By Aaron Bell
The 2012-13 Ontario Hockey League regular season schedule of games opens next week. Here is an advance look at the East Division.
Key Returnee: Skilled forward Brendan Gaunce comes into his third season with the Bulls with sky-high expectations that he plans to meet. The first rounder of the Vancouver Canucks improved on his rookie season totals with 28 goals and 68 points last season and is primed to become one of the elite offensive producers in the Eastern Conference this season.
Forwards: The Bulls have a deep group of veterans at every position this season including up front. The trio of 19-year-old forwards Michael Curtis, Austen Brassard and Carter Sandlak all have something to prove this year. Russians Sergey Kuptsov and Daniil Zharkov also bring a lot of skill while veteran Garrett Hooey proved to be a versatile performer last season.
Defence: Former first round pick Stephen Silas anchors the Bulls' blueline after putting up solid offensive numbers in his first four seasons. He will be counted on to pull his plus-minus rating above the line this year. Free agent pick up Jason Shaw, a Belleville native, turned into one of the Bulls' most consistent defenders last season. The hulking Brady Austin and slick sophomore Jordan Subban will both play important roles this year.
Goaltending: Malcolm Subban is a star in the making and that was never more apparent than when the Boston Bruins snapped him up in the first round of the NHL Draft last June in Pittsburgh. The team's fortunes came and went with Subban last year and they will look to him to carry the ball this time around.
Behind the Bench: In eight seasons behind the Bulls' bench, George Burnett has seen all of the highs and lows. He took the team through 10 playoff rounds and an appearance in the MasterCard Memorial Cup during a three-year stretch and hopes that he has rebuilt his squad to make another long run this season.
Key Returnee: The Kingston Frontenacs are rebuilding with a solid youth movement and no one is more important to that plan that former Sarnia Sting first rounder Ryan Kujawinski. After coming over in a mid-season trade, the slick pivot dramatically improved his offensive production and finished the season with 17 goals and 42 points. He expects to add more as a sophomore this season.
Forwards: Overage forward Cody Alcock enjoyed a redemption season last year after playing a year of Jr. A in his hometown of Whitby. He is back this year and will combine with Darcy Greenaway - who also came to the Frontenacs last season from the Jr. A Wellington Dukes - as dependable offensive producers. The Frontenacs are looking forward to a potential breakout season for Billy Jenkins as well as veteran Trevor Morbeck, who frequently lined up with Kujawinski in the second half last season.
Defence: The Frontenacs are anxious to see how second overall pick Roland McKeown adjusts to life in the OHL. The former Toronto Marlies' captain has been compared to NHL defencemen like Drew Doughty and Scott Niedermayer. Michael Moffat had a solid season with the Frontenacs last year and will be counted on to log big minutes again this year. Warren Steele and Kyler Nixon will also see lots of ice while Import pick Mikko Vainonen is a potential shut down-type defender.
Goaltending: The Frontenacs are going with some experienced help between the pipes after bringing in overager Mike Morrison from the Peterborough Petes in the off-season. Rookie Colin Furlong will get in some time as the backup.
Behind the Bench: In his rookie season behind the bench, Todd Gill started to make some progress in creating an identity for his young squad. Gill guided Canada's Under-18 team to a gold medal at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament this summer and has been anxious to get the Frontenacs' season started ever since.
Key Returnee: The Generals have been rewarded greatly for making a big deal to bring Lucas Lessio into the OHL and the veteran forward could challenge for the OHL's scoring title this season. He has already enjoyed 27 and 34-goal seasons and looks like he's capable of even more this time around.
Forwards: Captain Boone Jenner is a bona-fide heart and soul type that confidently plays in every situation for the Generals. Former first round OHL pick and recent Philadelphia Flyers first rounder Scott Laughton is a similar type of player and will likely build on his offensive totals again this season. Maple Leafs' prospect Tyler Biggs arrived as a 19-year-old rookie last week but could be a big contributor this season.
Defence: Overage defenders Geoffrey Schemitsch and Matt Petgrave anchor the back end for the Generals while veteran Colin Suellentrop will also put out lots of minutes. Josh Brown and Chris Carlisle are both looking to step up after playing limited roles last season.
Goaltending: The Generals made a big swing in bringing in potential star Daniel Altshuller last season and made room for him to be the regular starter this season. Rookie Ken Appleby will sub in a few starts along the way.
Behind the Bench: New General Manager Jeff Twohey wasted no time in giving D.J. Smith his first shot at being the main man behind the bench. Smith helped the Windsor Spitfires become one of the most dominant teams in CHL history working with Bob Boughner.
Key Returnee: With the graduation of super sniper Tyler Toffoli, the 67's will be counting heavily on 2013 NHL Entry Draft prospect Sean Monahan continuing his development as an elite level forward. He has already scored 53 goals in his first two OHL seasons and should approach the 40-goal plateau this season.
Forwards: The 67's also graduated Shane Prince, who combined with Toffoli for 95 goals and 190 points last season, so the 67's will be looking for everyone up front to step up. Steven Janes enjoyed a big bump in his production last year and showed signs of becoming a go-to type of player for the 67's this year. Veteran Tyler Graovac and first rounder Dante Salituro will also be regular contributors and Brett Gustavsen looks like he could hit high offensive marks this season.
Defence: The Ottawa Senators won't have to put in any miles to keep tabs on prized defensive prospect Cody Ceci as the 67's play out of ScotiaBank Place this season. Ceci brings it all to the 67's blueline and should get a chance to represent Canada at the World Juniors. Overager Jake Cardwell will also play in many situations and help steady the 67's relatively young blueline group.
Goaltending: Overager Keegan Wilson was brought in from Brampton to carry the bulk of the load for the 67's while Michael Nishi and rookie Jacob Blair battle for the back-up role.
Behind the Bench: Chris Byrne had the unenviable task of replacing the legendary Brian Kilrea behind the bench and in the front office and has done well to make a name for himself along with an identity for his squad.
Key Returnee: Alan Quine was tabbed as a key to the Petes' rebuilding process two years ago and has delivered on those expectations ever since. He is an offensive catalyst and a key to the Petes' success this season.
Forwards: Former top pick Nick Ritchie had a solid rookie campaign and comes into this season with sky high expectations that he has the skill to deliver on. Rookie Stephen Nosad flew under the radar a bit last year and put together a respectable seven goals and 32 points and the Petes would love to see him push that a bit further this year.
Defence: Captain Slater Koekkoek suffered an injury in a pre-season game against Oshawa and the Petes are anxiously eying his return early in the season. The Tampa Bay Lightning first rounder is an elite level defender that excels in all situations. The Petes have a solid group of veterans on the back end that also includes Connor Boland, Clark Seymour and Steven Trojanovic.
Goaltending: Veteran Andrew D'Agostini has put up solid minutes in the past two seasons for the Petes and is anxious to take the bulk of the load this season. Rookie Michael Giugovaz will back up.
Behind the Bench: After missing the playoffs the past two seasons, Mike Pelino feels like he has the horses to get him to the post-season this time around. He may have trouble finding offence in the early going but they shouldn't give up too many chances either.