By Tom Hunter (@PuckDontLie)
Erie Otters (1) vs. Sarnia Sting (8)
The Erie Otters were the only OHL team to score more than 300 goals this season. The Sarnia Sting gave up more goals against than anyone else in the Western Conference. This could be a blood bath.
Sting goaltender Justin Fazio faced more scoring chances against than any goalie in his conference and that won’t change with this first round matchup. It doesn’t matter how good he is, the Sting really don’t have a chance.
The top-6 in Erie is as close to an all-star team as you will see in the OHL. DeBrincat and Strome are the best two offensive players in the league, Taylor Raddysh and Ivan Lodnia have been revelations this season, and the addition of Memorial Cup winner Anthony Cirelli at the trade deadline has paid huge dividends. They’re the best team in the league and they’re going to steamroll Sarnia.
Prediction: Erie in 4
Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (2) vs. Flint Firebirds (7)
Despite Flint bouncing back from the horrendous 2015-16 season, this series is as much of a mismatch as the first one.
Kole Sherwood and Ryan Moore have been outstanding all season, but the Firebirds just lack the depth to keep up with what could be the most balanced team in the OHL.
The forward group in The Soo is deeper than any in the league. While Zach Senyshyn and Blake Speers might be the names NHL fans recognize, look for Bobby MacIntyre and Jack Kopaka to do a lot of heavy lifting as the Greyhounds look to make a deep run in the playoffs.
Anchoring the blueline, Conor Timmins might be the most underrated player in the OHL. Add in the emergence of rookie goaltender Matt Villalta, and the Greyhounds are going to be a team to watch over the next 6-weeks.
Prediction: Sault Ste. Marie in 5
Owen Sound Attack (3) vs. Kitchener Rangers (6)
Over the second half of the season, no team in junior hockey has been more dominant than the Owen Sound Attack. Riding an 11-1 record over their past 12 games, the Attack will look to make short work of the rebuilding Rangers.
Jonah Gadjovich led all draft eligible CHLers with 46 goals this season – one more than teammate Nick Suzuki and two ahead of Owen Tippett. Gadjovic, Suzuki and Petru Palmu make up a trio that is almost impossible to stop. On the blueline, Captain Santino Centorame provides a veteran presence that has been invaluable to the young team in Owen Sound.
Kitchener finished the season with a -6 goal differential and will look to play spoiler – however unlikely that is.
Prediction: Owen Sound in 4
London Knights (4) vs. Windsor Spitfires (5)
Now this one will be fun. While the first three matchups are likely to be blowouts, the London/Windsor series has the potential to be outstanding for a full seven games.
When the Knights acquired Mitch Vande Sompel and Mitchell Stephens at the trade deadline, many were handing the Memorial Cup to London. While the team has been good, they have been surrounded by juggernauts in the West – and finishing fourth was the absolute worst case scenario, as Windsor has the talent to hang with the top teams in the league.
The problem with the Spits has been inconsistency. Despite very talented offensive players like Jeremy Bracco, Logan Brown and Mikhail Sergachev, only Flint and Saginaw scored fewer goals this season. Despite their struggles, Windsor has the talent to turn it on and cause havoc for the opposition. Center Gabriel Vilardi has been outstanding recently and will be looking to prove he belongs in the top-5 of this June’s NHL draft.
For London, Victor Mete and Cliff Pu are going to be key to any success. The two became unquestioned leaders of the team when the big three left for the NHL this season. Add Evan Bouchard and Olli Juolevi to Mete and Vande Sompel, and the London Knights are a team that is fueled by elite puck moving defensemen. Add to that the best big-game goalie in the league and London should not be written off.
It should be a close series, but I have a feeling Tyler Parsons will end up being the difference.
Prediction: London in 7