Buzzing The Net - Junior Hockey

London Knights, Erie Otters trade places in BTN Dynamic Dozen

The last time the London Knights moved a first-round choice came at a heavy price.

That would be the John Tavares blockbuster trade in January 2009, which over time progressed into being the Christian Thomas trade. Tavares was a generational talent not only at the major junior level but the return to the Oshawa Generals included Thomas, who scored 101 goals during a span from 2009 through '11 when London was often wanting for offence.

In the present, the Memorial Cup-host Knights boast one of the league's brightest true freshmen, rookie scoring co-leader Mitchell Marner, and a promising 17-year-old in Christian Dvorak. Both would seem to be worth keeping. Some OHL teams have taken advantage of the window to trade a first-rounder in January, but London, never the type to be shy once, is at least once bitter.

Meantime, this week's rundown of the top quintile of the CHL includes a potential first overall showdown in in the QMJHL could change hands, as the top three Quebec-based teams have a modified round-robin.

1. London Knights, OHL (.604 RPI, +2.2 SRS, +1) — Three guesses — first two don't count — how diehard fans across the OHL would react if this scenario came to pass. The Knights might not be done adding as they build toward those four games in May, while the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds are likely overachieving but are still delivering their best season in a half-decade. And now a local columnist suggests trading their captain?

From Randy Russon:

Nurse has a very good chance of playing in the NHL in 2014-2015.

So, should the Greyhounds trade Nurse for a package of players and high draft picks makes that keeps them as contenders for a few more years to come?

Let’s face it, the Greyhounds may be tied with the Knights in the Western Conference standings. But does the Soo have what it takes to be Western champions?

If [Greyhounds GM Kyle] Dubas and head coach Sheldon Keefe concede that the Greyhounds, despite their current record, are not in the class of London or Erie or Guelph, trading Nurse just might make sense.

Think about what the Greyhounds could demand in return for Nurse. (Sault This Week, Nov. 25)

The national outcry over Rogers snatching up national NHL rights from TSN would have nothing on OHL fans being aghast at seeing the super-rich get super-richer. Heads would explode, figuratively.

The Knights had a statement win last Friday over Erie, controlling tempo and drawing power plays while keeping a tight seal around budding Team USA goaltending hopeful Anthony Stolarz. It has a 10-game point streak ahead of a three-game stretch that includes a midweek game against those aforementioned 'Hounds.

Erie and London's next matchup is Dec. 14, right in the middle of the Team Canada selection camp, so each team will be missing some major cogs.

2. Erie Otters, OHL (.593 RPI, +1.9 SRS, -1) — Over at Canucks Army, BTN's own Cam Charron has some ruminations on how the Otters might deploy the new guy wearing No. 14, Brendan Gaunce. The Vancouver Canucks first-rounder and former Belleville Bulls captain has been deployed as a left wing, but Erie might need to start more possessions with the puck, which could dictate that he becomes the chief faceoff taker/complementary scorer type that makes his teammates better. Gaunce was on the wing at times last season after the Bellevilles added Minnesota Wild prospect Tyler Graovac, but that was in deference to Graovac being the more mature pivot. Now it is on Gaunce, who's been reunited with fellow ex-Bull Michael Curtis (a more natural left wing), to be that guy.

3. Portland Winterhawks, WHL (.592 RPI, +2.1 SRS, —) — Not that Winterhawks supporters have a heightened conspiracy threshold — come on, why would they, oh, right — but Team WHL breaking up Portland stars Nic Petan and Brendan Leipsic for the Subway Super Series just seems odd. Hockey Canada tried that last year in the QMJHL leg with Halifax's Jonathan Drouin and Nathan MacKinnon and they were lost while separated, before thriving as linemates in the next game. Why not see how that synergy plays on a grander stage? People may wonder if this is setting a player up to have a reduced chance at success, especially since it took Leipsic until this season to get on HC's radar.

4. Guelph Storm, OHL (.574 RPI, +2.3 SRS, —) — Friendly reminder: the Storm have a hole card for loading up before the trade deadline, since they chanced a second-rounder last April on Luke Kirwan, now of the U.S. under-17 team. The ever-rising stakes to land a marquee 19-year-old player who could help a team turn it up to '11' and earn a Memorial Cup berth might mean having to surrender a young first-round talent.

The Storm scored 11 goals (not counting an empty-netter) in the two games following a rare home loss against Windsor. That is the take-it-out-on-the-next-team bounce-back usually associated with strong teams. How about Los Angeles Kings pick Zac Leslie scoring six goals in two games? That is a season for a lot of good defencemen.

5. Spokane Chiefs, WHL (.573 RPI, +1.5 SRS, +1) — If a player with a disproportionate ratio of goals to assists — Sherbrooke's Jean-François Plante with his Max Scherzer-esque statline, perfect example — is called a Cy Young, then how does one refer to Chiefs defenceman Reid Gow? At this writing, the 19-year-old Killarney, Man., native is the leading defenceman scorer in the Dub with zero goals and 32 assists. Sheer randomness would dictate that at least one of his point shots that was suited for tipping would go in directly or carom into the goal off an opponent. Ponder that whilst enjoying a class of Chiefs Red, a cabernet sauvignon from a Spokane winery that is being sold in support of the team's charitable foundation.

6. Kelowna Rockets, WHL (.570 RPI, +1.7 SRS, -1) — Kelowna's stress-readiness will get pushed over the next three weeks with a stretch of 11 games over 19 days, including six in eight for its biannual tour through the Eastern Division. That comes after blueline pillars Madison Bowey, who's also their leading scorer, and Damon Severson, face two potentially grueling games against Russia during the Super Series. It is safe to say few teams will enjoy the holiday break more than the B.C. Division-leading Rockets.

One storyline to keep monitoring with Kelowna is 19-year-old wing Ryan Olsen's progress; he's on the cusp of earning a contract with the Winnipeg Jets organization.

7. Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, QMJHL (.561 RPI, +1.2 SRS, —) — It's a semi-halfway big weekend in the Telus West division, where B-B and the Gatineau Olympiques each welcome in East-leading Baie-Comeau prior to their late matinee on Sunday. The Armada worked overage wing Ryan Tesink back in last week; he had four points during a northern swing where the club took 3-of-4 possible points to keep a tenuous grip on first overall.

8. Gatineau Olympiques, QMJHL (.542 RPI, +0.6 SRS, +2) — Regardless of anything being left unsaid, one has to respect the choice of Marc-Olivier Brouillard, the overage wing who has called a halt to his overage season. The 20-year-old from St-Hilaire, Que., is third in team scoring with 22 points over 20 games, but said he had a strained relationship with coach-GM Benoît Groulx and had "lost the desire to play ... I was not in the mood to continue to make sacrifices."

Brouillard noted that he plans on making a return at the university level next season; point being, this can be taken as someone wanting a break from the sport. It is a blow, however, for Gatineau, which welcomes in East-leading Baie-Comeau on Friday night.

9. Tri-City Americans, WHL (.539 RPI, +0.5 SRS, +2) — The Ams' Eric Comrie vs. the the Edmonton Oil Kings' Tristan Jarry is a goalie argument that could make an afternoon pass rather quickly. Comrie has a 2.51 average and .925 save percentage while handling 33.46 shots per game for Tri-City, compared to 2.08, .921 and 26.48 for Jarry up in Edmonton. (Assume some margin of error with the shot counts.) The two will have their chance to augment their cases for a shot at Team Canada on Wednesday and Thursday nights during the home stretch o the Subway Super Series.

Tri-City is down two regular defenceman with Mitch Topping and Will Tomchuk sidelined, which led to adding 19-year-old Jeff Hubic from Kootenay to be a seasoned stopgap. That could cause the Ams to drop out following this week.

10. Windsor Spitfires, OHL (.538 RPI, +1.1 SRS, +3) — By our numbers, the Spitfires are the fourth-strongest team in the Ontario league and yet could be a seller before the January trade deadline. If that doesn't reflect the arms race in the OHL and the Spitfires' need to stockpile priority-selection after 2012's league sanctions, nothing does. The upshot for the Spitfires, who got a boost from winning on Guelph's ice last week, is that their younger cohort that includes the likes of Josh Ho-Sang, Ryan Foss and Cristiano DiGiacinto are being enriched by being in the same orbit with NHL first-rounders Kerby Rychel and Slater Koekkoek — for however long that might last. They're not going to be barren if a move is made.

As an aside, you want Ty Bilcke on your basement mini-sticks hockey team.

11. Everett Silvertips, WHL (.538 RPI, +0.7 SRS, +10) — The "not very flashy but they get the job done" Silvertips of Kevin Constantine come off as the scourge of those who preferred their hockey played rather than coached, if ya get the drift. Playing a trap has helped Everett reel off four consecutive one-goal road wins even while San Jose Sharks first-rounder Mirco Mueller had to miss two of those contests. Playing that way can leave little margin for error or capacity to play catch-up, but here they are with the Dub's second-best point percentage at .778.

12. Baie-Comeau Drakkar, QMJHL (.536 RPI, +1.5 SRS, +4) — The Drakkar's penalty killing and commitment to team defence (i.e., shot blocking, sorry, fancystats fans) has been their saving grace of late. Coach Éric Veilleux's team has not scored five goals in any game since early in month, which is a trend it might be hard-pressed to break during this weekend's three-game Telus West swing through Gatineau, Blainville-Boisbriand and Sherbrooke.

The not as dynamic but still very distinguished dozen — 13. Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL (.536, +1); 14. Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, QMJHL (.533, +6); 15. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, OHL (.533, -7); 16. Seattle Thunderbirds, WHL (.533, +3); 17. Swift Current Broncos, WHL (.532, -5); 18. Drummondville Voltigeurs, QMJHL (.531, -9); 19. Val-d'Or Foreurs, QMJHL (.530, -1); 20. Oshawa Generals, OHL (.527, -3); 21. Rimouski Océanic, QMJHL (.524, +2); 22. Edmonton Oil Kings, WHL (.522, -7); 23. Québec Remparts, QMJHL (.519, +2); 24. Medicine Hat Tigers, WHL (.519, -2).

Hot team — Everett Silvertips, up 10 (21st to 11th).

Cold team — Drummondville Voltigeurs, down 9 (9th to 18th).

Nowhere to go but up — Shawinigan Cataractes (.408).

An explanation on rankings — Buzzing The Net uses Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) with a recency factor. RPI combines a team's record with the strength of its opponents to produce an overall rating. Our method also gives more weight to recently played games. Shootout wins and losses are classified as ties, for philosophical and practical reasons. Simple Ranking System (SRS), a ranking which combines goal differential and strength of schedule, is used as a complement. All three CHL leagues are considered equivalent in quality.

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.

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