EDITOR’S NOTE — This column marks the debut of Ernest Skinner Jr. as a writer for Hockey News North. Skinner, who previously wrote for Sault Online, will focus on the Soo Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League for Hockey News North.
The Greyhounds are very early into what lies ahead of the 2019-2020 OHL season but the prep work, scouting and off -ice business decisions have been in full swing since the last whistle of the 2018-2019 campaign.
Starting off, I think the Hounds most important off-ice venture this summer has been filling the crease with capable OHL goalies at training camp.
With Ethan Taylor returning as a second-year tender with only a handful of games under his belt, it was imperative that management brought in a seasoned goalie at the junior or international level to calm some nerves.
Aside from bringing in overage goalie Christian Propp from the North Bay Battalion, the Hounds have had their eyes glued on securing Czech Republic netminder Nick Malik.
Although, Malik has not committed to be at the training camp, my gut assures me that Greyhound general manager Kyle Raftis is working on the details, paperwork and necessary legalities — and at the same time assuring the youngster’s family that this is Nick’s best way forward to the National Hockey League.
My personal hunch is that Malik is slowly being persuaded and will be in a Hounds uniform before the regular season opens.
If all things said about Malik are accurate, he will join Taylor and split time between the pipes. At this point, Propp will likely be dealt to a team that could use his services full time.
As I have said in the past, overage goalies almost rarely sit on the bench as they are so valuable.
With the goaltending eventually getting a makeover, the Greyhounds on the back end will need an upgrade as they are not too deep as of yet. They do have a few studs behind the blue line in Jacob LeGuerrier and Ryan O’Rourke.
The Hounds also picked up some size by acquiring defenceman Jacob Holmes at this year’s OHL priority selections draft and all indications are that the first-rounder likes to rush the play and makes good outlet passes similar to a Mac Hallowell.
Moving forward and dissecting later, I feel with John Dean, Jordan Smith, and Jamie Tardiff at the helm of the coaching staff, the young remaining talent in front of the net will once again exceed expectations.
Up front is also going to need some construction but the boys are strong with import Jaromir Pytlik, who will once again be a man among kids and will triple his offensive output from last year.
Aside from Pytlik, I feel Alex Johnston will keep stepping up and the rest of the boys including Zack Trott will have career seasons.
Jaden Peca, who was acquired last year for his leadership skills, will also help produce some points.
I think offense will be a work in progress but the Hounds of 2019-2020 will be fine with a few minor additions during the season and at the trade deadline.
And just so you know, Christmas isn’t the only time bonuses are handed out — there is a really cold snowball that has a chance in hell in Barrett Hayton.
I don’t believe he is seasoned enough and I really don’t think the Arizona Coyotes want to stunt his growth and confidence by him playing a few shifts a game against men with years of NHL experience under their belts.
On the same kind of note, goalie Matthew Villalta is in a odd situation as well. As an overage, he could return to the Hounds but that all depends on how deep the Los Angeles Kings system is and how well he plays at their camps.
Anyway, I hope you liked my first installment for Hockey News North and I look forward to offering you more this season.