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Kia CHL Top-10 Spotlight: London Knights

CHL

 

Entering the season as the top rated team in the Kia CHL Top-10 Rankings, the London Knights lived up to the hype in putting together a 45-15-1-1 showing, good for 92 points and first place in the OHL’s Western Conference upon the conclusion of the 2019-20 regular season.

In all, it marks the second consecutive year in which the Knights finished atop the Midwest Division in addition to the 20th year running that the club has qualified for the postseason, doing so in each season since the duo of general manager Mark Hunter and head coach Dale Hunter took ownership of the club in 2000.

Headlined by Washington Capitals first-round pick Connor McMichael, the dynamic centre put together a phenomenal season that saw him register 47 goals and 55 assists through 52 appearances to finish third in the Eddie Powers Memorial Trophy race as the league’s top scorer while he was also one of just four players from the OHL and six from across the CHL to crack the 100-point plateau in 2019-20.

On 31 occasions this season, McMichael finished with two or more points, with his season-high six-point night versus the Erie Otters in early November marking one of six times in which he recorded a hat-trick. McMichael was also busy on the international stage, helping the home side win the 2019 CIBC Canada Russia Series before becoming a key cog for Canada’s National Junior Team helping the Great White North claim its 18th gold-medal at the 2020 IIHF World Juniors.

Up front, McMichael was surrounded by other critical up-and-comers including a fellow first-round draft choice in Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Liam Foudy, who in mid-February got to live out a dream in earning an emergency NHL call-up appearing in two contests, the second of which saw him pick up his first career NHL point in a 4-3 decision versus the Buffalo Sabres.

Meanwhile, the Knights also deploy a pair of top performers in 2020 NHL Draft eligibles in right-wing Luke Evangelista and left-wing Antonio Stranges, both of whom earned a spot in the 2020 Kubota CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game. Producing eight first-round selections since 2015 and one in each of the last five years – a current CHL record – the Knights hope to see that high-water mark extended in the coming months with Stranges ranked 39th among North American skaters per NHL Central Scouting and Evangelista clocking in at No. 58.

On the back end, the Knights’ acquisition of budding blue-liner and San Jose Sharks first-round pick Ryan Merkley also paid off in a big way this season. Added from the Peterborough Petes in an early season deal, Merkley proved to be a perfect fit in London as he set a career high in scoring well above a point-per-game pace with 15 goals and 61 assists through 60 appearances to finish second among all OHL defencemen and just six back of Ottawa 67’s rearguard Noel Hoefenmayer.

“It’s a clean slate when you come here,” Coach Hunter told Ryan Pyette of the London Free Press. “He’s good in the room. The guys love him. He’s a funny guy, too, and he’s been a big part of the team. He’s played well on the ice and been a good part of it off the ice.

“His passing is outstanding and he’s sniped a few, too, which keeps everyone honest. He’s got elite vision and that’s what makes him unique.”

Beginning the season, the biggest question mark in London came between the pipes. It took a while for that question to be answered with starters like Jordan Kooy and Dylan Myskiw eventually paving the way for a rookie revelation in Brett Brochu.

Suiting up in 42 games, the 17-year-old came away with a 32-6-0-0 showing that saw him surpass the franchise record for wins by a rookie goaltender while also posting a spectacular .919 save percentage that was only outpaced by Guelph’s Nico Daws. In recognition of his success, Brochu was presented with the F.W. “Dinty” Moore Trophy, awarded annually to the OHL rookie netminder who registers the lowest goals-against average as the Knights keeper impressed with a 2.40 mark.

“His competitiveness is outstanding,” Knights assistant coach Rick Steadman told Mike Stubbs of Global News. “He gives us a great chance to win every game because he just wants to go out there and beat the other goalie and make every save and he’s one of those goalies who just has a knack for making the big save when you need it.”

The Knights close out the season as the No. 6 club in the Kia CHL Top-10 Rankings and one of just eight squads from across the circuit to earn national recognition 12 or more times in 2019-20.

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