With the OHL season beginning next week, BTN is doing a survey of each team in reverse order of last season's standings.
Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
In 2011-12 — 29-33-2-4, 64 pts; ninth in Western Conference.
Final Dynamic Dozen ranking — 11th OHL, 31st CHL.
Drafted — G Matt Murray (Pittsburgh, third round). D Colin Miller (Los Angeles, fifth round).
Draft watch* — D Darnell Nurse leads the field, keep an eye on imported F Sergey Tolchinsky and newly acquired F Mitch Dempsey, a former 11th overall selection in the OHL Priority Draft.
1. How will all the new faces find roles in the lineup, and what do all these numbers mean?
Soo general manager Kyle Dubas had a particularly busy offseason, acquiring 18-year-old defenceman Alex Gudbranson prior to the closing of the summer trade window, Dempsey and Dylan Mascarin on the day it re-opened, and then 17-year-old forward Jacob Smith during training camp. The Greyhounds have a role in mind for each of these new players. As Dubas said to the press after the acquisition of Gudbranson:
"When we made the trade, one of the things were trying to be progressive on is using a lot of advanced statistics in our analysis. If you look at the quality of competition he faced, over 75 per cent of the shifts he played were against the opponent's top two lines. Over 60 per cent of his shifts started in the defensive zone, so we also measured his team's possession relative to when he wasn't on the ice and that obviously translates out simply to his plus/minus numbers. So it shows that when he's on the ice, even though it's against the other teams' top lines, his team still tends to have the puck more."
Gudbranson was passed over in the NHL draft, likely because his offensive game is lacking. However, on a Kingston team that was outscored by more than 100 goals last season, he had an 'even' plus/minus number. That's all despite, as Dubas notes, playing a large amount of his shifts against tough competition and starting primarily in the defensive end of the ice.
We all like to note match-ups when watching games, but that sort of thing is rarely recorded with a stop-watch. Evidently, the Greyhounds think they've found their man, and he ought to complement Darnell Nurse's two-way game. Re-structuring the offence, however, is just as important.
2. So just how good is Sergey Tolchinsky?
The Greyhounds drafted Moscow's diminutive dangler with their first pick in the import draft despite concerns that he would prefer to play at home in Russia. After a summer of hardball, Tolchinsky decided to join the Soo for his showcase season.
If only we had the "Jeff Skinner rankings" for the KHL's minor league teams. Tolchinsky scored 19 goals last season as a 16-year old, compared to Nail Yakupov scoring 4 in his 15-year old season with, and I'm not making this up, the Nizhnekamsk Reactor Petrochemists. Tolchinsky had the strong season with his hometown Red Army, and OHL fans should be excited to see what he does on a smaller ice surface, stickhandling in close quarters.
3. Is Matt Murray the key to get the Hounds back in the playoffs?
Last season after a strong start, the Hounds gambled their high stack pre-flop on Jack Campbell. Campbell would go on to post the worst save percentage among regular starting goalies in the OHL, .896, and the Soo would allow 272 goals, fourth-worst in the league.
Matt Murray, selected by Pittsburgh at the NHL Draft in June, is one of the many goalies in consideration for Canada's World Junior team, but he was also charged with the difficult task of covering for the Hounds' porous defence last season, with a gaudy .876 save percentage. He arrives to camp determined to hold the starter's spot and is in the proverbial "best shape of his life".
(* First-time eligible players)
Cam Charron writes for Buzzing the Net. He tweets, too @camcharron