Capitals first-rounder Tom Wilson and Plymouth are 31-7 since Jan. 10 (OHL Images)
The London Knights' track record for taking apart a loaded team is quite impressive.
Ahead of Friday's start of the OHL Western Conference final against the vaunted Plymouth Whalers, one cannot help but hearken back to the prognosticating prior to a series about 12 months ago against another team with more NHL draft picks than one could count on two hands. The Niagara IceDogs team that London coolly dispatched in a five-game OHL final went on to send eight players to pro hockey, including Boston Bruins rookie defenceman Dougie Hamilton and not including star forwards Ryan Strome and Brett Ritchie, who were bound by the rules to return to major junior.
What's different about Plymouth? For starters, the Whalers got a good push in the last round in a six-game set with the Owen Sound Attack, plus they buttress their skill with a certain flinty toughness.
"We compete, we do the little things, we take pride in being physical," says Whalers centre Mitchell Heard, who began this season in the AHL. "I think that was one of the big keys for us. London is pretty skilled up front and we're going to have to compete... Their D [defencemen] like to jump into the play so we're going to have to guys backchecking."
Plymouth scored a league-high 291 goals in the regular season, followed by London with 272, although each team prides itself on balance. It is a series of stars; Plymouth's Vince Trocheck won the scoring title and will likely be targeted by a shutdown line, but the Whalers have three NHL first-rounders in behemoth wing Tom Wilson and two-way centres Stefan Noesen and Rickard Rakell. The Knights' trio of two-way centre Bo Horvat, playmaker Max Domi and mobile 6-foot-5 defender Nikita Zadorov could all match teammate Olli Määttä's status as a NHL first-rounder.
"They don't have one particular line that will do all the damage like some teams," London captain Scott Harrington, a Pittsburgh Penguins defence prospect, says of the Whalers. "They have four strong lines that can play well in the offensive end. It will be important for all six of our D to be sharp and our goaltending as well, for our forwards to be coming back. That's something we've worked on all year and something we've worked on since my first year in London [in 2009-10].
"They've definitely got some players who have made quite the name for themselves in the OHL and are high draft picks in the NHL," Harrington adds. "It's going to be a challenge. It's going to take more of a team than a couple of guys trying to shut them down."
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