Buzzing The Net - Junior Hockey

Kitchener Rangers a team in transition: OHL Burning Questions

The Ontario Hockey League regular season begins Thursday. They play one of these every winter? Man, it never ends. With the days getting shorter and the season getting nearer, BTN is taking an early look at each team in reverse order of last season's standings.

Kitchener Rangers

In 2012-13 — 39-20-1-8, .640 point pct., 209 GF/177 GA. Fourth, Western Conference. Lost 4-1 to London Knights in conference semifinal .

Final Dynamic Dozen ranking — fifth OHL, 12th CHL.

Drafted — C Radek Faksa (Dallas Stars, first round), RW Justin Bailey (Buffalo Sabres, second), C Matia Marcantuoni (Pittsburgh Penguins, fourth), LW Ben Thomson (New Jersey Devils, fourth), LW Brent Pedersen (Carolina Hurricanes, fifth), D Evan McEneny (Vancouver Canucks, free-agent signing).

2014 NHL draft watch — New Rangers GM Murray Hiebert's summer airlift of U.S. talent included the promising Ryan MacInnis and Nick Magyar up front, along with D Frank Hora; LW Darby Llewellyn also got into 40 games as a frosh forward.

1. Who emerges as their game-breaker?

Rather than forming some mean-spirited simile about mutual funds that's just going make people mad, let's just say the Rangers have had trouble getting a strong rate of return out of forwards who arrived in the K-W Region with glowing notices. Both Faksa (nine goals, 31 points in 39 games) and Bailey (17 and 36 in 57) spent part of last season in the shop, so one would love to see what each of the powerful forwards could do with a healthy season. Their NHL clubs would like to see that too, since both Dallas at No. 9 overall in 2012 and Buffalo at No. 52 this past summer banked on getting a steal instead of an overdraft.

The overage Thomson, 19-year-old Marcantuoni and 18-year-old Pedersen are also set up to take ownership of the offence. Hiebert is a unique position of having to keep enough older players to keep the Rangers competitive, while needing to let MacInnis, Magyar and 16-year-old forward Mike Davies develop. That would definitely explain why the Rangers parted with two serviceable 18-year-olds, flipping centre Josh Sterk to Oshawa while waiving D-man Owen Stewart, who's landed in London.

2. What response will they get to their "NEEDED: 5 guys to work the power play, experience preferred but not necessary" Kijiji ad?

Being 15th in the 20-team OHL in power-play efficiency when former coach-GM Steve Spott had so many 19-year-old high NHL picks — Frank Corrado, Josh Leivo, Ryan Murphy, Matt Puempel and Tobias Rieder — at his disposal caused a lot of tooth-gnashing. The devil's advocate argument is that the Rangers, due to injuries along with world juniors and the NHL lockout wreaking havoc, seldom had much continuity in the lineup. Nevertheless, it segues right into an obvious question for Smith — if the team struggled to convert with the extra skater(s) with that much individual talent, what is going to happen now that it's a younger team?

Perhaps having less NHL and WJC related absenteeism will bolster the Rangers' cause. Plus McEneny, coming off a 34-point 18-year-old season, rates a shot to run a PP. Kitchener's star power did rise to the fore while short-handed last season. Its PK was fourth in the OHL.

3. How will Tyson Teichmann fare at filling John Gibson's old net?

No pressure there, eh? Teichmann only has to replace the best teenage goaltending performance in North America, perhaps the world, from last season. (Gibson helped Team America win the world junior, true, but over in Europe the best teen goalies face men on a nightly basis.) Teichmann has had quite the travelogue over his four seasons in the league. He was in the Hockey Canada pipeline in his first two seasons, has been with three teams who were on a down cycle while also being a half-season insurance policy with London during its 2012 championship run. The hockey blogosphere's best-known Sons of Anarchy fan righted himself statistically with Mississauga, posting a 2.77 average and .908 save percentage, albeit it within a division that's not as deep as the Rangers' Midwest grouping.

Every year, some overages who have struggled to find the right fit for four years find a happy place and earn a good post-junior playing opportunity. Teichmann, playing behind a veteran-helmed D corps with Ben Fanelli, Max Iafrate and McEneny, could certainly do a lot worse for an opportunity to follow that arc.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

Related Articles

Buzzing The Net

Add to My Yahoo RSS

Blog Roll

Featured Sports Video