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OHL East Division Preview

With another Ontario Hockey League Season upon us, the time has come to break down each of the five teams in the East Division, and see how they measure up. Will Ottawa repeat as East Division Champs, or will we see the Oshawa Generals rise to the top? Can the Kingston Frontenacs avoid a letdown season? Belleville or Peterborough, which team is ready to make a big leap this season?

Let’s try and answer these questions, as I make my fearless predictions as to how the East Division will finish this season.

1st. Oshawa Generals

The Generals may still have a question in net, even after giving up 4 picks, including a pair of 2nd rounders, to land Dan Altshuller from Belleville. Many believe that the price paid for an unproven OHL goaltender was too high. I am not one of those people. Altshuller has proven to have big game experience at every level he has played, winning Gold Medals as the starter for Canada at both the Under-17 Championships, and again at last month’s Ivan Hlinka Championship. Daniel will likely usurp Kevin Bailie for the starter’s job, but if Altshuller falters, the Gens are likely to look for an Overage tender to fill in.

Up front, the Generals have one of the best offences in the Ontario Hockey League, a solid compliment that should be enough on many nights to hide defensive deficiencies. Led by 50 goal man Christian Thomas, and with a supporting cast including first round pick Nicklas Jensen, Lucas Lessio, Boone Jenner, and Import Sebastien Uvira, who has put up big numbers overseas.

The Defence corps has taken a hit this year, with the departures of Calvin De Haan and Tony Dehart, but Scott Valentine seems poised to step into a bigger role this season. Valentine, as well as Colin Suellentrop will anchor a veteran defence core including Daniel Maggio and Nick Quinn. They have been experimenting with LW Kyle Hope playing defence this pre-season, but may look to acquire another solid blueliner.

2nd. Ottawa 67’s

Unlike the Generals, the 67’s have no questions in net, as the team of Petr Mrazek and Shayne Campbell will be back between the pipes again this season. After leading the 67’s to the East Division crown, they should be in the thick of the race once again this year.

The big question facing Ottawa may very well be on Defence, as they will have a younger unit patrolling the line in 2012. The acquisition of Michal Cajkovsky from Kingston will help provide some leadership.

Up front, they are another team that should score plenty of goals this season. With their own returning 50 goal scorer Tyler Toffoli leading the way, along with Shane Prince and Ryan Martindale adding offence, the 67’s will be in the hunt for the East Division Crown all season long.

3rd. Belleville Bulls

The Bulls brought in John Chartrand from Barrie to split time with Malcolm Subban this season, and the two 93 born goaltenders will be counted on to make significant improvements from last season.

The Bulls strength may very well be on the blue line, where they have one of the most experienced defence corps in the division. Steven Silas, Branden Morris, Adam Bignell, and Simon Gronvaldt will be joined by highly regarded draft pick Jordan Subban.

Brett Mackie, Luke Judson, and Adam Payerl appear ready to lead the Bulls to improve on last season, and extra leadership was brought in over the summer when Belleville acquired Garrett Hooey from Sarnia and Danny Elser from London. The Bulls should make significant strides within the East Division, and may even compete for home ice advantage in the playoffs.

4th. Peterborough Petes

Andrew D’Agostini will have competition between the pipes this year, as the Petes have brought in Michael Morrison from the Kitchener Rangers. Morrison should likely replace D’Agostini as the starter in Peterborough, and is the type of goalie who can give the Petes a chance to win on any given night.

The Petes will bring a young defence corps into the season. Slater Koekkoek and Steven Trojanovic will be counted on to play a lot more this season, and help mold the rest of this young blueline. Kalle Ekelund will be missed on this year’s squad.

Austin Watson and Matt Puempel will continue to lead the way for Peterborough offensively, and Nick Ritchie should be able to jump in and contribute immediately. Beyond that, there is a question as to whether this team can get enough secondary scoring to be competitive. I expect them to qualify for the playoffs this season, but it won’t come easy.

5th. Kingston Frontenacs

The team is entering a rebuilding phase, as longtime GM Larry Mavety has moved on, and Doug Gilmour has moved from Head Coach into the General Manager’s Office. One of his first orders of business was to hire his replacement behind the bench, and for that, he turned to a former teammate, Todd Gill. Igor Bobkov, the Russian gold medal winning goaltender from last year’s World Junior Championship, has been brought in from London to anchor this Frontenacs team this season, but I don’t think it will be enough to keep Kingston from falling this year.

With Erik and Alex Gudbranson on defence, the Fronts will rely on them to eat big minutes this year. Other than the brothers, only Jeff Braithwaite has any experience on the Kingston blue line, and if the Florida Panthers decide to keep Erik, which at this time is a serious possibility, things could go from very bad to catastrophic in Kingston.

Ryan Spooner will be back to lead the Fronts offensively this season, but the loss of Nathan Moon will not be easy to overcome. Spooner will be hard-pressed to find help from elsewhere to make up for the lack of scoring, though Petr Beranek was brought in from the Colts to provide some scoring relief. For the Fronts to find any sort of success this season, they will need strong seasons from players such as Derek Froats, Nathan Cull, and Dylan Staples.

This is how I see the East Division playing out in 2011-12. I reserve the right to change my mind (and likely will, repeatedly) throughout the course of the season.

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