the four games since Levin has returned to the lineup.

Levin is counted on heavily this year to be a key contributor for the Wolves.  A year ago he almost hit a point-per-game for the first time in his career.  Now an overager in the league, Levin looks to smash that expectation to earn himself a professional contract.

It has not always been easy for Levin or the Sudbury Wolves.  Levin’s development has required patience for the Wolves and their fans.  If Levin continues to play this way, Sudbury fans will ultimately be very happy with their former first overall pick.

It just took time.  Now it is Levin’s time to shine in the league after many of his peers have graduated to pro hockey.  Levin has unfinished business in the OHL and has sent notice to everyone early on that he was taken first overall for a reason.

Daniel Walker

The former Battalion forward has joined the Oshawa Generals this year while continuing to drive the Eastern Conference crazy.

Walker was arguably North Bay’s best forward in their opening-round loss to Niagara last spring.  His tenacity drove the veteran Niagara squad crazy.

Despite an offseason and a new home, Walker has started this year the same way.

Through the first three weeks of the schedule, Walker leads the league in penalties.  He has also contributed three points in six games as well.

As much as Oshawa fans will love Walker now, they will love him more in the spring.  The expectations in Oshawa are high this year and Walker’s hockey motor will run at its best in the spring.

Walker may not show up on the scoresheet on a nightly basis but his contributions will not go unnoticed.

His work ethic and shift-disturbing will pick Oshawa up in games where they lack energy as he comes to play every night.

Walker is the perfect veteran for the Generals and will be a fan favorite in short order in Oshawa.

Thomas Harley

Harley has joined his Mississauga teammates late after attending the Dallas Stars training camp.

While Harley was a long-shot to make the club, he got an extended look before getting sent back to play big minutes in Mississauga.

Thomas Harley of the Mississauga Steelheads returns to help lead this year. Photo: Luke Durda/OHL Images

Since his return, Harley has six points in three outings while solidifying Mississauga’s point position on the powerplay.

In addition to that, Harley has helped Liam Ham find more ice as well.  Ham has four points in three games since Harley’s return, taking advantage of the ice with teams adjusting their focus to the NHL pick.

Harley will be critical to the success of the Steelheads this season.  Mississauga will be offensively challenged and will need Harley’s smooth passing to help create odd-man rushes out of the defensive zone.

Harley’s return is not enough to make the Steelheads a contender alone; they will need more help.

The one thing Harley does is help everyone slot into the lineup where they should be.  This will allow James Richmond to see if he should add or continue to build for next year when the core of the team is 19-years-old.  Either way, Harley is critical to whatever direction Richmond chooses going forward.

Brett Brochu

The London Knights were thought to lean heavily on Jordan Kooy in goal this season but Brett Brochu is giving them a reason to go with a platoon. 

The 17-year-old picked up his first shutout this week and has been outstanding in his first three contests.  Brochu has wins in each of them to go along with a stellar .934 save percentage.

Brochu has carried over the success he found last year with the Dresden Jr. Kings where he backstopped them in 38 games last year.

While Kooy will eventually find his game again, Brochu’s play has given Dale Hunter confidence that he may have found his goalie for the next few seasons.

Goaltending Growing Pains

The North Bay Battalion raised some eyebrows this offseason moving both Christian Purboo and Christian Propp.

In trading both Propp and Purboo, Stan Butler and the Battalion turn to a pair of rookie goalies at a time where the team may be the most offensively challenged in recent memory.

There is not a Mike Amadio or Justin Brazeau to rely on for 50 goals.  Yes, Matthew Struthers and Brad Chenier remain but beyond that, it is offense by committee.

The unfortunate part for North Bay is that Struthers has struggled offensively out of the gate.  Struthers has just one assist in four games; well behind his 80 point pace of a year ago.

Struthers’ offensive struggles have been a part of a larger challenge in North Bay this year.  The team has scored just 13 goals in six games thus far.

With the offense struggling, it puts additional pressure on a goaltending tandem that had one game of experience entering the season.

The results thus far have not been ideal for the Battalion.

Anointed starter Joe Vrbetic has won just a single game while yielding 3.95 goals per game.  His save percentage is .896; not great but good enough to win when you look at Butler teams of the past.

Backup Christian Cicigoi has struggled with a .774 save percentage thus far in two games of action.

This has led to a slow start for North Bay but one has to wonder if there is enough offensive firepower to get to the post-season again.   Should North Bay fail to make the playoffs, it would be the second time in four years this has happened.

Can the Battalion Recover?

That is very unlike Stan Butler.  The question is will Butler try to add offense or continue to score by committee?

The good news for Battalion fans is that the Mississauga Steelheads and Hamilton Bulldogs have started out just as slow in the win column.  The team has time to figure it out.

The goaltending will get better with experience and the offence from within should improve.

It is too early to panic in North Bay but you cannot help but wonder if Butler could have squeezed out an extra win with one of the veterans in the net.

 

That is all for this week’s Monday Night Major.  We will be back with the Canadian Thanksgiving edition next week.