Wolves set to turn the page as youth movement in full swing
By Josh Sweetland/OHL
For the Sudbury Wolves, the dawn of a new season can’t come fast enough.
Months of reflecting on last season’s disappointing franchise-low 12 wins is in the past, and finally a new light is ready to shine on the 2015-16 campaign.
The anticipation for a new beginning has been growing since April after the Wolves selected talented winger David Levin with the first overall pick in the 2015 OHL Priority Selection. The Jack Ferguson award recipient brings a full offensive toolbox to the Nickel Capital, having racked up 39 goals, 41 assists and 80 points in 55 games with the OHL Cup Finalist Don Mills Flyers last season.
Levin, along with recently drafted prospects in forwards Shane Bulitka, Macauley Carson and Owen Lane give Wolves fans hope for a brighter tomorrow as the organization strives for a renewed sense of competitiveness in the days to come.
Having grown up playing inline hockey in his native Israel, Levin came to Canada at the age of 12 to pursue an ice hockey career. He was one of five Wolves picks in the opening 50 selections of the 2015 OHL Priority Selection, signifying just how committed the organization is to developing young talent.
“David is a very unique player on a lot of levels, given the fact that he hasn’t played organized hockey for all that long,” noted recently appointed Wolves general manager Barclay Branch. “He’s a player that immediately jumps off the ice at you because you can’t help but recognize his hockey intellect, his skating and his puck skills.”
The Wolves enter the upcoming season with a greater sense of stability throughout the organization. Head Coach David Matsos has shed the ‘interim’ tag and inked a multi-year contract with the club while OHL graduate and former NHL blueliner Drake Berehowsky will join the bench as an assistant coach to work with the defence.
In the front office, Branch, who helped steer the Belleville Bulls to four Eastern Conference Final appearances in seven years (2006-13) as assistant general manager, has taken the reins as GM. Longtime president Blaine Smith remains with the club after serving as general manager since the 2010-11 season.
With a potential franchise player in Levin added to the depth chart and other developing young talent in 2014 first round selection Michael Pezzetta, winger Brady Pataki and third overall CHL Import Draft Selection Dmitry Sokolov, the Wolves are focused on surrounding their burgeoning talent with responsible veterans and leaders.
“We have several players in our forward group that are veteran players in our league now,” Wolves president Blaine Smith noted. “We will need 19 year-olds like Chad Heffernan, Charley Graaskamp and Los Angeles Kings draft pick Matt Schmalz to be playing in our top six and providing a consistent effort on both sides of the puck. We’ll also be relying on 20 year-olds Jacob Harris and Danny Desrochers for their continued leadership and strong work ethic. Pavel Jenys, who led our team in scoring last season, will attend training camp with the Minnesota Wild and we’re hopeful that we’ll see him back in our lineup this season.”
As the Wolves look to rebound from a league-low 149 goals scored last season paired with the league’s worst powerplay at just 13.4%, one of their greatest offensive boosts may come from the back end. Defenceman Kyle Capobianco, who was a third round selection of the Arizona Coyotes in the 2015 NHL Draft, returns as an 18 year-old this season and has his sights set on building off a 40-point campaign in 2014-15.
“You have to have efficient specialty teams if you want to be a successful hockey club and unfortunately our powerplay was anemic for much of last season,” Smith said. “I think a guy like Kyle, as frustrated as he may have been last year at times, is more prepared now that he’s been drafted and that pressure is taken off. I really think he has the ability to explode offensively this year with a better group around him in terms of offensive skill and that’s something we’re really looking forward to seeing.”
Capobianco will be joined by recently acquired overage veteran Patrick Murphy and 19 year-old Jonathan Duchesne in carrying much of the load on the Sudbury blueline this season.
In addition to a first overall pick in Levin and one of the league’s coveted powerplay quarterbacks in Capobianco, perhaps the most pivotal piece to the Wolves success this season is draft eligible goaltender Troy Timpano who the club took with their second round selection in the 2013 OHL Priority Selection. Timpano, who appeared in 46 games as a 17 year-old while facing a heavy workload on many nights, has won the confidence of Wolves brass.
“Troy was a real trooper for us last year and saw a lot of action in the crease,” Smith commented. “This is his draft year and he’s already pegged by Central Scouting as being on their radar. We really feel confident in Troy as our number one goaltender. If we can play better in front of him I think that will only contribute to him having better numbers and our team being better defensively and cutting down on the goals against.”
The Wolves are looking for wholesale improvements across the board in the hope that, with the learning experience of last season now behind them, positive trends will emerge as the team’s talented foundation of young players continues to develop.
“There’s an excellent collection of youthful players, a very strong foundation to build upon moving forward and that’s exciting,” Branch said of the task that lies ahead. “The real challenge is to ensure that those young players are surrounded by the proper leadership and support to allow things to work hand in hand in not only making the hockey club as competitive as possible, but to ensure that the young players are going to develop in the right setting and at the right pace.”
Though there’s still plenty of work to be done, the organization that has produced such standouts as Nick Foligno, Mike Fisher, Marc Staal, and more NHL talent than any other CHL club over the past 25 years is eager to regain it’s reputation as a competitive force in the Eastern Conference.
2014-15 Record: 12-54-1-1 (5th Central Division)
Head Coach: David Matsos (2nd season)
Key additions: David Levin, Dmitry Sokolov, Patrick Murphy
Notable graduates: Jeff Corbett, Brody Silk, Ivan Kashtanov
Leading scorer: Pavel Jenys (63 GP, 15-30–45)
Leading scorer (defencemen): Kyle Capobianco (68 GP, 10-30–40)
Leading scorer (rookie): *Michael Pezzetta (61 GP, 5-7–12)
Leading goaltender: Troy Timpano (46 GP, 9-36-1-0, 4.50 GAA, .884 SV%, 2 SO)
Fast Fact: The Wolves have six former first round selections on their roster to begin the 2015-16 season. (Levin, Pezzetta, O’Grady, Capobianco, Cummins, Schmalz)
#OHLOpeningWeek schedule: Fri. Sept. 25 vs. Niagara (7:00pm) / Sun. Sept. 27 vs. Mississauga (2:00pm)
* – among returning players
WATCH AND LISTEN: Wolves GM Barclay Branch and President Blaine Smith forecast the season ahead.
ontariohockeyleague.com will feature one team each day in advance of the 2015-16 season which begins Wednesday September 24.