Now that the shock of the Wolves’ season coming to an unexpected quick end has worn off somewhat, it’s time to look at what’s ahead over the next few months — it could be one of the most interesting off-seasons for the hockey club in quite some time.
Many have been telling me that the 2012-13 season is the year that the Wolves should be poised to take a run at a championship. Every time I heard this, I was skeptical. I felt that this past season may have been the time to go for it.
They had Michael Sgarbossa with an MVP season and a team with a never-say-die attitude, despite one of the most injury-riddled seasons you will ever see. The recipe was there for success, but I think a couple of special ingredients were missing that might have made the difference. Whether that was additions through trades or a healthy lineup late in the season heading into the playoffs, I guess we’ll never know.
My reluctance to jump on the band wagon for next season too soon is simply because of what the team has lost. Sgarbossa, Andrey Kuchin and Michael McDonald are gone up front with Josh McFadden subtracted from the blue line.
Don’t get me wrong — I love the base the team has to work with. Josh Leivo, Derek Schoenmakers, Nathan Pancel, Mathew Campagna, Brody Silk, Nicholas Baptiste and Jacob Harris give the Wolves a great starting point, but I still see some challenges.
Leivo may be ready to take over this team offensively, but I still think a veteran scorer will have to be brought in to be the go-to guy.
Goaltending could be the biggest issue. Johan Mattsson will likely not be back and there is some question whether Joel Vienneau can be a number one goaltender in the OHL. He showed signs of brilliance this past season, but unfortunately they were few and far between. Again, a trade may be needed, or don’t be surprised to see the Wolves go the route of the CHL Import Draft that brought them Mattsson.
I don’t see defence being a problem, at least not quality. The one problem could be quantity. I count six d-men that are eligible to return from last year’s team, and then add in 2011 draft pick Evan DeHaan and 2012 first-round pick Conor Cummins, who are both expected to challenge for a spot on the roster. I guess the advantage is that the extra bodies could be key when it comes to trade talks.
So stay tuned, there could be plenty to report on when we get into the dog days of summer.
Some other stories to watch in the coming weeks:
May - The Wolves will take a good look at their recently drafted rookies during the first weekend of May. Cummins was taken in the first round, 14th overall. This kid is already 6-3 and 196 pounds. Some reports say he was the best offensively gifted defenceman available in the draft.
I look forward to getting a look at Francesco Vilardi, taken in the third round, 56th overall. On draft day, general manager Blaine Smith spoke very highly of the OMHA scoring champ, who he said couldn’t wait to get to Sudbury to battle for a spot on the team.
As expected, the third round also brought the Wolves Connor Burgess, the son of Wolves owner Mark Burgess. It’s a difficult situation for the 16-year-old to be put in, but by all accounts there isn’t a better 16-year-old to handle the pressure. Smith said there isn’t a player out there who wants to see the Wolves win more than Burgess does.
June – The NHL Draft goes in June and its unclear how many Wolves will be selected. Campagna was the only Wolf to be ranked — #158 amongst North American skaters. I am still amazed that Pancel failed to make the list. He finished fourth in rookie scoring and was a finalist for OHL Rookie of the Year honours. I talked to plenty of NHL scouts in the second half of the season and more times than not, it was Pancel they were asking about. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Pancel be a surprise pick. If a team does take a chance on him, they won’t be disappointed.
Stew Kernan is the radio and television voice of the Sudbury Wolves, and the news director at EZ Rock and Q92. This column appears every other week in Northern Life.
Posted by Laurel Myers