Optimism in Kingston
Kingston's Roland McKeown looks to have a strong season for the Frontenacs this season.
The Kingston Frontenacs are on the eve of opening up their training camp, and have fewer question marks than in past years at this time. The Fronts will look to improve on their 7th place Eastern Conference finish last year, and 4 game playoff loss to the Barrie Colts in the first round.
Gone are overagers, captain Cody Alcock, Ryan Hanes, and goaltender Mike Morrison. Alcock was tied for 4th in team scoring with 43 points (20g, 23a). Defenseman, Hanes played 9 games for the Kitchener Rangers last season before joining the Fronts for the remainder of his last OHL season. Morrison was the workhorse in goal for the Fronts, appearing in 56 regular season, and all 4 playoff games for Kingston. The 3 graduating Fronts will be playing CIS hockey this Fall. Alcock (Laurier) will be trying to put the puck past Morrison (Waterloo), while being defended by Hanes (Waterloo).
June 3rd may prove to be the most important day in the off-season for the Fronts, as they traded for Plymouth's OA goalkeeper, Matt Mahalak. Mahalak played in 97 regular season games for the Whalers in the last 3 seasons, posting a winning record of 49-27-5-6. Playoffs have been a different story, however. He has only appeared in 5 playoff games (0-4) over 3 seasons, backing up Scott Wedgewood in 2011, and 2012, and Alex Nedeljkovic last season. Two 3rd Round picks was enough to pry Mahalak out of Plymouth, and he will be looking to impress the Carolina Hurricanes, who drafted him in the 6th Round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. By picking up Mahalak, Kingston has given up on 93 goalie, Colin Furlong. Coach Gill wants his backup to play more games this season than last, presumably to allow the starter to be fresher for the stretch run. It looks like Lucas Peressini, acquired from Saginaw on January 1st (although he played in the OJHL for Newmarket last year) will be given an opportunity in camp to compete with this year's (3rd Round) draft pick, Jeremy Helvig. Both are big, athletic goalkeepers, who project to be Number 1 goalies in the OHL, if they continue to progress in their development. Joel Howard was drafted in the 3rd Round in 2012, and could be in the conversation of future Frontenac goalkeepers.
On defense, the Fronts' lineup will look very much the same as it did last season. Michael Moffat dished out some big hits last season, and will be back on the blueline as an overage player this year. Mikko Vainonen was Kingston's only NHL drafted player (Nashville 4th Round) and became a force in the 2nd half of the season. Vainonen's value to the team was really felt after he was suspended for 10 games for a hit on Belleville's Scott Simmonds. The Fronts lost 9 of those 10 games. The Finnish Import will play big minutes, for the Fronts, once again, after he returns from Nashville's camp. Roland McKeown projects to be a 1st Round NHL draft pick in 2014. He is big, mobile, and possesses a pro shot already. He was named to the OHL's All Rookie team last year, and played big minutes for Team Canada's U-18 team which won gold in Russia. Warren Steele played in all but one of Kingston's games last year, and was third in defenseman scoring, behind Moffat, and McKeown. He will be a top 4 defenseman this year for the Fronts. Dylan DiPerna and Matt Watson (Spencer's twin brother), a pair of 96s, will no doubt round out the six defensemen on the team. DiPerna was drafted in the 2nd Round of the OHL Priority Selection, one spot ahead of Spencer Watson and played a regular shift, for the most part, last season. Matt appeared in 8 games for the Fronts, over Christmas time, last season, while his brother Spencer, Roland McKeown, and Sam Bennett were off competing for Ontario in the U17s. Matt, who played the majority of his season for Strathroy in Jr B, didn't look out of place, and should slide into the 6th spot on defense. This year's draft picks, Chris Myllari, and Josh Gagne impressed recently at the U-17 development camp in Oshawa, but baring injury to one of Kingston's top 6, will likely not make the Frontenacs this year.
Up front, Kingston will be dynamic. Spencer Watson lead Team Canada in scoring at the recent IIHF U-18 tournament, with 10 points, including 3 assists in the Gold Medal clinching 4-0 victory over the Americans. He was tied for 4th in team scoring last season, and ranked 8th amongst OHL rookies, with 23 goals and 20 assists. Right behind him was, IIHF U-18 teammate, and linemate, Sam Bennett (9th in the OHL). He had 18 goals and 22 assists in 60 regular season games for Kingston. Henri Ikonen, the third member of the "Rookie Line" last year, led the team in scoring with 22 goals and 29 assists.
Ryan Kujawinski was drafted in the 3rd Round by the Devils this year and will look to continue to use his big frame up the middle to muscle opponents off the puck. Ryan led the team with 31 assists last season and is hoping to regain the "chemistry" he developed with Billy Jenkins, after the two were acquired just prior to the trade deadline in January of 2012. Jenkins sniped 20 goals in 53 games last season. Darcy Greenaway has the potential to put up big offensive numbers for Kingston, as well, and will be counted on to provide leadership on and off the ice for the Fronts. This will be Darcy's third OHL season, and his OA year. He needs just two points to reach the 100 point milestone. He has 53 goals in 135 OHL games.
Heading the list of newcomers for the Fronts is Lawson Crouse, who was Kingston's first selection in this year's Priority Selection (5th overall) and joins the Watson twins as Fronts from the London, Ontario area. Crouse was a winger on a line with first overall pick Travis Konecny (67s) last season in Minor Midget. Chris Pawley was recently picked up from the London Knights. The 18 year old will have to compete for minutes with everyone else, but should see more minutes than he had in the past while with the Knights. Conor McGlynn was drafted by the Fronts in the 6th Round in 2011. He slipped to the 6th round because he was clearly interested in going the US College route. He had a verbal commitment to play at Boston College this year, but opted to join the rising Fronts, and may slip nicely into the 3rd line alongside OA Greenaway, and rookie, Crouse. GM, Gilmour really likes McGlynn's size, an area they addressed with the signing of Crouse, as well.
Battling for roster spots for the Fronts, up front, will be returning players, Sam Schutt, Jean Dupuy, Marc Beckstead, Sam Povorozniouk, and Slater Doggett.
Kingston started 2012-13 season very strong, but slumped down the stretch to barely squeak into the playoffs. On the bright side, they were 14 points better than they had been the season before, thanks, in large part, to an excellent draft of 96 born players, and two solid Finnish imports. If Matt Mahalak has a very good year, and Kingston chooses an OHL ready backup, they should be in position to contend in the OHL's Eastern Conference. Clearly, just making the playoffs will not "cut it" in Kingston this year. The Frontenacs have the talent to compete with anyone in the East, in my opinion, and will be an exciting team to watch. For the first time in a long, long time, Kingston will have 3 players who could be drafted very early in the NHL draft, perhaps 2 in the first round. NHL scouts will make Kingston a regular stop this season.