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Erie Otters on road to respectability: OHL Burning Questions

Erie Otters' Stephen Harper, Connor McDavid and Oscar Dansk (OHL Images, Getty Images)

With the OHL season beginning next week, BTN is providing an early look at each team in reverse order of last season's standings.

Erie Otters

In 2011-12 — 10-52-3-3, 26 points; 10th in Western Conference.

Final Dynamic Dozen ranking — 20th OHL, 59th CHL.

Drafted — G Oscar Dansk (Columbus Blue Jackets, second round), D Adam Pelech (New York Islanders, third), RW Connor Brown (Toronto Maple Leafs, sixth).

Draft watch* — 17-year-old LW Stephen Harper led all 16-year-olds in the OHL with 24 goals last season. Harper is skating on a line with the next one, C Connor McDavid, the early favourite to go No. 1 overall in 2015.

1. With nowhere to go but up, how much can coach Robbie Ftorek tighten up the defence?

The Otters allowed 335 goals last season, exactly 50 more than the next more porous outfit in the 20-team OHL. They could cut their goals-against average by a full tally per game and would still be just shy of the 4.00 mark.

Dansk, once he's healthy, should be an upgrade over departed starter Ramis Sadikov. Erie's team GAA was what it was last season as the rebuilding-year mass exodus of veteran players began and it was exacerbated by an injury to Pelech. The Isles pick is a year older and wiser and should have got a boost from playing in the Canada-Russia challenge last month. It remains to be seen how the lack of opportunity to attend a NHL training camp will affect the usual growth a player enjoys from his age-17 to age-18 season, but Pelech at least gives the Otters an anchor on the back end. Their group is much more experienced, at the very least.

2. May we please ballpark a respectable rookie season point total for Mr. McDavid?

How does 60 points sound for a start? The last 15-year-old forward to receive exceptional status, John Tavares, counted 45 goals and 77 points in 65 games in 2005-06. That came in a slightly higher-scoring league (6.94 goals per game) than last season's OHL (6.80 per contest). Throw in the fact that McDavid is a playmaker who counts on teammates finishing off his feeds whereas Tavares was a scorer; throw in the likelihood of close checking in the Western Conference and 60 seeems achievable. That's right up there with what Tyler Seguin, the Boston Bruins' new $34.5-million-dollar man, put up four seasons ago when he counted 67 for the Plymouth Whalers.

McDavid has steered clear of giving a magic number. Scoring at a near point per game rate would be phenomenal.

3. Making the playoffs would involve a 40-point improvement: is that possible in the Western Conference?

The Barrie Colts did so last season in the other conference, improving by 51 points to go from worst to third. Those Colts were pulled along by some quality older forwards, which the Otters lack in spades. Centre Dane Fox (entering his age-19 year), the 18-year-old Brown and 17-year-old Harper are all returning 20-goal scorers, but none had more 25. They will also be very young; while rosters are a moving target in September, this season more than ever due to NHL lockout-induced uncertainty, they might end up with fewer than a half-dozen 19-year-olds and overages.

The upshot is that the McDavid and Harper combo could help sell hope. Doubling their win total to 20 would be a good leap forward for Erie.

(* First-time eligible players)

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at neatesager@yahoo.ca and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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