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2017-18 London Knights season preview

Mike Stubbs/AM980

Two years ago, the London Knights won the Memorial Cup.

Last spring, they eliminated the eventual Memorial Cup champions and took the OHL champion Erie Otters to overtime of Game 7.

In the mountain range of junior hockey, those are two incredibly high peaks.

They are the type of climbs that require pick-axes and tents for overnight stays.

The Knights are at base camp right now. How high can they reach in 2017-18?

Well, with training camp officially underway, the organization is poised to find out.

As the Pittsburgh Penguins have demonstrated for the past two seasons in the National Hockey League, if you are strong down the middle, own good puck-moving defencemen, get strong goaltending when needed and have a commitment to your system and your teammates, you can achieve great things.

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Let’s examine the early season Knights’ roster in those terms:

(Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images).

Down the middle

The Knights have Cliff Pu and Robert Thomas. That’s an excellent start. As a draft pick of the Buffalo Sabres, Pu is entering what is likely his final season in the OHL and is determined to make it his best – and he led London in scoring last year. Pu owns tremendous skill and will now have the opportunity to take on a larger leadership role.

Thomas has a story that just keeps getting better. He was London’s second-round pick in 2016 and he has soaked in every second since. Already blessed with an amazing hockey IQ, Thomas has made it his business to hone all the little things in a player’s game that help his team to win, like being responsible defensively, being strong along the wall and winning faceoffs. Those efforts led to him being selected by the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft in June.

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READ MORE: London Knights add two more players as training camp approaches

(Photo: THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Mark Spowart).

On defence

You hear the term “puck mover” an awful lot. With the way the game of hockey moves, you need them and you need as many of them as you can find.

The Knights have one of the fastest, smoothest and most experienced puck movers in the league in Victor Mete. The bonus that they get from Mete is the fact that he is outstanding in his own end. He stands 5-10 but finds ways to neutralize guys who are 6-4. He is also one of the best shot blockers and pass blockers out there. He’s will rack up big minutes this season.

Jacob Golden is another smooth puck mover who was brought along slowly in his rookie season but demonstrated enough to become a draft pick of the Minnesota Wild. He will have a full-time gig in 2017-18.

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Rounding out the top four are Evan Bouchard and Nic Mattinen. Both are heading into their third seasons. Mattinen is a draft pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs and has outstanding size and mobility. He also possesses one of the hardest shots in the OHL. Look for him to unleash it more often this season.

As a late birthday, Bouchard is entering his draft year. Look for him to quietly rise up the rankings as the year goes along.

They make up a very solid top four.

Added to the mix will be youngsters Andrew Perrott and Ryan Bangs.

Olli Juolevi and Brandon Crawley are questions marks at this point. Juolevi appears to have three potential destinations: the Vancouver Canucks, the London Knights or a team in Finland.

Crawley was drafted by the New York Rangers in June and could crack their American Hockey League roster in Hartford. He could also still play an over-age season in London.

READ MORE: A hat trick of a day for the London Knights

Mike Stubbs/AM 980

In goal

You can’t replace Tyler Parsons. What you can do is find someone with similar traits. In net, you want size, competitiveness, and composure. Experience doesn’t hurt either. That aspect can be assumed by Tyler Johnson, who spent last season as Parsons’ backup. The player to watch is Jordan Kooy. He is only 17, but when searching for the ingredients that can create a great goalie, you can go back to two games from Kooy’s rookie season that are glowing examples.

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He stopped all but one shot for his first OHL win in his first OHL start, but it was his second start that showed off even more. The Knights arrived in Niagara in November, playing their sixth game in nine days in front of a crowd that had to watch them defeat the Ice Dogs and become OHL champions just months earlier. The Meridian Centre was sold out and it was hostile. Kooy stopped two breakaways early in the game and gave his tired team a chance to seize momentum, which they did. It was a pure example of his compete level.

Roughly three months later, the six foot two inch Kooy entered a game midway through the second period in Owen Sound in which a flu-riddled London roster was trailing 5-1. The Attack were on a 15-game winning streak. A goalie’s job in a case like that is to try to keep things from getting worse.

Kooy started making saves. Some big ones. The Knights ignited and pulled off one of the most improbable comebacks in their history. They won 7-6 in a shootout. Kooy made 22 saves in 33 minutes and then stopped all three attack shooters in the shootout. That was a show of his composure.

In 2017-18, Kooy will have an opportunity to show what else he can do to help the Knights climb.

Those areas of London’s team check off some critical competitive boxes.

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(Photo: THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Mark Spowart). CP Images - Mark Spowart

READ MORE: London Knights host 16th annual charity golf tournament in Komoka

What else?

The Knights will have to wait on Max Jones. The Anaheim Ducks could take a very long look at what he could do for them as a 19-year old.

London is in search of a new captain. They are also in search of forwards who can step into some pretty large roles after the graduation of J.J. Piccinich, Owen MacDonald, Janne Kuokkanen, and Mitchell Stephens.

That opens the door for players like Senators’ draft pick, Alex Formenton, draft eligible Liam Foudy, Cole Tymkin (the GOJHL Western Rookie of the Year), Billy Moskal, Richard Whittaker, Devils’ draft pick Jesper Bratt and youngsters like Lucas Rowe and Dalton Duhart.

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Sam Miletic and Adrian Carbonara will be looked upon to provide offense and veteran presence. Miletic led the Knights with 37 goals last season and Carbonara showed flashes of what he can do offensively when given the opportunity. If Cameron Lizotte does not return to Erie, Carbonara will also take over the title of best fashion sense in the OHL.

The final piece of the puzzle is the system and the coaching that exists in London. Knights teams are as prepared for games as anyone. Players buy in very quickly and they stay in. It’s a key that keeps the Knights near the top year after year.

This year will feature the greatest infusion of youth and inexperience that the Knights have seen in years, but that shouldn’t be a concern. They will take some time to settle into the system. Time will also be needed to answer questions regarding the destinations of players who could move on to the professional ranks.

Teams and fans outside of London won’t want to hear it, but once all of that is resolved, it will be possible to make an excellent argument for the London Knights to find a way to scale the mountain again.

The Knights’ first on-ice session will be Tuesday, August 29 at 8:00 A.M. All on-ice scrimmages are open to the public. If attending, you are asked to enter through Gate 4.

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Here is the full training camp schedule:

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

8:00am-9:30am Team Black vs. Team White

9:40am-11:10am Team Gold vs. Team Green

1:00pm-2:50-pm Team White vs. Team Gold

3:00pm-4:50pm Team Black vs. Team Green

 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

8:00am-9:30am Team White vs. Team Green

9:40am-11:10am Team Black vs. Team Gold

1:00pm-2:50-pm Team White vs. Team Gold

3:00pm-4:50pm Team Black vs. Team Green

 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

9:00am-11:00am Team Green vs. Team Gold

 

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