The Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds hold player development in high priority, something that’s led to their recent success in the Western Conference.
The Hounds, who have identified and developed such standouts as Colin Miller, Nick Cousins, Ryan Sproul, Darnell Nurse and Jared McCann in recent years, feature emerging young talent that they’ve placed on the same development path as their predecessors in red and white.
Second year centremen Liam Hawel and Morgan Frost, who took on a considerably larger role than perhaps was expected following Jared McCann’s early departure to the NHL last season, are looking to build off solid rookie showings.
With a Hounds roster loaded with talent on the wing, the two sophomores will undoubtedly get a shot at playing alongside NHL picks in Zach Senyshyn (Boston), Blake Speers (New Jersey), Boris Katchouk (Tampa Bay), Jack Kopacka (Anaheim) or Tim Gettinger (NY Rangers).
“Both of those guys saw a lot of ice as 16-year-olds, and once we reached the late stages of the season and got into the playoffs, there were some nights where they didn’t take a faceoff against an opponent who was under 18-years-old,” said Hounds GM Kyle Raftis. “We exposed them to some steady minutes and they were up to the task. They’re better players for it.”
Hawel, who was a first round pick by the Hounds in 2015 from the Ottawa Valley Titans Minor Midgets, recorded four goals, 11 assists and 15 points over 65 games.
The 6-foot-5, 179Ib. draft eligible 17-year-old continues to grow into his big frame.
“I feel faster and stronger,” he told the Sault Star’s Peter Ruicci this past week. “I did a lot of work over the summer and it seems to have made a difference.”
Smaller, but known for his offensive smarts and vision, Frost, who is the son of former Toronto Maple Leafs public address announcer Andy Frost, is ready for his second season in the OHL.
The Aurora, ON, native collected seven goals, 20 assists and 27 points over 65 games last season.
“I feel stronger and I’m definitely more comfortable and confident,” he told the Sault Star. “When you feel stronger, you’re stronger on the puck and more confident making plays and getting around guys.”
Drafting and development is the name of the game in Sault Ste. Marie, something Raftis and his staff keep a close eye on throughout the season at home and abroad.
“It’s very important to stick to our process,” said Raftis, who was an OHL Champion during his playing days with the Peterborough Petes in 2006. “We set up a development model for each individual and then you hope by that American Thanksgiving timeline in late November that you’re really starting to take steps in the right direction.”
The Hounds will be counting on both Hawel, Frost, and other young talent in sophomore defencemen Anthony DeMeo, Mac Hollowell, Connor Timmins and Theo Calvas to help carry the load and support the club’s veterans atop the depth chart this season.
“I think we’ve proven that young players can step in and really add something to your team quickly,” said Raftis. “I think it’s something we’ve looked at in this year’s team and we’re excited to see how we grow.”
ontariohockeyleague.com will feature one team each day in advance of the 2016-17 season which begins Wednesday September 21.
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