Last year, just about this time, I took a look at some of the major junior teams I was excited to see in the upcoming season. With a flurry of news drastically altering the rosters of some big-name franchises this summer, why not go back to that well for the 2010-11 campaign?
The Mississauga-St. Mike’s Majors host the Memorial Cup, so we know they’ll be good, while the two-time defending-champion Windsor Spitfires will largely have to wait for the outcome of NHL training camps to see what kind of shape they’re in. Here are some other intriguing squads.
London Knights (OHL)
This has been a good summer for Dale Hunter and clan. The Knights owner-coach went from an unremarkable lineup to a dangerous one in very little time. I’m assuming Nazem Kadri will be up the highway playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but the Knights managed to wrest Montreal first-rounder Jarred Tinordi away from Notre Dame and now have a towering 6-foot-6 blueliner at their disposal.
Another player to watch on the back end is Scott Harrington, a former Prep Watch subject whom my sources tell me played an incredible amount of important minutes last season, even though he was just 16. Jared Knight will help pace the offense up front and will be joined by Russian import Vladislav Namestnikov, who is very highly rated for this year’s draft. In net, the Knights scored Anaheim goaltending prospect Igor Bobkov, a big dude who played very well for an underwhelming Russian world junior squad last winter.
Montreal Juniors (QMJHL)
Not only will Montreal be very good in the ‘Q’ this season, but the Juniors will also be a team to watch based on the increasing media spotlight that will inevitably follow them. That’s because the young franchise’s marquee addition this summer was Montreal Canadiens prospect Louis Leblanc, an uber-talented center who in 2009 became the Habs’ first French-Canadian first-rounder since Eric Chouinard more than a decade prior. After playing a season at Harvard and having his junior rights traded, Leblanc will now be playing in full view of Habs nation – and those bright lights burn in two languages don’t forget – and it will be interesting to see the result. Joining him will be recently acquired defenseman Charles-Olivier Roussel (Nashville ’09) and goaltender J-F Berube (Los Angeles ’09), who has a shot at tending net for Canada at the world juniors this year.
Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
When your team boasts the fourth and fifth pick overall in the NHL draft, it’s obvious there’s talent there. The Winterhawks will get Ryan Johansen back, while Nino Niederreiter is a question mark since the New York Islanders love to bring their high draft picks along quickly. Either way, the Hawks had eight players taken at the draft this summer and most, if not all of those players, will return. On top of that, right winger Ty Rattie is poised to become a first-rounder this year thanks to his dangerous offensive game, while a full season of former North American League goaltender Mac Carruth will bolster the netminding. Also look out for rookie defenseman Derrick Pouliot, the No. 1 pick in the 2009 WHL bantam draft.
Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
I know the Rangers were on my list last year, but they keep getting more intriguing, so what can I do? This year’s Kitchener squad will be one to watch because defenseman Ryan Murphy and right winger Gabriel Landeskog are both potential first-rounders, while goaltender Mike Morrison is also draft eligible. Reinforcing the core is rookie center Matia Marcantuoni (another Prep Watch alum along with Murphy) and two Atlanta blueline prospects – Cody Sol, acquired in a trade with Saginaw, and Julian Melchiori, swiped from UMass-Lowell.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column – The Straight Edge – every Friday.
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