Brayden Schenn, drafted fifth overall by the Kings in 2009, will lead the WHL's Wheat Kings into battle this season. (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)
The beauty of junior hockey is every season starts with new prospects and the chance to achieve glory; last year’s nightmare opponent probably saw its best players head off to the NHL – or at least the American League – where they are nonetheless no longer a concern.
Of course, then you have teams such as the Windsor Spitfires. The Ontario League and Memorial Cup champs just happen to boast amazing underagers year after year, taking the ‘reloading’ maxim to a new level.
For the rest of the OHL, that unfortunately means more Taylor Hall and likely more Ryan Ellis, plus new imports Cam Fowler (U.S.) and Richard Panik (Slovakia).
A Spits repeat at the Memorial Cup is a very real possibility, but here are some other major junior teams I’m excited to watch this season.
Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
Great in 2007-08, bad in ’08-09, the Rangers will challenge for big things again this year. Coming to the rescue are key American imports John Moore and Jeremy ‘Jet’ Morin.
Moore, a smooth-skating puck-moving defenseman (drafted 21st overall by Columbus), will have a great up-ice target in former NTDP hot shot Morin (Atlanta, 45th overall), who loves to snipe and has a great touch around the net. On top of that, the Rangers return young center Jeffrey Skinner, fresh off a standout performance for Canada at the Ivan Hlinka tourney in Slovakia.
Skinner posted 51 points in 63 games as a rookie last year and with the confidence-builder of the Hlinka tournament, will easily be a point-per-game player this time around.
Mississauga St. Mike’s Majors (OHL)
The Majors have never really been a huge threat in the OHL, but that changes this season. J.P. Anderson looks like a savagely good goaltender and will only build on the success he had in the playoffs last season, when he led the league in goals-against average at 2.50.
Oh, and he’s only 17. A trade with Sarnia in the off-season brought power forward (and THN.com inside blogger) Gregg Sutch into the fold, providing the Majors with a crash-happy kid who also comes with the added bonus of Hlinka gold. A maturing youth movement featuring Swede William Wallen and Devante Smith-Pelly will also provide solid returns.
Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL)
My enthusiasm for the Wildcats comes with a little trepidation, since one key cog is far from locked up: Kirill Kabanov. Should the Russian wunderkind make the boat ride across the Atlantic, the Wildcats will be sick, sick, sick.
Kabanov is looking like Ilya Kovalchuk 2.0 right now, but he won’t be alone in Moncton excellence. Brandon Gormley was a phenomenal rookie in the ‘Q’ last season, but the agile defenseman will really take charge this year. He’s got the whole tool box and dominated at the Ivan Hlinka.
Along with Gormley, another key for Canada at the tourney was goaltender Louis Domingue, also a member of the Wildcats and a player who will see more starts this season – not that Nicola Riopel (Philadelphia, 142nd overall) was a slouch.
Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
It happens every year now, but from an excitement perspective, I don’t mind that Memorial Cup host teams load up on talent so they won’t get throttled on home ice. The Wheat Kings already have a great base to work with, so the inevitable trades are just gravy.
A top line of Brayden Schenn (L.A., fifth overall), Scott Glennie (Dallas, eighth overall) and Matt Calvert (Columbus, 127th in 2007) has already been dynamite in the past and there’s no reason to think that will end. Add some of the Dub’s best seniors in trades and the Wheat Kings will be ripe for a league title instead of just the automatic bid.
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 will appear regularly in the off-season, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.
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