The first half of the 2016-17 Ontario Hockey League season has produced countless storylines and top performers with the best yet to come.
A poll of various media who cover the league in Eastern and Western Conference broadcast booths and press boxes weighed in with opinions and comments on some of the players and teams who made the most noise during the first half, and those who will emerge from the pack down the stretch.
Below is a compilation of the most popular answers with select media comments to support their decisions.
Which Eastern Conference team was the biggest surprise of the first half?
Oshawa Generals (50%)
“I’m not sure anyone would have predicted Oshawa to be leading the conference at the halfway point. They went into full rebuild mode last season after their 2015 Memorial Cup win and their rebound appears to be ahead of schedule.”
Which Western Conference team was the biggest surprise of the first half?
Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (65%)
“We knew they’d be a good team, but nobody expected them to be this good. They have done so without Blake Speers that when he gets going, they should be even better.”
Which Eastern Conference player was the biggest surprise of the first half?
Owen Tippett, Mississauga Steelheads (40%)
“A steady nose for the net and one of the most feared shots in the league. Mississauga would not be in the position they’re in without his incredible individual talent.”
Which Western Conference player was the biggest surprise of the first half?
Bobby MacIntyre, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (50%)
“If you had told me Bobby MacIntyre would be on pace for a 100 point season at Christmas I would have laughed. I’m sure his own family wouldn’t have predicted him to be fourth in league scoring. Super success story, much respect for taking his game to a new and previously unreached level.”
Who will finish the season as the Eastern Conference’s leading scorer?
Artur Tyanulin, Ottawa 67’s (65%)
“If Ottawa continues to produce as much as they do on the power play, then you’d be hard up to not pick Artur Tyanulin (16 PPA). The young Russian can fly and has the durability of a much larger player, especially down low which helps him create scoring chances.”
Who will finish the season as the Western Conference’s leading scorer?
Alex DeBrincat, Erie Otters (70%)
“Inexplicably not making Team USA will give him a chance to add a cushion.”
Who has been the Eastern Conference’s most outstanding player?
Anthony Cirelli, Oshawa Generals (50%)
“Just continues to improve every aspect of his game and now captains a team that has a legit shot at getting to the Mastercard Memorial Cup. His inclusion on Team Canada is a testament to his growth as a player.”
Who has been the Western Conference’s most outstanding player?
Taylor Raddysh, Erie Otters (35%)
“Has taken his game to another level offensively but also as a 200-foot player. Greatest compliment was making Team Canada–shows his willingness to do what it takes to win.”
Honourable mention: Alex DeBrincat, Erie Otters (30%)
“Few can score goals like him.”
Who has been the Eastern Conference’s most impressive goaltender?
Dylan Wells, Peterborough Petes (60%)
“Much was expected of Wells when the Petes made him the first goalie selected in the 2014 OHL Priority Selection and the Petes traded veteran Matt Mancina in August to give Wells the chance to be a starter in his third season. He’s not disappointed ranking among OHL leaders in all major goaltending statistics.”
Honourable mention: Jeremy Brodeur, Oshawa Generals (40%)
“The overage netminder has taken another step in his game and is a big reason why the Generals are at the top of the conference.”
Who has been the Western Conference’s most impressive goaltender?
Michael DiPietro, Windsor Spitfires (50%)
“Has been playing at such an elite level for a young goaltender and a huge reason Windsor is where they are. Handles lots of responsibility and pressure like a future pro.”
Honourable mention: Michael McNiven, Owen Sound Attack (30%)
“Some relative surprises offensively for the Attack, but McNiven has carried the team at times and kept them firmly in the top half of the conference. He wins games by himself.”
Who has been the Eastern Conference’s most impressive defenceman?
Ryan Mantha, Niagara IceDogs (60%)
“Captain Ryan Mantha has done everything for this team this season. Leads the league for defencemen in shots, and leads the team in scoring.”
Who has been the Western Conference’s most impressive defenceman?
Victor Mete, London Knights (40%)
“The only OHL defenceman invited to Team Canada’s Selection Camp says a lot for a player who has developed an elite game at both ends of the ice.”
Honourable mention: Darren Raddysh, Erie Otters (35%)
“Has been a big part of the offensive machine in Erie and is on pace to crush his previous career highs in points. Huge overage presence and calmness on their back end. A guy who is playing like he wants a pro contract next year and I think he’s going to get it.”
Who has been the Eastern Conference’s most impressive rookie?
Akil Thomas, Niagara IceDogs (50%)
“Not easy coming from the GTHL’s Toronto Marlboros to a rebuild in Niagara but Akil has really expedited the transition. Dynamically offensive.”
Who has been the Western Conference’s most impressive rookie?
Ryan Merkley, Guelph Storm (70%)
“The league’s first overall pick is a special player, who can create a dynamic offensive play seemingly out of nothing. His teddy bear goal was special, but he does amazing things on a nightly basis.”
Who has been the Eastern Conference’s best coach?
Bob Jones, Oshawa Generals (50%)
“Record and improvement over last season speaks for itself.”
Who has been the Western Conference’s best coach?
Kris Knoblauch, Erie Otters (55%)
“Knoblauch doesn’t get nearly the praise he deserves for consistently having this team playing at the top of its game. He’s done a masterful job with a chance at a fourth straight 50-win season.”
Which team will win the Central Division?
Mississauga Steelheads (100%)
“The addition of Spencer Watson appears to have helped shake the Steelheads out of an unexpectedly miserable start to the season. There’s an abundance of exciting talent on this team, especially at centre, if they can organize themselves they’ll rocket to the top of the division.”
Which team will win the East Division?
Oshawa Generals (60%)
“Oshawa is the overwhelming pick to take the East. Mitchell Vande Sompel continues proving the naysayers wrong with his scoring touch from the backend and combine that with OHL Vets like Cirelli, Commisso, Brodeur, they have turned into a real force.”
Honourable mention: Peterborough Petes (40%)
“The Petes ended the first half on a league-best eight-game winning streak and are positioned well with a mix of veterans and emerging young players to put together their best season since their 2005-06 OHL championship. Dylan Wells has emerged as an elite goaltender in his third season and the Petes possess a balanced attack up front and perhaps the most experienced defensive corps in the conference.”
Which team will win the Midwest Division?
Erie Otters (85%)
“It’ll be tough to hold off the London Knights but having Dylan Strome back in Pennsylvania after the World Juniors will help the Otters hang on to first place.”
Which team will win the West Division?
Windsor Spitfires (70%)
“The Spitfires have a heavy home schedule and should have better health in second half.”
Who will win the Bobby Orr Trophy as Eastern Conference Champions?
Peterborough Petes (60%)
“Peterborough is a dark horse. With Dylan Wells leading the way in goal the Petes may have the deepest team from front to back in the conference. They may not catch Oshawa during the regular season but expect them to do some damage come playoffs.”
Honourable mention: Oshawa Generals (40%)
“If the Generals choose to make this a season where they go for it they have a legitimate shot to contend.”
Who will win the Wayne Gretzky Trophy as Western Conference Champions?
Erie Otters (50%)
“Once Strome gets cooking, it’ll be tough to stop them. Especially with a great supporting cast.”
Honourable mention: London Knights (30%)
“Not their usual powerhouse, but too deep with too many resources to deal.”
Who will win the Robertson Cup as OHL Champions?
Erie Otters (55%)
“The Otters have been knocking on the door for a few years and with stars like Dylan Strome, Taylor Raddysh, Alex DeBrincat this may be their year to breakthrough. Impressive firepower. It’s scary to think we haven’t seen their best hockey yet.”
London Knights (20%)
“They just find a way.”
Windsor Spitfires (15%)
“They’re deep at every position and motivated (from ownership down) to enter the Mastercard Memorial Cup through the front door.”
Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (10%)
“They’re just too talented and too consistent, and Blake Speers’ return after the World Juniors will be a boost, too.”
The second half of the 2016-17 Ontario Hockey League season resumes on Wednesday December 28.