It was indeed a summer of change in Stormland, but when you finish second last and last in consecutive years, things have to change.
Junior hockey may indeed be cyclical by design, but that doesn’t guarantee that things will get better just because the calendar flipped over. The right people, on and off the ice, facilitate positive change no matter how high you draft. The wrong people can prolong it.
So let’s take a look at the changes the Storm made in the off season.
George Burnett: Obviously the biggest and most significant change, Burnett brings a new philosophy, culture and personality to the coaching and general manager position.
Better? Ask me in two years.
Some have described the atmosphere around the team in the past few years as a “country club” atmosphere. I’m not sure that’s fair. Different people have different approaches.
Whether the approach is right or wrong isn’t often the question, it’s often whether the approach is the right or wrong one for that particular situation and that particular team. Compatibility has definitely been an issue since 2014.
You cannot treat a young and developing team full of 16- and 17-year-olds the same way you approach a team full of 19- and 20-year-olds.
Burnett is tough, strict and demanding. Some players are not going to respond well to that. But the owners of this team obviously felt that the time was right for that approach.
Kyle Rhodes trade: This one surprised me somewhat. I thought Rhodes was probably the team’s most consistent player in the second half of last year and definitely the team’s most consistent defenceman.
He didn’t ask for a trade and wasn’t in any way, shape or form a disruptive influence in the dressing room.
I think this was just a case of Mark Shoemaker being available in the second deal and Burnett preferring that more familiar option.
Burghardt/Moncada trade: Burghardt was clearly one of the more frustrated players on last year’s team and should welcome the opportunity to move to a new situation and conference. With his skating ability, he can be a first line player in this league, although he’s going to have to embrace Stan Butler’s defensive mindset if he’s going to succeed in North Bay.
Moncada was a player that didn’t score much in his rookie season, but is big, strong, skates well and always seemed to be involved when on the ice. He was also a little snake bitten last year and could easily have had 10 goals. May never be a first liner, but will definitely be a player in the league.
Shoemaker is a solid, dependable, stay-at-home defenceman. He may not score much but will play an awful lot in tight situations and will be out there as much as possible against other team’s top line.
Zach Poirier is the kind of player every team wants and the kind of player the Storm needed. The intensity he brings to the ice is clearly visible and that has to be something that rubs off on the young players. The fact that you should have him as an overager next year is bonus bucks.
Cam Hillis: Make no mistake about it, this was the team’s most significant player move.
Hillis would definitely have been a first round pick in the 2016 draft had he committed then to the OHL. I’ve been told by someone that knows that one team had him rated as high as 10th overall.
While no slug, he doesn’t have blazing breakaway speed, but he is quick, skilled, poised and oh-so-smart with the puck. I expect a quick acceleration from Hillis this year. Likely to start on the third line, but almost certain to get power play time right off the bat.
Alexey Toropchenko: If early indications are anything, Toropchenko is going to be a huge addition to this team. Big, skates well, great shot. Potential 25-30 goal scorer this year. Who knows what next year.
Nic Sicoly: I always thought Sicoly would score more in the OHL. Obviously others did too. Instead he turned into a dependable defensive player, great penalty killer and one of the best interviews in the league. Unfortunately, the Storm didn’t have room for a 19-year-old role player this season. They are just too deep at forward.
I think he might land somewhere in major junior if he wants to keep playing there. If not he will be fun to watch at the university level.
2017 Draft: Tag Bertuzzi and Mason Primeau are both going to be very good OHL players, just don’t expect too much too soon. While their play will dictate how much ice time they will get, the depth of this team up front means they will not automatically get the amount of ice time some rookies have in the past couple of years.
They will both need an adjustment period. After Christmas, I think they will both be different looking players.