It was a trade show that featured a number of star attractions. In a two-week period that led to the January 10 trade deadline in the Ontario Hockey League, no less than 28 transactions involving 47 players and 87 draft picks were consummated.
Now that is what can be rightly called a flurry of activity.
With rosters now set in the 20-member OHL until the end of the 2017-2018 season, six teams — three in each of the Western Conference and Eastern Conference — can be tabbed as legitimate contenders to represent the Ontario league at the 100th edition of the Memorial Cup tournament that is slated to be held in Regina, Saskatchewan from May 17 to 27.
Let us take a look at the six consensus contenders for 2018 OHL glory.
SOO GREYHOUNDS. The no. 1 ranked team in the OHL paid a high price to get Team Canada forward Taylor Raddysh and seasoned defenseman Jordan Sambrook from the Erie Otters at the deadline.
Not only did fourth-year general manager Kyle Raftis give up forward Hayden Fowler, who was the Greyhounds first round pick at the 2017 OHL draft, the Soo surrendered nine draft picks, including five second rounders, two third rounders and two sixth rounders.
If the Hounds win the OHL championship — and they are the clear cut favourites — the deal with Erie will be seen as a great trade. But if the Hounds come up short — as they did in 2015 when they entered the playoffs as the top team — the second guessers will be out in full force on the streets of Sault Ste. Marie.
But clearly, Raddysh and Sambrook are prominent additions to a Soo squad that was already the best team in the OHL before it brought in the dandy duo from Erie.
KITCHENER RANGERS. Rookie general manager Mike McKenzie operated like a tenured professor at the deadline by bringing in four players who have made the Rangers that much better.
It is being said that the 31-year old McKenzie went into trade deadline week with a wish list and he certainly checked off his four needs by getting a no. 1 centre in Ottawa Senators first rounder Logan Brown, a power winger in Givani Smith and two overagers — a dependable defenseman in Austin McEneny and a veteran goalie in Mario Culina.
Brown, McEneny and Culina were all members of the 2017 Memorial Cup champion Windsor Spitfires and are thus re-united with defenseman Logan Stanley, who the Rangers had traded for at the start of the season.
So, not only did McKenzie add three Memorial Cup champs from 2017 to go with a fourth, in Stanley, the acquisition of Smith from the Guelph Storm completes the Kitchener forward units with a testy, in your face winger who defines the term “hard to play against.”
And as Brown is a top National Hockey League prospect of Ottawa’s, so too is Smith a plum prize of the Detroit Red Wings.
McKenzie may have also pulled off the bargain of the trade proceedings when he got Culina from the Sudbury Wolves for an eighth round draft pick. Culina, who Sudbury had acquired off waivers from Windsor in mid November after he had started the 2017-2018 campaign with the Ryerson Rams of Ontario University Athletics, just may be the most under-rated goalie in the OHL.
If there is a Western Conference team that could spoil the Greyhounds dream season, it just might be the Rangers and Culina, their new goalie who happens to hail from Sault Ste. Marie.
SARNIA STING. Having gone into somewhat of a sputter before the Christmas break, the Sting re-booted at the deadline by trading for top, high-scoring defenseman Cam Dineen from the North Bay Battalion and two forwards of considerable experience and ability — namely Jonathan Ang from the Peterborough Petes and Sudbury captain Michael Pezzetta.
If there is an OHL team that has gone all out to try to win this season it is Sarnia, which is starving for some sort of playoff success. And to be sure, the deals for Dineen, Ang and Pezzetta have definitely put more buzz into the Sting.
Sarnia has not won a playofff series since 2008 and has missed the post season all together three times during that span.
This is a Sting team that needs to win at least a round of the playoffs, maybe two, for all of its acquisitions to be worth the price of multiple draft picks that were paid.
HAMILTON BULLDOGS. General manager Steve Staois has pulled out all the stops in the hopes of making a Hamilton a howitzer that can at least be the best of the East side.
Staois began the push several weeks before the deadline when he pried high scoring forwards Nick Caamano and Ryan Moore from the Flint Firebirds and then added plum defenseman Riley Stillman from the Oshawa Generals.
And just before the deadline, Staois struck again when he landed Team Canada forward Robert Thomas from the London Knights and defenseman Nicolas Mattinen from Flint.
Still, despite all of the veteran additions — which came at the expense of a slew of draft picks — Hamilton is still looking over its shoulder at the Kingston Frontenacs and Barrie Colts.
KINGSTON FRONTENACS. This is another team that did not fool around at the deadline and thus improved its stock from a middle of the pack squad to a definite Eastern Conference powerhouse.
In all, the Frontenacs landed forwards Max Jones and Cliff Pu in separate deals with the London Knights and picked up a pair of Memorial Cup champions from Windsor in defenseman Sean Day and forward Gabe Villardi.
With overage dandy Jeremy Helvig manning the nets, Kingston already had the best goal-tending in the Eastern market before trading for defenseman Day and adding the scoring of Jones, Pu and Villardi.
BARRIE COLTS. Just when it looked as though the already strong Colts would stand pat at the trade deadline they added a pure goal scorer in picking up Russian red lighter Dmitry Sokolov from Sudbury.
Barrie may or not not emerge from the horse race with Hamilton and Kingston (and possibly the Niagara Ice Dogs) with a championship ribbon but after finishing last overall in 2016-2017, the Colts are back near the winner’s circle.
PHOTO: New to the Kitchener Rangers are defenseman Austin McEneny, goalie Mario Culina and forward Givani Smith. (Photo by Record.com.)