Despite losing key veterans and top producers over the offseason, the Mississauga Steelheads are poised to be a big fish in the Central Division pond.
The Mississauga Steelheads are looking like a force to be reckoned with entering the new season.
Having built through the OHL Priority Selection, the Trout have drafted and developed much of their own talent including New Jersey Devils prospects Michael McLeod and Nathan Bastian, top draft eligible targets Owen Tippett and Nic Hague as well as NHL draft selections Sean Day (NY Rangers) and Austin Osmanski (Buffalo).
Though they’ll have to replace OHL Rookie of the Year Alexander Nylander and lose a number of key veterans, the club made some notable off-season trades acquiring goaltender Matthew Mancina and defencemen Vili Saarijarvi showing the fish aim to be serious contenders in 2016-17.
“We’re excited about our group,” said Steelheads general manager James Boyd. “We’ve been planning for this season and there’s a level of excitement in the room and in the community. Our guys have grown together and we’re a tight-knit group.”
As things often go in this game, the unexpected can happen at any time.
Just weeks after acquiring Vili Saarijarvi from the Flint Firebirds in a move that would provide the Steelheads with another top-tier defenceman, it was announced that the Detroit Red Wings prospect would miss three months following corrective wrist surgery.
“These high level players are playing all year round now and he aggravated his wrist at the Finnish World Junior Camp in Plymouth at the start of August,” said Boyd. “What do you do? These things happen. He’s got a great perspective on things and has been in Mississauga meeting his billets and new teammates.”
Though Saarijarvi, who recorded 43 points (12-31–43) over 59 games with Flint last season will be sidelined early on, the Steelheads are pleased with their situation on the blue line.
“We’re fortunate to have tremendous depth on the back end,” Boyd noted. “We have a number of capable guys who have had great success in their careers. Overagers Stefan LeBlanc and Jared Walsh are in camp with us and both Sean Day and Nic Hague have shown that they can play big minutes and face tough assignments. Austin Osmanski was drafted by Buffalo over the summer and Stephen Gibson is a key part of our penalty killing team, so we feel that our defence is a real strength even with Vili out of the lineup.”
Add to that the addition of 20th overall CHL Import Draft selection Jacob Moverare, a Swedish defenceman who was a fourth round pick of the Los Angeles Kings this past summer.
“Jacob is an intriguing player,” said Boyd. “He’s a big kid who really moves the puck well. This will be his first foray onto NHL-sized ice for any extended period but we’re confident that once he gets his feet under him that he’ll be a very effective player for us.”
With the defence stabilized, the Steelheads will try and fill the void left by Buffalo Sabres prospect and 2016 OHL Rookie of the Year Alexander Nylander, who led the club in scoring with 28 goals, 47 assists and 75 points in 57 games.
“That’s a difficult hole to fill,” Boyd said candidly. “Anytime you’re talking about a premier player it’s not easy to bring the exact same dimension offensively. We’ll look to replace the scoring by committee. We’re definitely confident in the group of forwards that we have in place right now.”
That corps is led by Michael McLeod and Nathan Bastian, two New Jersey prospects who come off impressive sophomore seasons. The Steelheads will be counting on a cast of young forwards led by Owen Tippett and Ryan McLeod to step in and fill the vacuum left by outgoing veterans Josh Burnside, Daniel Muzito-Bagenda and Everett Clark.
While the offence may take some time, the Steelheads can rest easy with newly acquired overaged goaltender Matt Mancina standing as the last line of defence. The veteran has been known to steal a game now and then throughout his OHL career.
“We’ve seen a lot of Matt over the years and I’ve always liked him as a goaltender,” said Boyd. “The initial plan was to wait and see over the first few months of the season, but when we learned that he became available just prior to training camp, we felt that it was a great opportunity.”
“We’ve gone a long way to address our goaltending depth in a short period of time,” he continued. “With the addition of Joseph Murdaca last season and Jacob Ingham chosen with our second round pick in April, we feel like we’ve turned the crease from a position of little depth for us to one of real strength.”
Though expectations are high at the Hershey Centre, Boyd says his club, who will suit up for their first season under new head coach James Richmond, isn’t looking too far ahead of themselves.
“While we’re excited about our club, we recognize that we play in an extremely competitive league and our goal here is to give ourselves a chance to win every night. If we do that, we’ll be just fine.”
The Steelheads look to get off to a running start this season, with six of their first seven contests coming on home ice.
2015-16 Record: 33-30-2-3 (4th Central Division)
Head Coach: James Richmond (1st season)
Key additions: Matt Mancina, Vili Saarijarvi, Jacob Moverare, Jacob Ingham, Michael Little, Matthew Titus, Scoley Dow, Jeremey Goodwin, Shaw Boomhower
Notable graduates: Alexander Nylander, Jack Flinn, Josh Burnside, Mason Marchment, Daniel Muzito-Bagenda
Leading scorer: Michael McLeod* (57 GP, 21-40–61)
Leading scorer (defencemen): Stefan LeBlanc (64 GP, 7-23–30)
Leading scorer (rookie): Nicolas Hague* (66 GP, 14-10–24)
Leading goaltender: Matt Mancina (44 GP, 24-14-1-3, 2.97 GAA, .910 SV%, 1 SO)
Fast Fact: Overage winger Damian Bourne remains as the lone holdover from the Steelheads’ inaugural season under a new identity in 2012-13.
#OHLOpeningWeek schedule: Fri. Sept. 23 vs. HAM (7:00pm), Sun. Sept. 25 vs. SBY (2:00pm)
* – among returning players
ontariohockeyleague.com will feature one team each day in advance of the 2016-17 season which begins Wednesday September 21.
Read more OHL 20 in 20 previews:
East Division: Hamilton Bulldogs, Oshawa Generals
Central Division: Sudbury Wolves
Midwest Division: Guelph Storm
West Division: Saginaw Spirit