It is considered to be the top junior hockey league in North America and it never really rests, what with new player signings, development camps, summer trades and coach-management changes.
At any rate, still several weeks ahead of the 2019-2020 Ontario Hockey League regular season, let us take a team-by-team, drive-through glance through both conferences. (Teams are listed in order of finish from the 2018-2019 season.)
LONDON KNIGHTS: The 2019-2020 campaign probably can’t come soon enough for the coach-general manager tandem of brothers Dale Hunter and Mark Hunter.
After finishing first in the Western world during the 2018-2019 regular season, London coughed up a three games to none lead and lost 4-3 to the eventual champion Guelph Storm in the second round of the playoffs.
Will the perennial-contending Knights simply re-load again for 2019-2020 and take another shot at glory? Absolutely.
SAGINAW SPIRIT: It was the best season in its 17-year franchise history for mid Michigan’s OHL team in 2018-2019.
But Saginaw came up one win short of advancing to the OHL finals last spring when it gave up a 3-1 series lead to Guelph in the Western Conference championship set and lost to the Storm in a seventh-and-deciding game.
However, the Spirit should shine again in 2019-2020 led by an impressive collection of National Hockey League draft picks that include forwards Damien Giroux (Minnesota Wild), Blade Jenkins (New York Islanders), Nick Porco (Dallas Stars) and defensemen Bode Wide (Islanders) and Mason Millman (Philadelphia Flyers.)
Another forward, Cole Perfetti, is likely be a first or second round pick at the 2020 NHL draft.
SOO GREYHOUNDS: A very-consistent team over the past seven seasons — and under three different head coaches — the Greyhounds have a couple of forwards with something to prove to the NHL scouts in 2019-2020.
Despite being rated as mid-round picks by NHL Central Scouting prior to the 2019 draft, both Cole MacKay and Joe Carroll were bypassed entirely.
Looking ahead to the 2020 NHL draft, Greyhound right winger Jaromir Pytlik is already being projected as a potential first-round pick as is defenseman Ryan O’Rourke.
GUELPH STORM: The reigning OHL champions are due for a major rebuild of the Storm engine in 2019-2020.
In fact, don’t be surprised if Guelph misses the playoffs entirely this coming season as coach-general manager George Burnett builds towards 2020-2021 and beyond by adding younger players and re-stocking the draft cupboard via the trade route.
KITCHENER RANGERS: After losing in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals in the spring of 2018, the Rangers lost out in the first round in 2019.
But Rangers general manager Mike (Little Hawk) McKenzie went out and acquired high-end veteran goalie Jacob Ingham from the Mississauga Steelheads earlier this summer and Kitchener looms as a lawful contender for 2019-2020.
OWEN SOUND ATTACK: The small-market franchise has several seasoned skaters as leaders for 2019-2020 including better-than-average forwards such as Aidan Dudas, Barret Kirwin and the under-rated Daylon Groulx.
Also ready for major minutes in Owen Sound is defenseman Mark Woolley, who has a late 2001 birth date.
Alan Letang took over as the head coach in Owen Sound part way through last season and the change in command seemed to put a spark into the Attack.
SARNIA STING: Eyes of the NHL scouts will be on Sarnia forward Jacob Perreault, who could be a first-round pick at the 2020 pro draft.
And as Sarnia seeks to retain its playoff status for 2019-2020 and beyond, it has a goalie for the future in Ben Gaudreau.
The Sting took Gaudreau in the first round, seventh overall, from the North Bay Major Trappers of the Great North Midget Hockey League at this year’s OHL priority selections draft.
Gaudreau is being advertised as a textbook goalie — and he is also a very good kid from a very good family who is an OHL star in the making.
Besides Gaudreau, among other, notable incoming players to Sarnia for the upcoming campaign is Swedish defenseman Eric Hjorth, who was a fourth-round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets at the 2019 NHL draft.
WINDSOR SPITFIRES: The Spitfires have a new pilot in all-time franchise points leader Billy Bowler.
Bowler takes over from three-time Memorial Cup champion general manager Warren Rychel as the new hockey boss in Windsor, where the Spitfires have new majority ownership and a mission to restore attendance figures that have been on the decline over the past few years.
ERIE OTTERS: Having missed the playoffs the past two years after four straight 50-win seasons, the Otters are on course for a return to spring play in 2019-2020.
Chris Hartsburg provides a steady hand going into his third season as head coach in Erie.
On the ice, small-but-skilled defenseman Jamie Drysdale is being seen by some as a first-round pick at the 2020 NHL draft.
FLINT FIREBIRDS: The Firebirds are ready to emerge from the cellar of the Western Conference after having missed the playoffs in each of the past two seasons.
Patient general manager Barclay Branch has been putting pieces together over the past two years and Flint could well finish in the upper half of the Western Conference in 2019-2020.
Up front, NHL draft picks Ty Dellandrea (Dallas Stars) and Ethan Keppen (Vancouver Canucks) are primed for big numbers in 2019-2020 and the blue line boasts Dennis Busby (Arizona Coyotes) and Vladislav Kolyachonok (Florida Panthers.)
Also worth watching are a trio of former first-rounders in forwards Connor Roberts, Cody Morgan and Evan Vierling. Roberts and Morgan are both products of trades while Vierling was Flint’s first-round draft pick in 2018.
Flint will also feature a future phenom forward in Brennan Othmann, who was the second overall pick at the 2019 OHL priority selections draft. Othmann can skate, shoot, score and has the overall skill and smarts to complete the package.
Othmann put up impressive totals of 66 goals, 80 assists, 146 points in 72 regular season games with the Don Mills Flyers in 2018-2019. He then led Don Mills in scoring during the playoffs with 7 goals, 14 assists, 21 points in 13 games as the Flyers won the Greater Toronto Hockey League’s minor midget championship.
Meanwhile, the 2019-2020 season will be the first full term for Eric Wellwood, who took over as the head coach in Flint in the early stages of the 2018-2019 campaign.
And as the GM, the aforementioned Branch may have made the hire of the summer when he signed associate coach Ryan Kuwabara away from Flint’s arch-rivals in Saginaw.
Wellwood and Kuwabara are both known for their extreme intelligence and ability to relate to players as former OHL stars from their playing days.
OTTAWA 67’S: Austrian-born center Marco Rossi, who netted 35 goals in 70 games (regular season and playoffs included) as a rookie in 2018-2019, will be watched closely by the NHL scouts in 2019-2020 as a possible first-round pick next year.
As Ottawa will again contend in 2019-2020 after just missing out on the OHL championship in 2018-2019 — the 67’s lost to Guelph in the league finals — it can properly develop rookie defenseman Jack Matier.
A blue-chip prospect with a right-hand shot and an attitude that is second to none, Matier was Ottawa’s first-round pick from the Soo Jr. Greyhounds of the Great North Midget Hockey League at this year’s OHL priority selections draft.
NIAGARA ICEDOGS: Niagara went for it all in 2018-2019 but fizzled in the second round of the playoffs and was swept by the Oshawa Generals.
Now it is back to the drawing board for the coach-general manager team of brothers Billy and Joey Burke.
OHL bad boys, the Burke brothers got into big trouble with OHL commissioner David Branch during the past season due to recruiting violations.
OSHAWA GENERALS: Ace goalie Kyle Keyser is expected to turn pro within the NHL farm system of the Boston Bruins in 2019-2020.
How tough will it be for the Generals to do without Keyser?
Well, he won 32 of their 44 regular-season games and all eight of their playoff matches last season.
SUDBURY WOLVES: If Oshawa is going to miss Keyser between the pipes, Sudbury could be in real trouble as it moves ahead without standout goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen.
UPL, who is slated to turn pro in the Buffalo Sabres organization in 2019-2020, wasn’t just the best goalie in the OHL in 2018-2019. In fact, he was named the OHL’s most valuable player.
Meanwhile, a lot of attention will be on towering Wolves forward Quinton Byfield in 2019-2020. Byfield is being projected as a high — as in top five overall — pick at the 2020 NHL draft.
MISSISSAUGA STEELHEADS: From a hockey operations standpoint, this is a tough team to try to figure out.
On one hand, the Steelheads added some good, young players over the past year via separate deals with their trading partners in Saginaw.
Then, just when it was thought that the Steelheads might be prepping for some sort of advancement in 2019-2020, they dealt workhorse goalie Jacob Ingham to Kitchener in a puzzling transaction from earlier this summer.
Something seems to be missing in Missy.
PETERBOROUGH PETES: After a pair of seasons that failed to produce a playoff series win, the Petes are poised to make a move up in the Eastern market in 2019-2020.
Veteran general manager Michael Oke and second-year head coach Rob Wilson have cornerstones in place in goalie Hunter Jones, defenseman Ryan Merkley and forward Nick Robertson. All three are high NHL draft picks.
NORTH BAY BATTALION: Attendance has been on a sharp decline and the Troops have struggled to be any sort of serious threat on the ice over the past three seasons.
Unless the Battalion starts to win, the fans are likely to continue to stay away. Ergo, this looms as a critical season for the OHL in North Bay — on and off the ice.
HAMILTON BULLDOGS: OHL champions two years ago, the Bulldogs fell to eighth place in the Eastern Conference in 2019-2020 and lost in the first round of the playoffs.
But general manager Steve Staios started the rebuild before last season was over, adding younger players via trade such as forward Tag Bertuzzi and defenseman Payton Vescio and recovering some future draft choices that had been dealt away the year before.
The Bulldogs have an over-powering 1-2 scoring punch in forwards Arthur Kaliyev and Jan Jenik to build around in 2019-2020.
BARRIE COLTS: The Colts missed the playoffs in 2018-2019.
And we are not sure who they can beat out if they hope to make it back to the post-season in 2019-2020.
What we are rather sure of is Colts center Ryan Suzuki, who was taken by the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round of this year’s NHL draft. If healthy, Suzuki should be good for 40-plus goals for Barrie in 2019-2020.
KINGSTON FRONTENACS: The prize for finishing last overall in the OHL in 2018-2019 was Kingston being able to select splendid center Shane Wright with the first overall pick at this year’s priority selections draft.
With a 2004 birth date, Wright was granted exceptional player status by Hockey Canada in order to enter the OHL draft a year ahead of schedule.
Wright is coming off of a 2018-2019 season in which he starred for the Don Mills Flyers and was named minor midget player-of-the-year in the GTHL In all, the 6-foot, 180-pound Wright produced 66 goals, 84 assists, 150 points in 72 games for Don Mills.
PHOTO ABOVE: Brennan Othmann (Flint Firebirds) and Shane Wright (Kingston Frontenacs) were linemates with the GTHL champion Don Mills Flyers in 2018-2019.