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OHL season preview: Saginaw ready to ride high

With a veteran lineup laden with NHL picks, the Spirit have their sights set high. But the best of them all might be a draft-eligible gem. Meanwhile, Ottawa has some unfinished business at the top of the standings.

Welcome to my second of three CHL previews, this time focusing on the OHL. As per usual, there is a ton of talent spread across the Ontario League and a couple of top-end draft picks led by Quinton Byfield and Cole Perfetti. For these power rankings, I surveyed journalists who cover the league and the following does not take divisional alignment into consideration: it’s just whoever is best. I am also including a name or two for each team to watch out for, mainly NHL draft picks or kids who are on the radar for the 2020 draft. One more X-factor to consider: San Jose Sharks prospect defenseman Ryan Merkley, who will undoubtedly be traded by Peterborough once he is returned by the Sharks. The return and the destination could have big ramifications.

The top two teams here both got votes for first overall, so there was no consensus No. 1, as there was in the QMJHL. Let’s get to the rankings.

  1. Saginaw Spirit: Cole Perfetti (2020) is one of the most dynamic talents in the draft and he’ll have plenty of support up front in Saginaw. Bode Wilde (NYI) brings his own big game back to the blueline.
  2. Ottawa 67’s: They thought they could win it all last year and came close, so look for a revenge tour from the 67’s. Kevin Bahl (ARI) brings back a ton of size and reach on defense and second-year Austrian import Marco Rossi (2020) will be a key up front.
  3. London Knights: Liam Foudy (CBJ) starts the season hurt, but he’ll be an impact player again when he returns. Connor McMichael (WSH) will take on an even bigger role in the offense as the Knights machine keeps churning.
  4. Peterborough Petes: Silky Nick Robertson (TOR) had a very impressive summer and Hunter Jones (MIN) has NHL size in the crease. The Merkley return will help, but the Petes have a lot of talent either way.
  5. Kitchener Rangers: Riley Damiani (DAL) is a do-it-all star up front and Michael Vukojevic (NJ) locks things down on the back end. Newly-acquired Jacob Ingham (LA) is an X-factor in net.
  6. Oshawa Generals: An all-around solid crew with lots of experience, the Gens can expect a big year from power forward Serron Noel (FLA), while Swiss defenseman Nico Gross (NYR) can play in his fourth world juniors.
  7. Sudbury Wolves: Quinton Byfield (2020) is the man to watch down the middle, while the Wolves got a nice late addition this summer when Finnish import Kalle Loponen (TOR) came over to join the defense corps.
  8. Flint Firebirds: There is definite hope in Flint this year thanks to an experienced lineup led by two-way star Ty Dellandrea (DAL) and impressive defenseman Vladislav Kolyachonok (FLA).
  9. Barrie Colts: The Colts will be playing their hearts out for sidelined coach Dale Hawerchuk (Warren Rychel fills in) and key components include playmaker Ryan Suzuki (CAR) and gritty Matej Pekar (BUF).
  10. Mississauga Steelheads: Thomas Harley (DAL) will continue his ascent as an excellent two-way force from the defense and Cole Schwindt (FLA) has already proven valuable as a big forward who disrupts with his reach.
  11. Owen Sound Attack: Aidan Dudas (LA) returns with a ton of scoring punch in a smaller frame, while Igor Chibrikov (2020) is 6-foot-7 and physical on the back end.
  12. Hamilton Bulldogs: Arthur Kaliyev (LA) will keep growing as one of the top snipers in the league and he’ll get continued support from import Jan Jenik (ARI).
  13. Erie Otters: Still a very young squad, the Otters have a star defenseman in Jamie Drysdale (2020), while their top pick in 2019, Connor Lockhart (2021), brings a wicked shot up front.
  14. Niagara IceDogs: Speedy Phil Tomasino (NSH) will take on a bigger role in the offense, while Akil Thomas (LA) – who knows a thing or two about scoring, too – earned the captaincy over the summer.
  15. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds: A massive X-factor here is Barrett Hayton (ARI), who could very well stick in the NHL with the Coyotes. Otherwise, the future is bright thanks to defenseman Ryan O’Rourke and power forward Jaromir Pytlik (both 2020).
  16. Windsor Spitfires: Egor Afanasyev (NSH) comes to town with a ton of skill and charisma, while Jean-Luc Foudy (2020) is a top-end prospect like his older brother Liam.
  17. Sarnia Sting: Jamieson Rees (CAR) has proven to be a pain to play against and he’ll be joined by Swedish import defenseman Eric Hjorth (CBJ), who has a lot of raw potential.
  18. Guelph Storm: The reigning champs are very much heading into a rebuild, though Cam Hillis (MTL) will provide leadership as the new captain. Danny Zhilkin (2021) brings a ton of offensive smarts up front.
  19. North Bay Battalion: Mason Primeau (VGK) is a big kid with NHL pedigree and Niki Korpialho (2020) brings some nice skill to the forward corps via Finland.
  20. Kingston Frontenacs: The Fronts will struggle again, but at least exceptional status winner Shane Wright (2022) and the supremely talented Francesco Arcuri (2021) give hope for the future.

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