West Division champions in four of the past six seasons, the Soo Greyhounds were dethroned from the top of the mountain on the final weekend of the 2018-19 season and were eliminated from the second round of the playoffs by the same Saginaw Spirit club.
Entering a new campaign, Greyhounds GM Kyle Raftis and second-year head coach John Dean are looking for established veterans to step up and slot into some of the roles being vacated by graduating standouts Morgan Frost, Keeghan Howdeshell, Mac Hollowell, Jordan Sambrook and goaltender Matthew Villalta.
Fortunately for them, there’s a lineup of players hoping to do just that.
“I definitely want to step into that role, be a leader on the team and definitely be a go-to guy on the ice,” 19-year-old defender Holden Wale recently told the Sault Star’s Peter Ruicci, adding that he hopes to be a top-four defender for the club.
Despite their remote northern geographical location on the OHL map, the Greyhounds seem to have a knack for finding ways to be competitive every year, but with the aforementioned graduations and the status of captain Barrett Hayton up in the air to start the season, it’ll be interesting to see how some of the current questions get answered.
Coming off his first full season in the league, Wale will be counted upon defensively along with recent Montreal Canadiens draftee Jacob LeGuerrier and one of the keys to Canada’s National Summer Under-18 Team in sophomore Ryan O’Rourke.
Up front the Hounds have no shortage of options with a number of names back in the lineup, but will they be able to find anyone able to produce at the rate of Frost or Howdeshell?
“I want to be someone the coaches can count on throughout the year,” 19-year-old former 14th round pick Zack Trott told Ruicci. I want to be a go-to guy every game.”
A breakout candidate, Trott put up 37 points (13-24–37) over 68 games last year. He joins another 2000-born Hounds forward in Ryan Roth as a player with untapped offensive potential as both enter their third season in the league.
Overage winger Jaden Peca also has a lot to play for. The 20-year-old was acquired from the Barrie Colts in January and played some of his best hockey with the Greyhounds, recording 13 points (3-10–13) over 10 playoff games.
“It’s my last kick at the can,” he said. “It’s the biggest, most-important season of my career. I want to make a last push to get a contract.
“Obviously, the team will be relying on me as an older guy,” he added. “I want to show the young guys the ropes the way the older guys did for me when I was coming up. I want to be a good leader for the younger guys.”
Additionally, a pair of 2001-born forwards in Cole MacKay and Joe Carroll could also be worth watching after both were passed over in the 2019 NHL Draft. MacKay scored 27 goals and registered 61 points over 65 games while Carroll was highly regarded by NHL Central Scouting, competing in the 2019 Sherwin-Williams CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Red Deer, Alta.
Czech winger Jaromir Pytlik and fellow late 2001-born sophomore Alex Johnston join O’Rourke on the 2020 NHL Draft radar, certain to bring the scouts out from across the province during the club’s several three-game weekend road trips.
Turning our attention to the crease, the Greyhounds have had steady goaltending for the better part of seven seasons through Matt Murray, Brandon Halverson, Joseph Raaymakers and Villalta. Now a committee of reigning FW Dinty Moore Trophy recipient Ethan Taylor, overage trade acquisition Christian Propp and a potential CHL Import Draft recruit in Czech talent Nick Malik will be counted upon to lead the way forward.
“In talking to his father, Marek, and his agent (David Hamal), everything has been positive,” Raftis told Ruicci of potentially reciveing a commitment from Malik this past Wednesday. He went on to mention Malik’s long-time friendship with Pytlik, giving him a connection to the Soo that could potentially result in the two being roommates this coming season.
It’s an interesting time in Sault Ste. Marie to say the least, and there are more questions than answers a little over a week out from training camp, but the Hounds always seem to find a way to get into the thick of things.
They’ve managed to draft and develop some of the league’s premier players in the last decade – Frost, Hollowell, Timmins, Katchouk, Senyshyn, Tolchinsky, Nurse, McCann and the list goes on.
What does the program that has recently produced great hockey minds in Kyle Dubas, Sheldon Keefe and Drew Bannister have in store for the OHL’s next decade?
Over 20 days in August ontariohockeyleague.com will shine a summer spotlight on storylines from all 20 OHL clubs. See more from the OHL 20 in 20 series.