It'll be a fight for the Eastern Conference crown and every team isn't afraid to pull punches as Brampton's Geoff Bezruchko and Guelph's Chadd Bauman proved in an exhibition game on Thursday.

OHL Eastern Conference preview

Door is wide open as Niagara retools

OHL Eastern Conference Preview Podcast

Barrie Colts

2011-2012 Record: 40-23-3-2

Playoff Result: Lost in 2nd round to Ottawa

Head coach Dale Hawerchuk did a masterful job resurrecting the Colts last year after a disastrous 2010-2011 season that saw them win only 15 games, and allow an OHL worst 346 goals. With a strong offence that includes Mark Scheifele Red Wings prospect Andreas Athanasiou, and a young but highly capable backline headlined by Aaron Ekblad, they will be battling for a division and conference championship come the end of the year.

Players to watch: Mark Scheifele (power forward), Andreas Athanasiou (skilled forward), Aaron Ekblad (two-way defenceman)

 

Belleville Bulls

2011-2012 Record: 35-32-1-0

Playoff Result: Lost in 1st round to Ottawa

Coach George Burnett’s Bulls have serious fire power up front, and goaltender Malcolm Subban, the man many consider the best in the Canadian Hockey League, as well as the one predicted to be Canada’s No. 1 at the World Juniors. Brendan Gaunce and Daniil Zharkov are both forwards picked in last year’s draft, and lead a very dangerous group up front. Put that together along with a steady D-corps, led by Stephen Silas and future NHL first rounder Jordan Subban, and Belleville is certainly a contender for the OHL championship.

Players to watch: Malcolm Subban (athletic goaltender), Brendan Gaunce (power forward), Daniil Zharkov (skilled forward), Jordan Subban (offensive defenceman)

 

Brampton Battalion

2011-2012 Record: 36-22-3-7

Playoff Result: Lost in 2nd round to Niagara

The jury is still out on Stan Butler’s Battalion because although they can keep the puck out of the net with the best in the league (second in goals against behind only London last year), can they put it in the net is the real question. Brampton was perfect through the pre-season, but it is difficult to say what that means exactly. They will be solid but unless they add more consistent scoring they won’t be able to contend with the league’s best come playoff time.

Players to watch: Barclay Goodrow (power forward), Patrik Machac (skilled forward), Dylan Blujus (two-way defenceman)

 

Kingston Frontenacs

2011-2012 Record: 19-41-3-5

Playoff Result: Did not qualify

GM Doug Gilmour and head coach Todd Gill are in the midst of a major rebuild, and last year it really was not pretty. They scored the least amount of goals in the conference, gave up the most, and even finished 15 points behind ninth place Peterborough in the standings. Even after all that, they didn’t land Connor McDavid because Erie in the west was even worse. They should be better this season, but not by much.

Players to watch: Ryan Kujawinski (two-way forward), Mikko Vainonen (two-way defenceman), Roland McKeown (two-way defenceman)

 

Mississauga Steelheads

2011-2012 Record: 33-28-1-6

Playoff Result: Lost in 1st round to Barrie

Mississauga heads into the year with a new name, but not much of a new anything else. James Boyd will be into his second year of coaching a team that relies heavily on offense from defence, and superb goaltending.  Maple Leafs first rounder Stuart Percy is among the best defenders in the league, and will lead them as their captain. Depth up front will be a concern moving forward, however, if this team is going to compete for anything other than a seventh or eighth-place finish.

Players to watch: Riley Brace (skilled forward), Stuart Percy (two-way defenceman), Dylan DeMelo (offensive defenceman), Spencer Martin (positional goaltender)

 

Niagara IceDogs

2011-2012 Record: 47-18-0-3

Playoff Result: Lost in OHL Final to London

Although an NHL lockout may keep the Dogs among the top teams in the conference, the window for Marty Williamson’s group to make a run at the Memorial Cup looks to be closed. They have definitely lost big names like Freddie Hamilton, Mark Visentin, and Jamie Oleksiak, and may lose Ryan Strome and Dougie Hamilton if the NHL can sign a new CBA in time. Yet even with all of those big names gone, Niagara is still a solid playoff team.

Players to watch: Dougie Hamilton (two-way defenceman), Ryan Strome (skilled forward), Brett Ritchie (power forward), Jessie Graham (offensive defenceman)

 

Oshawa Generals

2011-2012 Record: 31-30-4-3

Playoff Result: Lost in 1st round to Niagara

The loss of Christian Thomas and Nicklas Jensen definitely diminishes the pure offensive talent level that the Generals bring to the table, yet there won’t be any team more fun to watch. Led by bruisers like their captain Boone Jenner, Oshawa looks to repeat as conference PIM leaders and could bang their way to a top-four finish. Rookie head coach D.J. Smith has a veteran group, one certainly capable of bringing down their mediocre goals against total this time around.

Players to watch: Boone Jenner (power forward), Scott Laughton (power forward), Lucas Lessio (skilled forward), Colin Suellentrop (defensive defenceman), Tyler Biggs (power forward)

 

Ottawa 67’s

2011-2012 Record: 40-20-5-3

Playoff Result: Lost in conference final to Niagara

Their back-to-back 100-point man Tyler Toffoli is gone, but projected 2013 top-three pick Sean Monahan looks to seamlessly take over as the face of the franchise.  People are comparing Monahan to Sidney Crosby, and that heady prediction speaks volumes to Monahan’s ability. Head coach Chris Byrne’s 67’s do not have the firepower that last year’s bunch possessed, (losing three key forwards on top of Toffoli) but the probable return of Cody Ceci on the blue line certainly helps. Their goaltending is in the capable hands of Michael Nishi, so they should be able to get a sixth to eighth-place playoff spot.

Players to watch: Sean Monahan (two-way forward), Cody Ceci (offensive defenceman), Steven Janes (power forward)

 

Peterborough Petes

2011-2012 Record: 27-34-3-4

Playoff Result: Did not qualify

Although Peterborough had a tough year last season, and have lost four of their top six scorers from that campaign, head coach Mike Pelino and company have a lot of reason for optimism. Alan Quin, a 30-goal scorer and Red Wings second rounder, will lead a solidly rebuilt forward corps, while Tampa Bay first round pick Slater Koekkoek looks to be the best of a group of young but talented defenders. Undrafted No. 1 goaltender Andrew D’Agostini was on Canada’s U18 team two years ago, and needs to step into his potential this season. Nevertheless, this team will be a tough, and playoff contender.

Players to watch: Slater Koekkoek (two-way defenceman), Alan Quine (skilled forward), Nick Ritchie (power forward), Peter Ceresnak (two-way defenceman)

 

Sudbury Wolves

2011-2012 Record: 36-26-4-2

Playoff Result: Lost in 1st round to Brampton

Head coach Trent Cull’s team is coming off of a gold medal at the World Junior Club Cup in Russia, and while some commentators argue that it will buoy the Wolves to success in their season, only time will tell. Gone is leading scorer Michael Sgarbossa and captain Josh McFadden, but Maple Leafs third rounder Josh Leivo, as well as Michael Kantor and Matthew Campagna are ready to fill the void. The physical Sharks prospect Justin Sefton, and the Vancouver drafted puck-mover Frankie Corrado will lead their blue line. Sudbury will be a hard team to play against, but they are the real wild card of the conference.

Players to watch: Josh Leivo (power forward), Dominik Kahun (skilled forward), Frankie Corrado (offensive defenceman)