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OHL: Knights get scary good, adding Austin Watson up front

Austin WatsonPicture London Knights haters evoking Princess Leia: Help us, Mike Vellucci, you're our only hope.

Evidently, why settle for adding one 19-year-old forward when you can add to? One day ahead of the Ontario Hockey League trade deadline, league-leading London has, final conditions pending, reeled in a force up fron by trading with the Peterborough Petes for world junior forward Austin Watson. So the Knights will end up with no worse than two of the best three or four forwards available in the league, with the Nashville Predators first-round choice coming to a team that already added a premier finisher by adding Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Greg McKegg, a 49-goal scorer last season with the Erie Otters.

How big is this? Well, Austin Watson is trending on Twitter at this writing and it seems to have immobilized the OHL website. So it's a pretty big deal. While forecasts on Watson's NHL upside are mixed, at 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds he takes care of the Knights' biggest flaw up front (GM-coach Mark Hunter: "He's a bigger body who can score and we needed to get bigger up front"). He was producing for the Petes, with 14 goals and 33 points in 32 games.

The deal sees the Knights part with 17-year-old forward Chase Hatcher and two second-round choices in the priority selection draft, along with a third in 2018 on the off-chance a NHL lockout deposits Watson back in the league as an overage. (Peterborough also included a fourth-rounder.) So Hunter managed to leave his cohort of 16- and 17-year-old talent almost untouched.

London, meantime, is a league-best 30-8-0-1 because it's been a terror at even strength and goalie Michael Houser has been excellent this season. What they have not had in spades are crackerjack special teams. The power play is just eighth in a 20-team league and the penalty kill is ninth. A rule of thumb is a true contender for the MasterCard Memorial Cup should be top five in each. As a defensive forward by trade, the PK is part of Watson's forte. Meantime, top priority for McKegg is to juice up the power play.

Vellucci's Plymouth Whalers are a formidable team, though, so one should not concede the championship to the Knights four months in advance. Plymouth is a balanced veteran team that has scarcely lost a game since its full lineup returned from NHL camps. The gap in experience between it and London got a lot smaller with Watson due to head west.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports . Contact him at neatesager@yahoo.ca and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: OHL Images).

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