A new OHL season means new faces, new favourites, new expectations and new disappointments.
It also means new predictions.
Western Conference champion: London Knights.
I think it will be a dog fight between the Guelph Storm and the London Knights, with the Owen Sound Attack a barking-at-your-heels third.
London and Guelph will both be adding players, with both teams having a pretty deep war chest of draft picks and some highly-regarded young talent to barter with.
Eastern Conference champion: Niagara IceDogs
Another team that is all-in this year that boasts a very balanced attack and arguably the league's second best goaltender. The defence will get help. With Ottawa and Oshawa also looking good, we’ll go with Niagara based on goaltender Stephen Dhillon.
OHL champion: Niagara IceDogs
Top scorer: Nick Suzuki, Owen Sound.
Morgan Frost in the Soo finished second last year but doesn’t have quite the supporting cast Suzuki does. Akil Thomas and/or Ben Jones (Niagara), Jason Robertson (Kingston), Matt Strome (Hamilton) will also be in the hunt.
Top defenceman: Evan Bouchard, London Knights
That’s if Bouchard comes back to London from the Edmonton Oilers. He should, but you never know.
Guelph’s Ryan Merkley could hit 100 points this year and Michael Vukojevic could be a first round NHL pick next summer. Then there’s Bouchard’s teammate in London, Adam Boqvist, already an NHL first rounder.
Coach of the Year: Billy Burke, Niagara IceDogs.
With honourable mention to Saginaw’s Troy Smith and Guelph’s George Burnett.
Top Goaltender: Mikey DiPietro, Windsor Spitfires.
No one else is close.
Rookie of the Year (16 year olds): Quinton Byfield, Sudbury Wolves
Byfield is a moose who lit it up in the pre-season playing alongside David Levin. Cole Perfetti in Saginaw and Will Cuylie in Windsor should step right in and flourish.
Top Overager: Justin Brazeau, North Bay Centennials
Brandon Saigeon in Hamilton, Cole Carter in Mississauga, Kevin Hancock in Owen Sound and Stephen Dhillon in Niagara are all right there.
Trade bait: There should be a lot of quality players made available by rebuilding teams at some point before the January deadline.
Morgan Frost (Soo), Mikey DiPietro (Windsor), Kyle Maksimovich (Erie), Brandon Saigeon, Matt Strome and Mac Entwistle (Hamilton), Ryan McLeod (Mississauga) and Justin Brazeau (North Bay) to name a few.
Team on the rise: The Saginaw Spirit are still a year away from being a contender for the league crown, but they are a very, very good hockey club with depth at every position.
Team on the decline: It’s time to pay the piper for the Sarnia Sting and Kingston Frontenacs after taking a run at it last year.