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Niagara IceDogs in lockout-inflicted limbo: OHL Burning Questions

Niagara IceDogs Ryan Strome, Brett Ritchie and Dougie Hamilton (OHL Images)

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

Niagara IceDogs

In 2011-12 — 47-18-0-3, 97 points; first, Eastern Conference. Lost 4-1 to London Knights in championship series.

Final Dynamic Dozen ranking — second OHL, fifth CHL.

Drafted — C Ryan Strome (New York Islanders, first round), D Dougie Hamilton (Boston Bruins, first), RW Brett Ritchie (Dallas Stars, second), D Jesse Graham (Islanders, fifth), LW Mitchell Theoret (Islanders, seventh).

Draft watch — Left wing Anthony DiFruscia was one of the IceDogs' most impressive 17-year-olds in preseason.

1. What to do with Hamilton and Strome?

IceDogs coach-GM Marty Williamson has a dilemma, since both top-10 NHL picks and pending Team Canada returnees will be a dot in St. Catharines within five minutes of a resolution to the NHL lockout. But no one knows when it will end, meaning the scenario is different than it usually is when a team has a 19-year-old star but is more intent on building than contending. Suppose the lockout lasts until December, when Hamilton and Strome will jet off to join Team Canada. How can Willimson shop each other's remaining service when the NHL could resume by the time both return from Russia?

Some cheap advice is to hang on to the pair and enjoy the time they have left in the Garden City.

2. Will they still be competitive?

It's within the realm of possibility, especially being in the Eastern Conference. Mississauga suffered equally heavy losses after reaching the 2011 league final and still scraped together a playoff berth last season. Beyond the big two, the IceDogs have returned rugged 19-year-old wings Ritchie and Theoret plus overage Steven Shipley. That trio, along with the 20-year-old defenders Brock Beukeboom and Shayne Rover, at least can stabilize things through the first few weeks. That could buy time for Williamson to decide whether it's time to be a seller and give more rope to younger players after the Jan. 10 trade deadline. DiFruscia, C Carter Verhaeghe and 16-year-old defender Aaron Haydon (a rare high-profile American priority-selection pick playing for an Eastern Conference team) could all be playing a lot more after the Christmas bills come in the mail. Or in the IceDogs' case, the bill for going for the brass ring last season.

3. What other newbies can lend to the selling-hope sizzle for a team which will soon have a new arena to fill?

How about some spot starts from 16-year-old goalie Brent Moran? The IceDogs were circumspect in preseason about whether their goalie of the future would be around this season.. However, he is starting the season in Niagara, waiting in the wings behind 19-year-old Chris Festarini. Only three 16-year-old goalies played more than 10 games in the OHL last season, so the fact Moran has stuck around hints that he could be special. The IceDogs' former OHL goalie of the year, Phoenix Coyotes farmhand Mark Visentin, played in 23 games as a rookie back in 2008-09.

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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