OHL 2017-2018 Season Preview: Western Conference

East look to get back on top after Western Conference wins league championship

Erie Otters

Division: Midwest
Coach: Chris Hartsburg (1st year)
2016-17 Record: (50-15- 3) – 2016-17 OHL Champions

Key Additions:

Emmett Sproule (C, OHL Priority Selection)
Stephane Patry (C)
CHL Import Draft)
Alex Gritz (C- trade with Sault St. Marie)
Brendan Kischnick (D- OHL Priority Selection)

Key Departures:

Dylan Strome (C) (Arizona Coyotes)
Anthony Cirelli (C)* (Tampa Bay Lightning)
Alex DeBrincat (W)* (Chicago Blackhawks)
Warren Foegele (C) (Carolina Hurricanes)
Kyle Pettit (C) (University of Western)
Darren Raddysh (D) (Chicago Blackhawks)
* – Attending NHL training camp

The 2016-17 season was incredibly successful for the Erie Otters. Led by an elite offence and a strong defence, the Otters totalled a league-high 103 points in 68 games. They allowed the second least goals in the OHL, while being the only team to score over 300 goals.

The squad carried its success from the regular season to the playoffs, defeating the Mississauga Steelheads in five games to claim the 2017 J. Ross Robertson Cup. In the Memorial Cup, the Otters secured three wins in four games before losing to the host Windsor Spitfires in the final, 4-3.

Despite their success last season, the 2017-18 campaign will signal a new era for the defending champions. Coach Kris Knoblauch bolted to the NHL, joining the Philadelphia Flyers’ staff as an assistant. To replace him, the Otters hired Chris Hartsburg, who coached the Lincoln Stars of the USHL from 2014-2017. Hartsburg was an assistant coach in Erie during the 2013-14 season.

In addition to their head coach, the Otters will lose a number of key players this upcoming season. Memorial Cup MVP Dylan Strome will be playing in Arizona with the Coyotes, while Anthony Cirelli and top scorer Alex DeBrincat are attending NHL training camp with the Lightning and Blackhawks, respectively.

Forwards Taylor Raddysh and Ivan Lodnia are also in NHL camps, but could return to the OHL if they are cut. On a positive note, Troy Timpano will return as the team’s staring goaltender, while the defence remains largely intact from last year. Either way, there will be a number of new faces for the Otters when they open their season Friday against the Peterborough Petes.

Top Players (2016-17 stats):

Taylor Raddysh (W) – 58 GP / 42 G / 67 A / 109 Pts / 37 PIM / +67
Ivan Lodnia (W) – 66 GP / 24 G / 32 A / 56 Pts / 24 PIM / +21
Troy Timpano (G) – 44 GP / 2.37 GAA / .901 SV% / 4 SO
Jordan Sambrook (D) – 61 GP / 15 G / 25 A / 40 Pts / 61 PIM / +38
T.J. Fergus (D) – 68 GP / 3 G / 30 A / 33 Pts / 60 PIM / +54

Jordan Sambrook and T.J. Fergus return to lead a strong defensive core. Sambrook, a fifth-round pick of the Red Wings in 2016, collected 40 points and 61 penalty minutes in 61 games for Erie last year. Fergus accumulated 33 points in 68 games and was a plus-54. Timpano started 44 games for the Otters last season, winning 36 games as the team’s primary goaltender.

If Raddysh and Lodnia return to the Otters after NHL training camp, they could provide enough offensive spark for the team to stay competitive. Raddysh alone scored 109 points in 58 games last season.

Despite a number of key departures, Erie expects to remain competitive. There are still a number of question marks for the defending OHL champions, though, including how new head coach Chris Hartsburg rallies the team and how their offensive talent will be replaced.

If, by the New Year, the Otters’ record doesn’t seem encouraging to constitute a playoff run, then there will likely be a shift to a more rebuild-centric mindset.