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OHL Season Preview: London Knights look to reign again

In our first of three major junior previews, we look at the Ontario League, where NHL graduations will add some mystery to the opening weeks, but the cream will still rise to the top

The 2018-19 CHL season is upon us, so once again it is time for previews. As always, I have surveyed a number of journalists who cover each of the three leagues in order to get a sense of who the contenders and pretenders will be this season. Consider the following to be power rankings: divisional formats or seedings are not factored in, so if one division happened to have the best two franchises in the league, they would be ranked first and second.

I have also included a couple of NHL prospects to keep an eye on for each team. Given that NHL training camps have just begun, there will be some wild cards, but I’ve done my best to list kids most likely to return.

The first league up is the OHL, which officially kicks off Wednesday. There are certainly some stars whose NHL aspirations will affect the standings, but look for a familiar name at the top either way:

1. London Knights: Speedster Liam Foudy (CBJ) will continue his ascent while offensive defenseman Adam Boqvist (CHI) comes over from Sweden. Evan Bouchard (EDM) will be back unless the Oilers need him.

2. Oshawa Generals: Lots of talent here, even if Jack Studnicka (BOS) sticks with the Bruins. Serron Noel (FLA) has monster size, while Allan McShane (MTL) can break down a defense with his smarts.

3. Niagara IceDogs: Akil Thomas (LA) and Kirill Maksimov (EDM) were a thrilling offensive pair last season and will be even tougher to stop now. Ivan Lodnia (MIN) brings versatility from Erie.

4. Owen Sound Attack: Nick Suzuki (MTL) is a potential league scoring champ, while diminutive Aidan Dudas (LA) can rack up the goals, too.

5. Guelph Storm: This will be a sizzling year for mobile D-man Ryan Merkley (SJ) if he keeps his emotions in check, while Isaac Ratcliffe (PHI) will be a tower of power up front again.

6. Saginaw Spirit: There are high expectations for the Spirit, with big D-man Bode Wilde (NYI) and goalie Ivan Prosvetov (ARI) joining center Blade Jenkins (NYI) and a nice complementary cast.

7. Ottawa 67s: Towering Kevin Bahl (ARI) anchors a pretty solid blueline, while Kody Clark (WSH) has a chance to build his game up front with a nice cast of forwards.

8. Barrie Colts: Matej Pekar (BUF) joins a transitioning crew that includes athletic D-man Joey Keane (NYR) and potential top-10 draft pick Ryan Suzuki at center.

9. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds: Morgan Frost (PHI) will challenge Nick Suzuki for the league scoring crown, while Barrett Hayton (ARI) will step up for those who moved on to the pros. Matthew Villalta (LA) comes back to rule the crease.

10. Windsor Spitfires: Michael DiPietro (VAN) can set a franchise record for career wins in short order, while gigantic center Curtis Douglas (DAL) will be fun to watch as his games matures.

11. Hamilton Bulldogs: The reigning champs will take a step back, especially if Robert Thomas sticks in St. Louis, but Matthew Strome (PHI) and MacKenzie Entwistle (CHI) will help the effort with their size and skill.

12. Kitchener Rangers: Big, athletic Michael Vukojevic (2019) is one to watch on the blueline, while pesky Riley Damiani (DAL) plays a tenacious two-way game up front.

13. Flint Firebirds: Ty Dellandrea (DAL) will be front and center again thanks to his smarts and skills, while mammoth Fedor Gordeev (TOR) returns to the blueline.

14. Sudbury Wolves: Getting Ukka-Pekka Luukkonen (BUF) in net was a huge coup for the Wolves, but the real headliner is No. 1 overall pick Quinton Byfield (2020).

15. Peterborough Petes: The Petes are pretty thick with NHL draft picks this year. Among the crew is Zach Gallant (DET), bringing a defensive game to the forward corps and British import Liam Kirk (ARI) making his North American debut.

16. Mississauga Steelheads: Jacob Ingham (LA) needs to bounce back in net after a really tough draft year, while Ryan McLeod (EDM) will drive the offense. But what happens if Owen Tippett (FLA) doesn’t stick with the Panthers?

17. Sarnia Sting: In the post-Jordan Kyrou era, forwards Adam Ruzicka (CGY) and Ryan McGregor (TOR) will be all the more important to the Sting attack.

18. North Bay Battalion: The Battalion will be in tough again, but big Brandon Coe (2020) and mobile D-man Pacey Schlueting (2020) have bright futures. Look for undrafted Justin Brazeau to pile up points.

19. Kingston Frontenacs: Look for Jason Robertson (DAL) to run wild in the points department while big Jacob Paquette (NSH) roams the blueline.

20. Erie Otters: Those title runs came at a price and now it’s rebuild time. Defenseman Jamie Drysdale (2020) is one chip, while Czech import Petr Cajka (2019) will help down the middle.

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