There’s a high level of confidence out in Oshawa as the Generals head towards the start of the Ontario Hockey League season.
Long-time executive Jeff Twohey, the first-year GM, and his rookie coach D.J. Smith, both believe the squad that opens the campaign on Sept. 20 at Peterborough is as dangerous as any in the Eastern Conference.
“I think we’re in really good shape,” Twohey told the Toronto Observer on Wednesday. “Our older players have really set the tone with their work ethic and competitiveness, and it’s encouraging when you can rely on [them] to do that.”
Twohey did the unthinkable this off-season, moving from his position at the helm of the Peterborough Petes to their most bitter rival.
Meanwhile Smith, who had a spell with the Toronto Maple Leafs as a player in the late 1990s, takes his first head-coaching job after eight years as an assistant with the Windsor Spitfires.
The Generals will look to improve on an eighth place finish, and a first round exit from last season, something that seems possible thanks to a blossoming goaltender, an experienced and steady defence core and a high-powered offensive attack.
Here is a breakdown of what the Generals are hoping to bring to the table.
The net at the General Motors Centre clearly belongs to 18-year-old Nepean-native Daniel Altshuller.
Twohey and company traded last year’s starter, Kevin Bailie, to London in the off-season for a fourth round pick, demonstrating their belief in the 6-foot-3 Altshuller.
“I think it’s his time,” said Smith. “He’s our number one guy, he got drafted this summer [by Carolina] and it’s up to him to validate that. He is going to get the majority of the starts here this year.”
Altshuller worked hard in the off-season on his conditioning, and uses his size and positioning rather then extreme athleticism to make his saves. Last season, he appeared in 30 games for Oshawa going 11-17-3 with a .900 save percentage.
A young giant, the 6-foot-5 Ken Appleby, will back him up.
Former OHL champion Geoffrey Schemitsch (a Tampa Bay prospect) and puck-mover and Flyers draftee Colin Suellentrop lead a veteran, if not flashy group of defenders.
Over-ager Matt Petgrave came over last season from Owen Sound with Schemitsch, and that group of three will be heavily relied on to carry the load.
In the 2011-2012 season, the Generals as a team gave up 241 goals in the regular season, good for second worst amongst teams that made the playoffs in the OHL. Twohey believes that this group is good enough to improve that stat this time around.
“They are a little bit maligned publicly here [in Oshawa],” he said. “And that has been a concern of this team over the last couple of years.
“Nevertheless, the experienced guys we have do have enough experience that they should be effective at this level. I am gaining confidence in the group slowly as we move forward.”
While they should certainly be better than last year, the Generals’ defencemen on paper certainly seem to be the weakness in the group.
If all goes well, this Oshawa attack should be as potent as any in the OHL.
With the uncertainty of the NHL season due to the labour strife, two NHL first-rounders and two second rounders are all preparing to spend the season with the Generals.
All four of them are currently in camp, while only one — Toronto’s 22nd overall pick in 2011 Tyler Biggs — is slated to potentially attend an AHL camp.
The other three (centres Bonne Jenner and Scott Laughton, and left-winger Lucas Lessio) are all stars, and at the very least Laughton and Lessio are expected to remain with the team regardless of what the NHL does.
Having all four of these weapons would be absolutely huge for Smith and company.
Supporting those stars include winger Sebastian Uvira, off the German national juniors, who impressed with 22 points last year while adapting to the North American game.
The diminutive speedster Adam Lloyd was brought over from Kingston to add to the attack while rookies Michael Dal Colle and Ohio-native Cole Cassels (the son of former NHL Andrew Cassels) have made a big impression at camp and look to figure into the top nine forwards already.