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Matt Puempel, Andreas Athanasiou lead OHL’s faces in new places

Ottawa Senators prospect Matt Puempel (OHL Images)

A change can do a player a world of good in junior hockey.

Going to a new team is often the only leverage a player has while trying to get ahead and break into the next level. It does seem kind of cold that teenagers can be uprooted in the middle of a season, but frankly, you seldom hear that from people whose children are actually active in the league. The opening of training camps in Ontario Hockey League means a crash course in remembering who's changed organizations during the lazy, hazy days of summer. Here is a quick look at the acquisitions that will probably elicit the most attention now that the regular season is only 23 days away.

Wing: Matt Puempel, Kitchener Rangers (Ottawa Senators, 21st overall, 2011) — Hip surgery in 2011 and a concussion last January have set back Puempel, who tantalized by winning CHL rookie of the year honours back in 2010. Ultimately, it's up to him to overcome those obstacles. The ex-Peterborough Pete will have every chance to do so with the Rangers, where coach-GM Steve Spott is planning to line Puempel up with Dallas Stars first-rounder Radek Faksa and Tobias Rieder, who tallied a combined 111 regular- and post-season points,

Puempel will likely be the first former CHL rookie of the year to play junior as a 19-year-old since Benoit Pouliot, breaking a skein that includes Brett Connolly, Taylor Hall, John Tavares and Patrick Kane. It's just a coincidence.

Wing: Andreas Athanasiou, Barrie Colts (Detroit Red Wings, 110th overall) — What can the skilled speedster do over in the Eastern Conference after falling out of favour with the London Knights?

Athanasiou could not abide London's emphasis on checking and close coverage and shuffled between the lineup and the press box as last season wore on, even when he was being touted as a high NHL pick. Now he's with a team which probably has heightened expectations after an 85-point season but which needs scoring after having Tanner Pearson drafted by the Los Angeles Kings and having captain Colin Behenna graduate.

From John Matisz:

Seeing more ice may be exactly what the slick skater needs in order to have a breakout campaign, and potentially become an OHL star.It could awaken the giant, so to speak.

"If he dials in, works with Hawerchuk, realizes he has a little work to do and does it, he could be in the top 30 in league scoring," Sean Lafortune, director of scouting for TheScout.ca, said.

"He's got the talent." (Metro London)

Centre: Brett Findlay, Peterborough Petes (unsigned overage) — The late bloomer hit the 20-goal mark in each of his seasons with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds before going from one team with a proud history which is coming of a disappointing ninth-place finish to another team with a proud history which is coming off a ninth-place finish. The 'Hounds earmarked the No. 2 centre slot for a younger player, perhaps top choice Jared McCann. (Obviously, no one could have foreseen that No. 1 centre Nick Cousins would end up in legal trouble.)

The Petes, after getting a 41-goal year from now graduated New York Rangers prospect Andrew Yogan, will need some veteran scoring. Findlay is the most likely source.

Defence: Gianluca Curcuruto, Plymouth Whalers (Columbus Blue Jackets, 182nd overall) — Curcuruto, the second former Greyhounds first-rounder in as many years to change uniforms, probably went from one the league's struggling franchises to one of its flagship operations with the move to Michigan. The Whalers are a contender and coach-GM Mike Vellucci seems to build his teams so they aren't overly reliant on one or two defenceman. That can be a boon to some players — think former captain Beau Schmitz, who signed with the Carolina Hurricanes — since it might help them show what they can do instead of betraying what they can't do.

Curcuruto's draft stock dimmed last season amid a long year in Sault Ste. Marie. He was sufficiently well-regarded enough that he played for Canada in the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka under-18 tournament and also skated in the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game.

Defence: Alex Gudbranson, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (undrafted 18-year-old) — Question: who played the most games for the Kingston Frontenacs last season without finishing as a minus player? Gudbranson managed to finish even across 50 games for a rebuilding team which was outscored by more than 100 goals. He went undrafted after a difficult year with a team which likely wasn't scouted heavily, but like his older brother Erik Gudbranson of the Florida Panthers, possesses good size and a mean streak.

The move from Kingston to the Soo also means an end to unrealistic comparisons with his sibling. Alex Gudbranson's odds of making it are daunting, but he does have size at 6-foot-2 and 206 pounds. Observers of the so-called birthday bias probably also noticed he doesn't even turn 18 until Monday.

Goal: Kevin Bailie, London Knights (unsigned overage) — The Knights are trying to downplay the 'who will replace Michael Houser' angle, but it will probably crop up inevitably after the first two-game slide. Bailie has ties to London, which probably cannot be had for finding a comfort zone and he also played well last season when a maddeningly inconsistent Oshawa Generals team was trying to eke out a playoff berth, putting up a 2.88 average and .917 save percentage across the final three months of the regular season.

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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