Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Post Deadline Examination Part Two: Best of the West

Carrying over from yesterday's examination of the Eastern Conference, where I officially crowned the Ottawa 67's my favourite to represent the East in the OHL Finals (here), it's now time to look at the West.

The Western Conference is entirely more wide open than the East IMO. We've got several teams who have loaded up for big runs at the Championship. Some of these teams are not even holding home ice advantage in the playoffs (if they were to start today). The way I see it, any of the eight teams currently in the Western Conference playoffs, have a shot at taking the West. They're all talented, and if they were to get hot at the right time, it could be the right combination. But there are obviously those teams with stronger chances and it's my goal with this piece to try and separate the men from the boys. Heck, it's possible one of these eight teams doesn't even make the playoffs and Sarnia does. But I don't see the Sting being ready to play deep into the playoffs just yet.

The teams will be ranked using the same categories as the East (forwards, defense, goaltending, special teams, and character/experience) and totaled the same way.

Here's how I see it breaking down...


Saginaw Spirit
Brandon Saad - Vincent Trocheck - John McFarland
Josh Shalla - Jordan Szwarz - Anthony Camara
Matt Sisca - Ivan Telegin - Garret Ross

Owen Sound Attack
Garrett Wilson - Joey Hishon - Andrew Fritsch
Bobby Mignardi - Andrew Shaw - Gemel Smith
Mike Halmo - Liam Heelis - Roman Berdnikov

Kitchener Rangers
Gabriel Landeskog - Michael Catenacci - Tobias Rieder
Matthew Tipoff - Matia Marcantuoni - Jason Akeson
Ben Thomson - Andrew Crescenzi - Tyler Randell

Windsor Spitfires
Tom Kuhnhackl - Alexander Khokhlachev - Jake Carrick
Kenny Ryan - Taylor Carnevale - Zack Kassian
Kerby Rychel - Stephen Johnston - Jeff Brown

Erie Otters
Mike Cazzola - Greg McKegg - Shawn Szydlowski
Phil Varone - Brett Thompson - Anthony Luciani
Andrew Yogan - Luke Cairns - Matthew Paton

Guelph Storm
Daniel Erlich/Cody McNaughton - Michael Latta - Taylor Beck
Richard Panik - Peter Holland - Cody McNaughton/Zack Mitchell
Tyler Carroll - Daniel Erlich/Scott Kosmachuk - Francis Menard

Plymouth Whalers
Stefan Noesen - Robbie Czarnik - Garrett Meurs
R.J. Mahalak - Mitchell Heard/Alex Aleardi - James Livingston
Tyler Brown - Rickard Rakell - Jamie Devane

London Knights
Andreas Athanasiou - Vladislav Namestnikov - Seth Griffith
Colin Martin - Kyle DeCoste - Jared Knight
Dylan MacEachern - Chris Tierney - Stephen Sanza

1. Saginaw Spirit
- Hard to argue against a team which can ice three solid scoring lines with size and physicality. They can run you over and they can score.
2. Windsor Spitfires
- The Spits really did a lot to improve their forward group by adding Carnevale and Carrick. Hard to say what their lines will look like now, but they should be quite good.
3. Erie Otters
- They've gotten Mike Cazzola back and should get Andrew Yogan back in the coming weeks. With the addition of Brett Thompson, this team could be very dangerous heading into the playoffs.
4. Guelph Storm
- A lot of high end talent carries this offensive attack, but it's the offensive role players who have to step up in order to spread out the scoring.
5. Kitchener Rangers
- A solid unit, but not one without question marks. How long will Landeskog be out for? Can they survive without an elite centerman?
6. Owen Sound Attack
- The Attack's first line is always dangerous, but their hard working role players aren't necessarily naturally born offensive players.
7. Plymouth Whalers
The Whalers definitely have the size offensively, but have struggled to generate consistent offense from players not named Noesen or Czarnik. Rakell, Aleardi and others have to be factors every night.
8. London Knights
- They may have gone through a bit of a re-tool, but they could still be a talented offensive team if things ever came together for them.


Saginaw Spirit
Ryan O'Connor - Ben Chiarot
Dalton Prout - Brad Walch/Peter Hermenegildo
Brandon Archibald - Peter Hermenegildo/Brad Walch

Owen Sound Attack
Jesse Blacker - Matt Stanisz
Matt Petgrave - Geoffrey Schemitsch
Keevin Cutting - Jay Gilbert

Kitchener Rangers
Ryan Murphy - Julian Melchiori
Cody Sol - Jonathan Jasper
Jamie Doornbosch - Chad Lowry

Windsor Spitfires
Ryan Ellis - Adrian Robertson
Nick Ebert - Craig Duininck
Saverio Posa - Michael MacIntyre/Grant Webermin

Erie Otters
David Shields - Derek Holden
Tyler Hostetter - Adam Pelech
Brett Cook - Brady Austin/Kris Grant

Guelph Storm
Sam Lofquist - Kyle Pereira
Chris Van Laren - Matt Finn
Tim Campbell - Stephen Gaskin

Plymouth Whalers
Austin Levi - Beau Schmitz
Colin MacDonald - Dario Trutmann
Max Iafrate - Nick Malysa

London Knights
Jarred Tinordi - Michael Moffat
Scott Harrington - Reid McNeill
Kevin Raine - Sacha Guimond

1. Saginaw Spirit
- A strong defensive unit was made even stronger by acquiring Dalton Prout and Brandon Archibald.
2. Kitchener Rangers
- A solid combination of size, speed, and offensive skill. They may not have added anyone, but this unit was good enough already.
3. Owen Sound Attack
- A really underrated defensive unit. Nearly everyone can move the puck up ice and the addition of Jay Gilbert gives them the people mover they needed.
4. Plymouth Whalers
- They've been solid defensively all year. The loss of Jay Gilbert means that a young guy like Max Iafrate will have to step up.
5. Windsor Spitfires
- Ryan Ellis and Nick Ebert run the show, but the lack of quality depth hurts the team if Ellis and Ebert begin to tire.
6. Erie Otters
- They're getting Tyler Hostetter back soon, which will be a big boost to a defense that's actually improved as the season has gone on.
7. Guelph Storm
They've made moves to try and shore up their defense, but I'm not sure they were the right ones. A lot of experience on the back end, but is their a lot of quality? Their performance so far this season would certainly say no.
8. London Knights
Moving Michael D'Orazio hurts, as a young, inexperienced defense gets even younger. Jarred Tinordi has to step up huge and become the player many thought he would be.


Saginaw Spirit
Mavric Parks
Tadeas Galansky

Owen Sound Attack
Scott Stajcer (when he returns)/Michael Zador
Jordan Binnington

Kitchener Rangers
Brandon Maxwell
Mike Morrison

Windsor Spitfires
Jack Campbell
John Cullen

Erie Otters
Ramis Sadikov
Chris Festarini

Guelph Storm
Brandon Foote
Garret Sparks

Plymouth Whalers
Scott Wedgewood
Matt Mahalak

London Knights
Michael Houser
Igor Bobkov

1. Saginaw Spirit
- Tough to argue against Mavric Parks as the top goalie in the West. He has the experience of last year's playoff run and he's been fantastic this season.
2. Plymouth Whalers
Scott Wedgewood has been excellent for the Whalers this season and has quietly become one of the league's best goalies.
3. Kitchener Rangers
Brandon Maxwell may be inconsistent, but he's quite good when he's on. He got a taste of the playoffs last year (where he was again hit and miss).
4. Erie Otters
Ramis Sadikov has been very good for the Otters lately. You have to wonder if he might get tired by the playoffs though, with the Otters lack of faith in back up Chris Festarini.
5. Windsor Spitfires
I think teams 5 through 8 are pretty equal here, but I'm giving Jack Campbell the slight nod because of his international big game experience. But I'm thinking the Spits wish that Campbell would start to show up more often.
6. Owen Sound Attack
The Attack would be higher if their goaltending situation wasn't so complicated. Scott Stajcer was playing great before the knee injury. Who knows how he'll play when he returns (likely in a month or so). Until then, Michael Zador isn't getting the job done and Jordan Binnington is inexperienced.
7. London Knights
Michael Houser has played hard for this Knights team this year, but even his best efforts haven't been enough to help this team win consistently.
8. Guelph Storm
I really thought Brandon Foote would have a breakout season this year, but he's been plagued with consistency issues yet again. If he he's hot though, look out.

Special Teams

Powerplay Ranking:
1. Saginaw Spirit @ 24.3%
2. Owen Sound Attack @ 22.7%
3. Kitchener Rangers @ 22.3%
4. Erie Otters @ 21.2%
5. Windsor Spitfires @ 20.8%
6. Guelph Storm @ 20.5%
7. Plymouth Whalers @ 17.3%
8. London Knights @ 15.0%

Penalty Kill Ranking:
1. Saginaw Spirit @ 84.9%
2. Windsor Spitfires @ 81.6%
3. Plymouth Whalers @ 81.3%
4. Guelph Storm @ 81.0%
5. Kitchener Rangers @ 80.4%
6. Owen Sound Attack @ 80.3%
7. Erie Otters @ 79.7%
8. London Knights @ 77.4%

1. Saginaw Spirit
- The top powerplay and the top penalty kill in the league statistically. And the addition of Dalton Prout only makes both of those better.
2. Windsor Spitfires
- With increased scoring depth (including Taylor Carnevale's excellent PP production), the Spits powerplay should improve to the above average level to match up with their above average PK.
3. Kitchener Rangers
- A very strong powerplay run by Ryan Murphy, but a penalty kill unit that will have to do without it's top PK guy in Gabriel Landeskog for a little while.
4. Owen Sound Attack
- A very strong powerplay that's anchored by that dynamite Joey Hishon line, but a penalty kill unit that needs to be better.
5. Erie Otters
Similar to some of the teams above, their powerplay has been pretty good, but their PK will need to be better. They have the type of guys capable of that.
6. Guelph Storm
- An average PK and powerplay, which could be better, but could also be worse.
7. Plymouth Whalers
- A very strong penalty kill unit doesn't make up for their lack of a true powerplay quarterback and below average production with the man advantage.
8. London Knights
- Special teams have been a disaster for the Knights this year and are a big reason as to why they've been a disappointment in the standings.


I felt like this was really tough to gauge. Some teams with great character and grit, but lacking in actual experience. Some teams with experience at forward, but not on defense, and vice versa. So I expect heavy debate on this one, as it's completely subjective (if it wasn't enough already).

1. Windsor Spitfires
- It was tough to separate one team from the pack, so I gave the nod to the Spits who have enough guys left over from back to back Memorial Cup runs. That experience is crucial, even if it's only from a few players. If their defense didn't have Ryan Ellis, they wouldn't be number one though because he's going to have to show that green group how to get it done in the postseason.
2. Owen Sound Attack
- This is a really gritty team who battles for every inch of ice. They've got a few young guys playing crucial roles, and their goaltending is a bit of a concern, but some of the veteran players know how to get it done and Matt Stanisz was around for Barrie's deep run last year.
3. Kitchener Rangers
- This is a team that should be hungry after blowing that 3-0 lead last year. They know what they'll have to do this year and have the leadership group in place to get that message across to the younger guys.
4. Saginaw Spirit
- Slightly concerned as to how their forward group will respond in their first serious playoff run, but the defense and goaltending should be ready for the challenge. Like Owen Sound, they are also a gritty team who plays hard consistently.
5. Guelph Storm
- This is a very experienced team with all the moves that have been made. But...is their a true leader on this team? Considering all the turmoil and problems the Storm have had playing consistent hockey, you have to question their character.
6. Erie Otters
- I think their forward group has great chemistry and a ton of experience in this league. But I'm less convinced by their defense and goaltending. I think injuries also have to be a concern, considering this team can not seem to stay healthy.
7. Plymouth Whalers
- This team plays really hard, but I'm just not sure they've got enough experience at forward where guys like Stefan Noesen, Rickard Rakell, Alex Aleardi, Mitchell Heard among others are being counted on to score the majority of goals. In goal, Scott Wedgewood is excellent, but he hasn't had much taste of playoff action, save last year's finish against Windsor. This one is highly debatable.
8. London Knights
- Definitely a youth movement in London, especially on defense where a green unit may get totally exposed against a team like Saginaw. Their consistency offensively is troubling too.

Overall Rankings

In order to determine the overall rankings, a point system was used.

First Place in a Category = 8 points
Second Place in a Category = 7 points
Third Place in a Category = 6 points
Fourth Place = 5 points
Fifth Place = 4 points
Sixth Place = 3 points
Seventh Place = 2 points
Eighth Place = 1 point

With that in mind, here's how it totals up (point total is out of 40).

1. Saginaw Spirit = 37 points
2. Windsor Spitfires = 30 points
3. Kitchener Rangers = 29 points
4. Owen Sound Attack = 24 points
5. Erie Otters = 21 points
6. Plymouth Whalers = 18 points
7. Guelph Storm = 15 points
8. London Knights = 6 points

So there you have it folks, in my mind, the Saginaw Spirit have the best chance to come away as Western Conference champions this season. I think they've got the strongest overall team and their experience on the blueline and in net should help to offset any jitters their forwards might have in the post season. The addition of Dalton Prout, especially, is going to be huge as he was a beast for the Colts in last year's playoffs. Hats off to GM (and coach) Todd Watson for making the unpopular moves last year, that ultimately made this team a popular choice for top spot this year.

Would love to hear what you have to say about this.

Do you think an OHL final between Ottawa and Saginaw seems most likely at this point?


Anonymous said...

The addition of Prout & Archibald notwithstanding, Saginaw is not invicible. The Whalers are 1-3 against the Spirit, but getting better (last game was 3-4). They're 3-1 against Windsor, 0-2 vs Kitchener, 1-1 against Owen Sound, and the same against Erie. Other than Saginaw, it's too close to call, but I'd give the Edge to Plymouth against the others in spite of the Gilbert loss. Look for Saginaw & the Whalers the final match up if they can solve their Kitchener woes before then.

Thomas said...

Your Whalers lines are off. It's usually more like:


I assume that with Aleardi coming back from his "injury" that he'll be the 2nd line center now. Whaley is the question mark now. He could move Heard to the wing on the 4th line, or he could edge Mahalak down.

Defensively, I think you're a little off as well. Iafrate is a RD, and I doubt that he's going to be stepping into the Gilbert void this year. That will be Dylan MacDonald. You also forgot about Crombeen, who started skating yesterday and should be back before too long. Given that Schmitz is apparently out for about a month, that will help. Once he's back though, I expect the pairings to be:

C MacDonald-Trutmann
D MacDonald-Malysa

And I don't know where Crombeen fits in there, having never seen him play. He could knock Colin MacDonald down to the third pairing, or he could take Dylan MacDonald's or Malysa's spot. Or he could be the #1, for all I know.

Finally, as far as experience, the Whalers have probably the best group of overagers in the league. Granted, the rest of the team lacks playoff experience, but when you're talking experience, Plymouth's most experienced guys are better than anyone else's.

As for Saginaw, you've got their top two lines flopped. The Shalla-Szwarz-Sisca line is their top line, with the Saad-McFarland-Trocheck line 2nd.

But I think what I find most interesting about your analysis is that Sarnia isn't in there. I think they're certainly better than Guelph and London, and maybe better than Plymouth (consistency issues) and Windsor (talent and chemistry issues). Adding Passingham - who admittedly is the most overrated goalie in the OHL not named Grubauer - solidified them as a playoff team IMO.

I know Plymouth fans like to downplay Saginaw's ability, but Saginaw is the team to beat in the West. And I expect that they'll probably beat Mississauga for the OHL Championship.

Thomas said...

BTW, excellent job on these articles. Best recaps I've read by far.

And there I am "kissing your ass" again.

Brock Otten said...

Thanks for the corrections on the Whalers' lines Thomas. Hard to piece together some of these puzzles (especially considering some of these new acquisitions).

As for Plymouth, you guys are totally right (judging by their victory over Saginaw today). I certainly wouldn't want to play Plymouth in the first round. But then again, you could probably say that about any team in the West. There are going to be some serious upsets in the Western Conference playoffs this year.