Welcome back to yet another Monday and another week of the Monday Night Major. It’s amazing to see how things are shaping up around the league as there are certainly some surprise seasons developing in the Western Conference while some teams in the East continue to struggle.
Let’s get into it as we are just a few weeks away from World Junior camps creating uncertainty around the league.
Guelph Storm Roll-On
It’s amazing to see what is happening in Guelph this year. Last May the Guelph Storm were celebrating an OHL Championship and the belief was that a rebuild was upon the organization.
Somewhere along the way, the Guelph Storm organization missed the memo.
Guelph concludes the week having won eight straight contests and sit second in the OHL’s difficult Western Conference. It’s incredible given the turnover from last year’s championship club. The question that everyone has on their minds is simply how are they doing it?
It all starts in goal where third-year goaltender, Nico Daws, is in the midst of a brilliant season. Daws has a stellar .932 save percentage through 12 games while only surrendering just 2.43 goals against per game. It’s an improvement of .39 in his save percentage from a year ago and almost a goal per game against better. I don’t believe anyone saw Daws playing at this level in his first year as a starter in the league.
Offensively Pavel Gogolev continues to shine in his first full season with the team having scored 31 points in 18 contests.
Captain Cam Hillis is also in the midst of this best season with 28 points in the 18 games played.
The defense has been anchored by the surprising growth of second-year defender Danill Chayka who has 14 points in 18 contests while Fedor Gordeev returned for his overage season.
In addition to these solid individual performances, Guelph is also top ten in both the power play and penalty killing percentages as well.
It was easy to have low expectations for Guelph this year given the championship last year, but the returning players have continued to buy into George Burnett’s system.
It will be hard for Guelph to sustain this level of consistency the rest of the way but they have proven that not everyone has to win and rebuild. One can only hope it is a method other teams can embrace rather than bottoming out for a few seasons just for a shot to win once.
FIVE IN THE BOX
Niagara acquired Beraldo with a late-round pick a few weeks ago and appear to have found a great fit for the player.
Beraldo opened the year without a point in five games for Kingston and left with a minus-three plus/minus rating. The arrival in Niagara seems to have ignited an offensive explosion in Beraldo with three points in his first four games and a plus-two rating.
While three points is not a huge number, it is when you consider Beraldo’s career-high was 13 points as a member of last year’s offensively challenged Frontenacs team.
Beraldo arrived at the right time in Niagara and seems to have found a home on a team that was in need of a physical blueliner with Mason Howard out of the lineup. When Howard returns the pair could form a so shutdown tandem for Niagara to use the rest of the season.
DJ Busdeker only has four goals and 11 points on the year in 21 games but it is not his offensive game that has people taking notice.
It is all in how Busdeker collects his goals. Busdeker is second in the entire OHL with three short-handed goals which is quite impressive given that he only has four goals on the season.
Saginaw was hoping for better offensive numbers for the right-winger this year after he scored 15 goals and 48 points last year. Despite the offensive drop this year, Busdeker has found ways to contribute on the defensive side of the puck.
Saginaw sits third in the OHL in penalty killing and Busdeker’s contributions killing penalties are a big part of their success. If Busdeker can continue to capitalize on his short-handed chances, it could create even greater team success with the opposition fearing Busdeker ability to create while down a man.
The Hamilton sniper continues to shoot the puck and is averaging a goal per game this year; the best pace of his OHL career.
Kaliyev leads the league by a mile in shots on goal and is on pace for 377 shots on goal this year. That total would beat the 320 he took last year by 57 and would be the most since Spencer Watson’s 353 shot season for Kingston in 2015-16.
It is hard to believe that Kaliyev can continue to shoot at that pace as he could miss time for the World Junior tournament and the league should tighten up in the second half of the season.
Kaliyev has become the league’s premier shooter and he is going to capitalize if he is given five shots per game.
At some point, you have to believe that teams will begin to defend him differently to make other Bulldogs shoot the puck however it has not happened to date. Kaliyev appears to be one of those players where you just cannot find a way to stop him and can only minimize his offensive damage on a nightly basis.
Brkin was claimed by the Kingston Frontenacs after being waived in the WHL and immediately sent to Sault Ste. Marie for Christian Propp and a late draft pick in 2023.
The overage goaltender has come in and solidified a position of weakness for the Greyhounds, winning his first three contests for the struggling team.
Brkin has posted a strong 2.00 goals-against average since coming to the league and a .929 save percentage.
Brkin should be well adjusted to the long bus rides of the Greyhounds having played in the Western Hockey League the past few years.
Sault Ste. Marie dug themselves a bit of a hole in the first quarter of the season and Brkin could be a key to turning things around in an unusual down year for the club.
In fact, Brkin could clearly be critical for the team as they have had a lot of trouble keeping the puck out of their net despite being one of the higher scoring teams in the league.
This could prove to be one of General Manager’s shrewdest moves if Brkin can lead the team back into contention. We knew the slump wouldn’t last forever in Sault Ste. Marie and it appears they are once again back on track.
Is it just me or does McShane feel like he has been in the OHL forever?
Granted we know the answer is not that he has been in the league forever but the veteran center just continues to produce around the point-per-game pace once again.
McShane may be behind his 34 goal pace of last season but continues to be that reliable two-way second-line center that teams love in the OHL. While he will never be the flashiest player McShane just produces through consistency and is almost the perfect replacement in Oshawa for Anthony Cirelli; the player he was traded to Oshawa for a few seasons ago.
Oshawa will continue to count on McShane heavily the rest of the season as they try to hold off Peterborough and Ottawa for first place in the Eastern Conference. While McShane has been around for many seasons, he has yet to play his most significant hockey for the Generals.
Landing The Big Fish
Every year that first big trade seems to happen around the 20th of November, with one team showing the rest of the league they are committed to winning that season.
Last year it was the Niagara IceDogs acquiring Jason Robertson and Jacob Paquette from the Kingston Frontenacs.
This year Niagara likely finds themselves on the opposite end of the spectrum holding the big fish in Ivan Lodnia and Akil Thomas; players almost every contender would like to add.
The difference is that this year there are many teams that are seemingly in contention at the 20 game mark which could slow down the trade market as General Managers wait longer to see that their team is indeed for real.
The other issue that will likely push back the bigger trades is the rebuilding teams now appear to want players in return rather than just picks. With first-round picks not being able to be dealt until January, it is unlikely that some of the bigger names move until that time.
While it appears that the OHL hot stove is cooler than normal for this time of year, it also would not shock me to see a blockbuster this week. The question to ponder is who will strike first and push all of their chips into the middle of the proverbial OHL contenders table?
Only time will tell but we are now entering the OHL’s wildest six to seven weeks of the year. This year should be fun to watch with the competitive balance in the Western Conference being so strong.
Thanks again for reading the Monday Night Major. Until next week keep supporting the OHL and enjoy the games.