Highlights of the season's penultimate Dynamic Dozen include the the Western leaders in the OHL being 1-2 and the return of the surging tide that is the Shawinigan Cataractes.
The Erie Otters, Kitchener Rangers and London Knights have been jumping around of late in Buzzing The Net's weekly exercise to quantify the performance of all 60 major junior hockey teams. Yet the Otters have stabilized and slide into the 2-slot behind the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
The 'Hounds, Erie and Oshawa all grade out with 1.8 under Simple Ranking System, which indicates that the OHL is rather top-heavy.
1. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, OHL (.570 RPI, +1.8 SRS, —) — Do check out the rundown of all the absenteeism the 'Hounds handled throughout the last six weeks while still maintaining the pursuit of first overall. Power winger Nick Ritchie rejoined the fold last week, Jared McCann should return for the start of the playoff series against the Saginaw Spirit and captain and No. 1 defenceman Darnell Nurse was "very comfortable and not holding back" during his one-game trial return from a knee injury. Some credit is surely due to defenceman Connor Boland, an unsigned overager who was the other big part of the Ritchie deal with the Peterborough Petes.
Fun debate fodder: which stacked team's goalie inspires the most confidence: Brandon Halverson of the 'Hounds, Devin Williams in Erie or Ken Appleby in Oshawa? Halverson has had a fine past two months.
2. Erie Otters, OHL (.568 RPI, +1.8 SRS, +4) — The Otters' seven-win streak boosted them to second, but they are facing some storm clouds. For starters, another defenceman is indisposed with T.J. Fergus contracting chicken pox. Since Fergus is a 1997 birthdate from southern Ontario, there's concern about the virus passing to other players such as to fellow GTA'ers Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome. Then there is the question about how far Strome and McDavid should extend themselves to chase scoring leader Mitchell Marner of London, whose team has only one game left to the Otters' three.
3. Brandon Wheat Kings, WHL (.554 RPI, +1.5 SRS, +2) — The Wheaties' have a magic number of one win or Kelowna loss to clinch the Dub's regular-season title, in spite of all the injuries they have contended with in the second half. A positive omen for Brandon, which had Nolan Patrick and John Quenneville back in the lineup and might be close to returning D-man Kale Clague, is that it hasn't allowed a third-period goal in five games. That tends to play well in the postseason.
4. Rimouski Océanic, QMJHL (.552 RPI, +1.3 SRS, -2) —It is understandable that Océanic skipper Serge Beausoleil is exasperated that winger Michael Joly was suspended two games for a blindside check on Baie-Comeau star Jérémy Grégoire, who stayed in the game and even scored a goal. Player safety should be consistent and Rimouski's best defensive centre, Toronto Maple Leafs prospect, Frédérik Gauthier, missed more than two weeks after a borderline check.
Gauthier is back, but Rimouski is missing seven regulars (D-man Charles-David Beaudoin could play by the start of playoffs) as it goes into the final three games in a dead heat with Moncton for first overall. This will be the second year in a row that the Q does not have a 100-point team.
5. Oshawa Generals, OHL (.549 RPI, +1.8 SRS, -1) — It wouldn't be irony, but bitterly coincidental on Sunday if the Gens clinch The Hamilton Spectator Trophy, spoil of finishing first overall, in their finale against the Belleville Bulls.
Oshawa is one point back of the Soo with a game in hand. The Generals do have a suspension concern after Calgary Flames second-rounder Hunter Smith got a head-checking major/game misconduct during Sunday's win against Kingston.
6. Portland Winterhawks, WHL (.547 RPI, +1.2 SRS, +2) — There should be an investigation if Oliver Bjorkstrand, with his 57 goals and 108 points across 55 games, is not the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy winner as player of the year. The Columbus Blue Jackets choice has been indomitable since the world junior, averaging 2.5 points (36 goals and 68 points over 27 games).
Bjorkstrand would be the second player chosen from the import draft to win the award and no, Pavel Brendl was not the first.
Incidentally, it appears it will cost the city of Portland more to renovate the Veterans Memorial Coliseum than initially expected.
7. Kelowna Rockets, WHL (.541 RPI, +1.4 SRS, -4) — Wednesday's Kamloops-Prince George game might dictate the lineup the Rockets ice for a season-ending home-and-home with the Vancouver Giants. One more Blazers point ousts the Giants from the playoffs and consequently, would lead to a lot of lineup alterations for the weekend series. Needless to say, the Rockets will make the choice without any regard for their final ranking in the D-D.
8. Shawinigan Cataractes, QMJHL (.538 RPI, +1.0 SRS, +8) — Think scouts might be cheering for the Cataractes and Halifax Mooseheads to hold their positions at fifth and 12th overall? It would mean that NHL draft hopefuls Anthony Beauviller and Dennis Yan on the Cats and Timo Meier of the Moose, with 117 combined goals entering the final regular-season weekend, would all be in the same series.
Shawinigan is one win and/or Val-d'Or loss from wrapping up fifth spot. That would be a great feat for a team with 11 underage players that finished third from the bottom in 2013-14.
9. Calgary Hitmen, WHL (.535 RPI, +1.1 SRS, +1) — Calgary finally came home last week and maintained good position to nab the Central Division title. With a one-point lead on Medicine Hat and, not to mention, New York Rangers signing Adam Tambellini needing four for a 50-goal year, the Hitmen have incentive to play it to the bone (relatively) over their final three against Red Deer and potential first-round opponent Kootenay (home-and-home).
No team might appreciate the switch to the NHL-style playoff format than the Hitmen. Calgary, if it wins the Central, will face Sam Reinhart and Kootenay. It would be in line to face rival Edmonton and Tristan Jarry if the conference-based format was still in place.
10. Moncton Wildcats, QMJHL (.534 RPI, +0.6 SRS, +2) — Darren Rumble for coach of the year? The former big-league coach has a case with the way he's optimized the strength of the 'Cats, with undrafted Conor Garland about to win the scoring title and Ivan Barbashev being the best initiator in the league this side of Nikolaj Ehlers. Finishing second overall with a paucity of complementary scoring is no mean feat.
11. Québec Remparts, QMJHL (.533 RPI, +0.7 SRS, —) — Coach-GM Philippe Boucher is keeping people guessing about his playoff goaltending plans. Sophomore Callum Booth has put up a better slash line than Zach Fucale since the Montreal Canadiens prospect arrived in January. This weekend's season-closing series with RImouski gives each 'tender a chance to make his best argument. Fucale, whether it was in the playoffs with Halifax last spring or in the world junior, has played better when he hasn't had to go in every game. No doubt Boucher doesn't need that highlighted for him.
12. Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, QMJHL (.531 RPI, +1.0 SRS, -5) — B-B is headed toward the playoffs in a mild funk (5-3-2-0 past-10 record) and a potentially fraught first-round matchup against the Benoît Groulx-guided Gatineau Olympiques, the Q's hottest team over the last four weeks. Gatineau has pulled some stunners in the past and if this comes to pass, have an edge in experience both behind the bench (Groulx vs. Joël Bouchard) and in net (overage François Brassard vs. 18-year-old Samuel Montembeault). The Armada relying so heavily on Nikita Jevpalovs and Danick Martel (48 goals each entering the week) could also backfire in the playoffs, just saying.
The not as dynamic but still very distinguished dozen — 13. Guelph Storm, OHL (.531, —); 14. Val-d'Or Foreurs, QMJHL (.527, +4); 15. London Knights, OHL (.526, -6); 16. Everett Silvertips, WHL (.523, +5); 17. Kitchener Rangers, OHL (.516, +15); 18. Medicine Hat Tigers, WHL (.516, -1); 19. Ottawa 67's, OHL (.515, -5); 20. Niagara IceDogs, OHL (.515, -1); 21. Owen Sound Attack, OHL (.514, -1); 22. Barrie Colts, OHL (.513, -7); 23. Kootenay Ice, WHL (.510, +3); 24. Seattle Thunderbirds, WHL (.510, -2).
Hot team — Kitchener Rangers, up 15 (32 to 17).
Cold team — London Knights, down 6 (9 to 15).
Nowhere to go but up — Acadie-Bathurst (.423).
An explanation on rankings — Buzzing The Net uses Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) with a recency factor. RPI combines a team's record with the strength of its opponents to produce an overall rating. Our method also gives more weight to recently played games. Shootout wins and losses are classified as ties, for philosophical and practical reasons. Simple Ranking System (SRS), a ranking which combines goal differential and strength of schedule, is used as a complement. All three CHL leagues are considered equivalent in quality.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.