It’s abundantly clear who the beasts of the East are heading into the OHL playoffs.
The Kingston Frontenacs have been the class of the East Division much of the way and, after acquiring New York Islanders first-round draft pick Michael Dal Colle, wound up doubling their 11-point spread at the deadline by season’s end.
The Barrie Colts have Team Canada’s goaltender from the 2016 World Junior Championship (Mackenzie Blackwood), the league’s leading scorer (Kevin Labanc) and top point-getter among blueliners (Rasmus Andersson).
Upsetting either of these two teams in the opening round will be a monumental task. Could it happen? And who’s likely to survive the other two series?
(1) Kingston Frontenacs (46-17-5, 97 points) vs. (8) Oshawa Generals (27-33-8, 62 points)
Season series: Kingston 7-1. Prediction: Kingston in four.
Series in a sentence: The Frontenacs haven’t claimed a playoff series since knocking off Oshawa in seven games in 1998, but this long-awaited victory will be much easier.
Why the Frontenacs should win: Dal Colle had 55 points in 30 games after coming over from the Generals on New Year’s Day -- and he’s not even their most prolific scorer. That title belongs to Spencer Watson. Throw in two-time Canadian world junior Lawson Crouse, defencemen Roland McKeown and Stephen Desrocher – another former General – and former University of New Hampshire centre Warren Foegele and this team is loaded with veteran talent.
How the Generals can stretch out the series: Sneak out a win early, ideally in Game 1, and get the Fronts thinking about past failures. The odds aren’t in their favour.
Barrie Colts (43-22-3, 89 points) vs. (7) Mississauga Steelheads (33-30-5, 71 points)
Season series: Barrie 5-1. Prediction: Barrie in six.
Series in a sentence: The Colts are primed to win now, while the young-yet-promising Steelheads are designed to win later.
Why the Colts should win: Sure, front-line 2016 NHL draft prospect Mike McLeod was out of the lineup because of a knee injury the last time these two teams met on Feb. 27, but the 8-0 result wasn’t close. Barrie has had Mississauga’s number all season and it comes down to maturity and depth. The Colts had six players with more than 60 points, including Labanc and Calgary Flames prospect Andrew Mangiapane. Five of those six players are 19 or older. The Steelheads can only say the same about Alexander Nylander and McLeod. Both just turned 18.
Why the Steelheads could win: Nylander, McLeod and Nathan Bastian – another potential first-rounder in June – are the offensive pulse of the team. If they get hot, they could carry the Steelheads. Nylander, who missed the last weekend of the season with an apparent minor injury, will have to be more productive than he has been in 2016, though. Overage goaltender Jack Flinn can carry the mail, too. He played 3,571 minutes, the most in the league.
(3) North Bay Battalion (35-23-10, 80 points) vs. (6) Peterborough Petes (33-28-7, 73 points)
Season series: Tied 2-2. Prediction: North Bay in seven.
Series in a sentence: The Petes posted their best record in a decade, but terrible special teams – the OHL’s second-worst penalty kill and worst power play – could be their undoing in this pick ’em series.
Why the Battalion should win: They posted a plus-13 goal differential. The Petes’ was minus-19. Los Angeles Kings prospect Mike Amadio was one of four 50-goal scorers in the OHL, Cam Dineen was second among defencemen with 59 points and Kyle Wood provides a well-rounded game on the back end. Their high-end skill can carry them to victory.
Why the Petes could win: Veterans Hunter Garlent and Eric Cornel can match what the Battalion can offer in terms of offensive punch. They posted 87 and 83 points, good for 12th and 14th in league scoring. Tampa Bay pick Dominik Masin is a solid defenceman. Although goaltender Matthew Mancina posted a save percentage greater than .900 in just two of seven games in March, his .910 seasonal mark betters counterpart Jake Smith’s .901 clip.
(4) Niagara IceDogs (35-26-7, 77 points) vs. (5) Ottawa 67’s (36-29-3, 75 points)
Season series: Niagara 3-1. Prediction: 67’s in six.
Series in a sentence: The IceDogs have underachieved all season and could be surprised by the upstart 67’s.
Why the 67’s should win: Trading a World Junior-calibre player doesn’t usually translate to same-season success, but the 67’s have done just fine without Travis Konecny. They were seventh in the Eastern Conference when they dealt their former captain and overager Sam Studnicka to Sarnia before the trade deadline, then vaulted up to fifth and almost nabbed home-ice advantage for the first round. Dante Salituro leads the Ottawa attack and Leo Lazarev gives them a chance in net.
Why the IceDogs could win: There are few teams in the OHL that have a hoard of talent like the IceDogs. Half of their everyday roster consists of players either drafted or signed by NHL teams. The IceDogs should have challenged Barrie for top spot in the Central Division. To beat Ottawa, Josh Ho-Sang, Brendan Perlini, Josh Wesley, Alex Nedeljkovic et al. will have to be focused on the task at hand and not dreaming of moving on to the pros.