This is how I see the teams stacking up after 68 contests in the regular season.
1) Mississauga Majors - It's hard not to place the Memorial Cup hosts at the top of the order to start things off. Most prognosticators have the M's in first not only in the east but in the OHL overall. Although facing some uncertainty in goal with 1992-born JP Anderson recently signing a pro contract with the San Jose Sharks, the Majors are still undeniably deep in talent with the recent acquisition of overage keeper Anthony Peters. Peters is largely untested in big game situations, but has performed well during the duration of past regular seasons, and hey, recent Mem-Cup winning tender Philip Grubauer had virtually no big game experience prior to landing in Windsor either. Casey Cizikas, Devante Smith-Pelly, and Justin Shugg lead the forwards and recent arrival Marc Cantin from the Spits will lead a deep defensive group.
Campbell's Conclusion: The cream of the crop in the East, and probably the entire league.
2) Ottawa 67's - The East division is usually wide open in terms and it usually boils down to who can step up in the last 10 games or so and win the final stretch drive. The 67's have usually excelled in finishing the season strong and heading into the show with momentum, momentum, and more momentum. Heck, Ottawa could probably even challenge Missy for conference supremacy. Ottawa contains arguably one of the best offensive corps in the league. Boasting two very good centremen in Cody Lindsay and Ryan Martindale, the 67's offensive supporting cast features the likes of Jon Carnevale, Thomas Nesbitt, Shane Prince, and of course, Ottawa's prized talent, Tyler Toffoli. Toffoli could very well follow a break-out season last year with career numbers this year, and as an 18 year-old, will be expected to do so. Chris Perugini provides a steadying veteran presence between the pipes.
Campbell's Conclusion: A dangerous and often explosive team, they'll need to work on consistency. If they have it, watch out.
3) Belleville Bulls - Despite trading away speedster Alex Aleardi to Plymouth, Belleville still boasts an impressive young group of core players for what looks to be a very promising next couple of years. Andy Bathgate, if he can remain healthy, will try to finally establish himself as a solid leader and live up to lofty expectations thrust upon him by coaching staff. Luke Judson, and Austen Brassard are ready for prime-time roles and (though unlikely), standout dynamic forward Richard Panik could possibly return to help the Bull-run. Belleville also possesses possibly the best young keeper in the game in Tyson Teichmann as well. When he's on, he's extremely hard to beat.
Campbell's Conclusion: A lot of good things need to come together for the Bulls to reach this lofty position, but I'm expecting this is the year, most, if not all, questionable factors find their comfort zone (especially a motivated and talented Teichmann).
4) Oshawa Generals - The Hockey News had the Generals rated above the Kitchener Rangers, and while I don't think they're that exceptional, they are very potent (or, like the Bulls, can be). If Calvin de Haan returns from Islanders camp, he will headline an impressive crop of defensemen that features ex-Knight Scott Valentine. Valentine is poised (and should be wanting) a career year. It's now or never for the John Tavares trade part of two years ago. Michael Zador should improve upon last year's numbers as the unproven number 1 in net in the 'Shwa. Coming off a career year, Christian Thomas should put up similar or higher numbers once again and young 17 year-old hotshot Boone Jenner should only improve.
Campbell's Conclusion: A solid team that provides no exceptional aspects to its game, but should be good enough in the goalkeeping, D, and offense areas to win more game than they lose.
5) Niagara IceDogs - The arrival of disgruntled ex-Attack member Steven Shipley should be the spark plug that elevates the Dogs from pretenders to true competitors. Mark Visentin, the Phoenix Coyotes' first round draft pick is capable of stealing a few games, and may not have to with the emergence of a solid group of forwards. Andrew Fritsch, Mitchell Theoret, and top prospect Ryan Strome join Andrew Agozzino in a very entertaining offensive cast. Another top prospect, second-year Dougie Hamilton should fine-tune his game enough this season to emerge as a true top-2 defensive force in the league next year. The coaching duties of Marty Williamson may also be more well-suited to a younger team than one stacked with all-stars like in Barrie last year.
Campbell's Conclusion: Goaltending has the potential to steal some games, maybe even a series, with a group of forwards who can excel at scoring by committee. A top three of Agozzino, Shipley, and Strome will be fun to watch.
6) Kingston Frontenacs - Always the team with the parts to make the machine run, but constantly breaking down year after year seems to be the mantra of the Fronts. They can fall as easily as 9th in the conference and raise as high as No. 2, that's how wild this team can be. When on their game, they can be deadly. Towering defensive beasts anchoring the blueline in Taylor Doherty and Erik Gudbranson is a formidable duo (although it's debatable whether Gudbranson will come back after going 3rd overall to the Panthers), this team may not have too much trouble keeping pucks out of the net with Doherty and Philip Grubauer minding the post. Although it's questionable how motivated the German goalie will be after playing so much and winning it all last year with Windsor. Kingston also boasts a luxurious club of firepower up front with Ethan Werek, Nathan Moon, Michael Fine, Colt Kennedy, and 17 year-old wunderkind Alan Quine. If no attitude issues arise like in past years and coach Doug Gilmour can work with what he has successfully, this team will be higher than 6.
Campbell's Conclusion: A wild card, but a sixth place finish is reasonable based on the underachieving that seems to perpetuate the old city. The culture needs to change.
7) Brampton Battalion - Some aren't giving this team's a snowball's chance in hell, but they've surprised before, especially when they're young. Jacob Riley has appeared to be a more than capable replacement to the graduation of Patrick Killeen last year, and as a 17 year-old, his potential is through the ceiling. Sean Jones and Scott Tanski will be the overage cast leading this pup squad who went through growing pains last year. Philip Lane, Cameron Wind, Maple Leafs' pick Sam Carrick, and top youngster Barclay Goodrow can provide a solid scoring by committee feel to the usually defensively responsible team.
Campbell's Conclusion: A team that is very beatable, but may just turn some heads down the road.
8) Peterborough Petes - The unexpected departures of overagers Jamie Doornbosch and hulking goalkeeper Jason Missiaen will no doubt raise more questions than answers to commence the season in Peterborough. Originally slated to be a reasonable contender in the East, the Petes' main cast is daunting. Three young and very talented forwards, Austin Watson, Ryan Spooner, and potential top-5 NHL 2011 pick and OHL rookie of the year, Matt Puempel will have no problem establishing an identity for this team. However, the lack of a supporting presence is troubling. Unless many players can step up and have big years, the Petes have gone from potential heavy-hitters to potential floaters with a few bright spots. Kalle Ekelund is an upgrade on the blueline.
Campbell's Conclusion: Next year, folks.
9) Barrie Colts - Okay Colts fans, time for your Marty Williamson trades to catch up with you. This year will be painful. It will not go down the gullet smoothly. The good thing is, you have assets to sell. If blueline overager Dalton Prout is returned, you can bet there will be heavy interest from a number of teams. time to speed up this revamp a little by trading the big guy. If Kyle Clifford and Alex Burmistrov come back to town, those are key trade bait dangles as well. Barrie has options with these three players, along with overage netminder Peter DiSalvo. He would be an attractive commodity as a deadline acquisition deal for a team looking to squeak into the Mem Cup with Missy as either a top tender or a safe backup presence. Taylor Carnevale and Darren Archibald should be bright spots on an otherwise incredibly young team.
Campbell's Conclusion: Similar to the 2008-2009 Rangers, the Colts can turn the ship around in a hurry, depending on the assets they get back.
10) Sudbury Wolves - Unfortunately, the Wolves have given me no reason to place them anywhere higher. Sure, John McFarland and Eric O'Dell may have good years as team offensive catalysts, and Ben Chiarot can provide a steadying influence on the blueline, but otherwise, with the exception of Marcus Foligno, and Justin Sefton, this team doesn't seem to be heading anywhere substantial. Maybe new coaching tactics/personnel can jumpstart the group.
Campbell's Conclusion: Amass a good group of youngsters and start anew, nickel-city.
1) Kitchener Rangers - The Rangers will be good, but just how good remains to be seen. If they don't get either Morin or Skinner back, they are losing 97 goals that they'll be hard-pressed to replace. If they get one back (I'm thinking Skinner returns, but only Skinner), they will still be very good. Jerry D'Amigo is still a possibility to arrive mid-season a la Dale Mitchell, but Rangers fans shouldn't hold their breath. The blueshirts still possess a very good group of forwards in top-5 2011 NHL pick Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Tipoff, Michael Catenacci, Jason Akeson, Tobias Rieder and Matia Marcantuoni. The addition of Cody Sol and Julian Melchiori is a significant upgrade to the blueline and Don Cherrey's favourite waterbug, Ryan Murphy is always a looming offensive threat. The Rangers may also have one of the league's best goaltending tandems in Brandon Maxwell and Mike Morrison. Teams who have played against Morrison remember him. He could be a starter on another club.
Campbell's Conclusion: Potential regular season league-winners. How scary they are is still up in the air.
2) Windsor Spitfires - Two straight Memorial Cups, and a division title for a third straight year is not only possible, but probable. Insane. The Spits' biggest achievement is getting all-world goalkeeper Jack Campbell to report. He could still stick in the AHL, but will most likely land along the 49th parallel in the City of Roses. When he's on his game, he can beat anybody. Teams shouldn't look forward to meeting Windsor in the playoffs. Add in imposing forward Zack Kassian, who, if he's on his best behaviour can perform admirably, and other worldly talents Ryan Ellis and Cam Fowler, and the Spits have terrific assets to either hang onto or trade for top young talent (although Ellis is almost certainly already going to Mississauga to complete the Nick Ebert deal if he's returned). They have also added curious talent from overseas in Tom Kuhnackl and Alexander Khoklachev up front.
Campbell's Conclusion: Good, very good, but not world beaters once again.
3) Guelph Storm - At around the same time Kitchener was in the prepatory stages for a 2011 run, a familiar team just down the road was doing the exact same thing. They took different paths to get there, but if everything in the Royal City pans out, this should be a Rangers-Storm rivalry year for the ages. Overagers Matt Sisca and Tyler Carroll are just the secondary mentions in an incredible pool of 19 year-olds featuring Michael Latta, Taylor Beck, Peter Holland, and Brandon Foote. When all are playing like they should be, Guelph is extremely tough to handle. Francis Menard, Cody McNaughton and Carter Sandlak are also honourable mentions on this team. If coach Jason Brooks can't do anything with this line-up, he needs to be shown the door ASAP.
Campbell's Conclusion: A true contender when they want to be. Do they want to take the bull by the horns in an OHL Mem-Cup year? Time will tell...
4) London Knights - A top-4 Western Conference group wouldn't be complete without the Hunter Bros. show down the 401. There are many reasons why London can repeat as a strong team again this year and give Kitchener fits. A very strong defence in the Donnay brothers, outstanding sophomore Scott Harrington, Michael D'Orazio and newly-acquired Jarred Tinordi headline a formidable group on the blueline. There is somewhat of a question mark in goal as there always seem to be with the boys in green, but Igor Bobkov and Michael Houser seem to have the necessary tools in the toolbox to put together a decent season between them. Up front, Jared Knight and Daniel Erlich, and possibly Phil Varone (if he returns) can lead a solid cast of forwards.
Campbell's Conclusion: Never count out the Knights, they have the tangibles to put something together this year.
5) Erie Otters - Could this finally be the year the Otters make the playoffs... AND move beyond the first round? I believe they can. Despite Andrew Yogan's injury, the Otters still boast an impressive roster of forwards including Greg McKegg, Mike Cazzola, and 1993-born David Broll. Mitch Gaulton leads the D, and Ramis Sadikov is capable (with 17 year-old Chris Festarini) to do a good job managing duties between the posts.
Campbell's Conclusion: Could finally do some damage where it hurts, in the playoffs (if the X-factor goaltenders do a decent job).
6) Saginaw Spirit - The Spirit went through a learning experience versus the Rangers last season, and came out better for it. Josh Shalla, who pulled the invisibility cloak over him in the playoffs should be challenged to do more after a strong regular season campaign. Vincent Trocheck, Jordan Szwarz, and Ivan Telegin are all more than capable of handling top line minutes and duties and performing admirably in them. The big showstopper however, is the addition of Mavric Parks. Parks' performance should be great this year as he battles for a pro contract. He is certainly good enough to merit one.
Campbell's Conclusion: Not a team I would want to run into in the playoffs. Parks has the ability to steal series, and Saggy's offensive firepower shouldn't be underrated.
7) Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds - Another year older and another year wiser for the young Hounds, but still a ways to go before they can lay claim to contender status. Sophomore sensations Daniel Catenacci and Nick Cousins should have breakout seasons or very good ones in the least. If Bryce O'Hagan can resurrect his top form from seasons' past, he can be one of the O's best in the net. Brett Thompson, Brandon Archibald and Brock Beukeboom will all gain one more year of invaluable experience before what should be a big season in 2012.
Campbell's Conclusion: If the world doesn't end in 2012, it should be the year of the Hound.
8) Owen Sound Attack - Squeaking into post season contention is the Bay Shore brethren. Perpetually in a tough division, the Attack have never really risen to the challenge of beating the Midwest heavyweights (minus the 2006 playoffs versus an extremely tough team in the McGrath-Kindl-led Rangers when Bobby Ryan and Bobby Sanguinetti helped upset the blueshirts in the first round). The departure of Shipley hurts, and fans in the Sound are getting frustrated at the losing culture. Mark Reeds should be on a very short leash if management knows what's good for the team. NHL first-rounder Joey Hishon (after returning from yet another injury) should lead the Attack back to the dance with a respectable supporting cast of Jesse Blacker and Bobby Mignardi and a solid goaltending tandem in Jordan Binnington and Scott Stajcer.
Campbell's Conclusion: If no results are found, look for a house cleaning at the Harry Lumley Bayshore arena sometime VERY soon.
9) Plymouth Whalers - Adding Alex Aleardi was a good start to recoup the losses of Tyler Seguin, but that was all that trade was. A start. While the Whalers boast a decent crop of players, none seem to challenge the level coach Mike Vellucci had in recent years. Unless more deals are swung, the likes of Robbie Czarnik, Jamie Devane, James Livingston, Garrett Meurs, Beau Shmitz and Aleardi alone aren't likely good enough to foster a playoff berth. Scott Wedgewood could steal a few down the stretch (he's shown brilliant flashes) but ex-keeper Matt Hackett's skates are extremely large to fill.
Campbell's Conclusion: A rare off-year for the mighty whale.
10) Sarnia Sting - Basement dwellers last season, and prospects aren't looking much better this year either. Although, this team has a VERY high ceiling and a very good foundation to work with. Nail Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk are the future and their raw talent still leaves other teams' salivating. But the veteran presence of Joe Rogalski, Ben O'Quinn, Kale Kerbashian and John Cullen will not be enough to propel this team to the show this year.
Campbell's Conclusion: In a few years, this team has the potential to be scary-good. Until then, many growing pains are likely to be had.
Hope this preview provided an insightful guide for the casual and harder OHL observer, and let the best and most entertaining league of hockey in the world start already!