London Knights enter 2019-20 OHL season as early favourite

The London Knights celebrate an exhibition win over the Sarnia Sting. Mike Stubbs/980 CFPL

It’s early, very early, but the London Knights will open the Ontario Hockey League’s regular season Friday night as one of the top teams.

The Knights come into the season in the top spot of the Canadian Hockey League’s top 10 rankings. Their opponents on Friday, the Peterborough Petes, were an honourable mention on the list.

Returning forward Nathan Dunkley says the team is feeling good coming into the season.

“We got a really good group here. There’s a lot of skilled players. We have depth up front and a lot of good puck-moving defencemen,” said Dunkley, adding that the team has some unfinished business.

READ MORE: London Knights go perfect at home in pre-season by beating the Erie Otters

“Looking forward to getting redemption from last year. Just how it finished, it was brutal.”

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The Knights lost to the eventual OHL champion Guelph Storm in the second round, a series they at one point led three games to none. It was the first time in league history that a team came back from a three-game deficit to win a series.

Hunter Skinner, who wasn’t with the team last year, joined the Knights in the off-season after getting drafted by the NHL’s New York Rangers.

After two seasons playing junior in the U.S., Skinners says he’s come to the OHL with one goal in mind.

“Of course, win a Memorial Cup. That’s our main goal, is keep getting better and just be the best,” he said.

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Gerard Keane was with the Knights last year as a 16-year-old. He’ll get more opportunity this season as he gets ready for the NHL draft.

“Looking forward to having a bigger role on the team this year, I’m hoping to play well, play solid defensively and just do what I can to get drafted at the end of this year,” Keane said.

The Knights will have a bit of a new look this year after tweaking their logo and redesigning their jersey during the off-season.

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London will start the season without a captain as reigning OHL Defenceman of the Year Evan Bouchard has graduated to the pro ranks and is currently trying to earn a roster spot with the Edmonton Oilers.

Throughout the day on Friday, Global News Radio 980 CFPL will be broadcasting live in Jubilee Square outside of Budweiser Gardens for the Craig Needles Show and London Live with Mike Stubbs.

You can listen to all London Knights broadcasts live on Global News Radio 980 CFPL. Friday night’s pregame show with Mike Stubbs and Jim Van Horne is live from Shoeless Joe’s and starts at 6:30 p.m.

New faces

Stuart Rolofs and Max McCue are the lone players from the 2019 draft class to make the team out of their first training camp. Sean McGurn, Avery Winslow and Ben Roger are with the team and were selected in the 2018 draft.

Kirill Steklov was the team’s import selection, and the Estonia native is eligible for the 2020 NHL Draft. Skinner and Jonathan Gruden, both of whom are already NHL draft picks, also join the team. More details on the Knights’ NHL prospects are forthcoming.

Another newcomer, Bryce Montgomery, was a free agent signee of the Knights.

Eyeing the NHL draft

The Knights will have a handful of guys on the radar for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, including a potential first-rounder. Antonio Stranges certainly has first-round talent, and he’ll be expected to add to his point total from his rookie season. Sahil Panwar and Keane are two others who played limited roles with the Knights as 16-year-olds and will have a heavier workload this season. Steklov, selected by London in the 2019 CHL Import Draft, is also eligible.

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NHL prospects

The London Knights will once again be loaded with NHL prospects, having eight players who have been drafted. Connor McMichael (Washington Capitals), Liam Foudy (Columbus Blue Jackets), Gruden (Ottawa Senators), Matvey Guskov (Minnesota Wild), Alec Regula (Detroit Red Wings), Skinner (New York Rangers) and Jordan Kooy (Vegas Golden Knights). Paul Cotter is under contract with the Vegas Golden Knights after signing as a free agent last season.

Moving on

There are plenty of roles to be filled on this year’s team, with a handful of key players from last year moving on. Former team captain Bouchard is gone, as are Alex Formenton, Kevin Hancock, William Lochead and Adam Boqvist.

In net

For the first time in his OHL career, Jordan Kooy will be the go-to starter after splitting duties with veteran Joseph Raaymakers over the last two seasons.

Matt Onuska and Brett Brochu, both 17, will compete for the backup role. Onuska backstopped the Waterloo Siskins to a Sutherland Cup Championships, while Brochu spent last season with the Dresden Kings of the Provincial Junior Hockey League.

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