The Canadian Hockey League playoffs get underway this weekend, with eight Montreal Canadiens prospects taking part on their respective Junior teams.
Two of those prospects will go head to head in the Ontario Hockey League’s opening round when the Windsor Spitfires head to London to open their series with the Knights tonight.
Brady Vail was selected in the 4th round of the 2012 NHL Draft by the Montreal Canadiens, and his Spitfires will take on Michael McCarron and the Knights. Vail scored 22 goals and 52 points in his draft season, and set career highs this season with 32 goals and 83 points for Windsor.
McCarron, who was the Habs first round pick last June, was drafted out of the United States National Development Team and just finished his rookie season with London. The hulking 6’6″ and 238 pound winger had his ups and downs as he adjusted to the OHL, but began using his enormous size to his advantage as the season wound down.
London have an extremely deep team so it could be difficult for McCarron at times to play a major role, but he finished the season with 14 goals and 34 points in 66 games.
The Knights finished the season with 316 goals, the second most in the OHL, while the Spitfires trailed behind with 249.
London finished fourth in the OHL’s Western Conference with 103 points and will have home ice advantage against the Windsor who finished 5th in the conference but had just 77 points, 26 less than the Knights.
London and Windsor met six times in the regular season and the Knights came away with five of the six wins.
In the six head to head matchups, Vail scored four times on the Knights, and McCarron scored one goal and one assists against the Spitfires.
This series is a matchup of a fourth and fifth seed, but is not as closely matched as one might think. London was in the extremely tough Midwest Division with the Erie Otters and Guelph Storm, and actually finished third in the entire OHL with 103 points. It just so happens the top three teams are all in the same division, so the Knights are seeded behind the Sault St Marie Greyhounds who led the mediocre West Division.
The Spitfires were second in the West Division with 77 points, and fifth in the Western Conference, but finished 8th in the OHL standings.
Windsor is certainly an underdog in this series, but have some excellent players to help them try and pull off an upset. Josh Ho-Sang who will be a first round NHL pick in a few short months led the Spitfires in scoring with 85 points. Vail plays on a line with Ho-Sang, and will have to be incredible if Windsor is going to go beyond the first round.
The Spitfires dealt a few veterans at the OHL trade deadline, including sniper Kerby Rychel who would be a huge help at this time of year. However, their focus is on the future, while the Knights are hosting the Memorial Cup and are fully built for this season.
London has one of the deepest teams in Canadian Junior hockey, and are led by recent NHL first rounders Max Domi, Nikita Zadorov and Bo Horvat. They have six players averaging more than a point per game and have two excellent goaltenders in Anthony Stolarz and Jake Patterson.
The Knights are just too deep for the Spitfires, and they will prove why they finished 26 points ahead of Windsor in the standings.
My prediction: London wins the series in 5 games. Vail scores 3 goals and 2 assists, while McCarron scores 1 goal and 1 assist.
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