Buzzing The Net - Junior Hockey

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.

Plymouth Whalers

In 2012-13 — 42-17-5-4, .684 point pct., 291 GF/198 GA. Second, Western Conference. Lost 4-1 to London in conference final.

Final Dynamic Dozen ranking — second OHL, fifth CHL.

On the junior/pro bubble — It seems as if the Washington Capitals will give the 6-foot-4, 217-pound behemoth Tom Wilson a chance to show he's worthy of The Show. The Capitals can also put 19-year-old D Connor Carrick in the American Hockey League.

Drafted — Wilson (Washington, first), RW Ryan Hartman (Chicago Blackhawks, first), C Viktor Crus-Rydberg (New York Islanders, fifth), Carrick (Washington, fifth), D Gianluca Curcuruto (Columbus Blue Jackets, seventh).

2014 NHL draft watch — G Alex Nedeljkovic is a shoo-in to be the top-ranked North American goalie for the draft; LW Matt Mistele buried 34 goals as late-birthday 17-year-old last winter; D Josh Wesley arrives with solid credentials after spending last season in Ann Arbor, Mich., with the U.S. under-17 team. Plymouth also got promising forward Connor Chatham to turn away from the University of Denver; he's 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds.

1. Who restocks better, Whalers coach-GM Mike Vellucci or your friendly neighborhood Meijer's grocery store?

The Whalers are coming off successive seasons as a stacked veteran team, so they probably face a question of whether the step down will be small, mediium large. Replacing at least three NHL first-rounders — four if Wilson does not return — is daunting. But Vellucci, who seemingly would sooner name a puppy London than punt on a season be a seller, has replenished rather cagily. The Whalers' reinforcements include the burly 6-foot-2, 220-pound Chatham and Crus-Rydberg, with whom Vellucci could almost do a plug-and-play to replace former Swedish import Rickard Rakell. Plus they could still get Wilson back, you know.

Defensively, Wesley should face a flatter learning curve as far as the physical element is concerned. Curcuruto and overage Nick Malysa also settle the defensive picture. That leads into talking about Nedeljkovic will fare as the starter on a younger team. A 2.28 average and .923 save percentage might be impossible to duplicate, but even a 2.75 mark over a 45- to 50-game workload would be commendable.

2. Might this season redraw their traditional rivalrie?

Typically, Plymouth's animus has been directed at Windsor Spitfires. There is the whole Windsor-Detroit association, the cross-border effect, plus both organizations have often focused on coaxing college-bound Michiganders to cast their lot with the OHL. But last season, Vellucci swung a blockbuster trade with the cross-state Saginaw Spirit to land scoring ace Vincent Trocheck, parting with two strong forwards, Cody Payne and Zach Bratina. Now the Spirit are a threat to finish first in the West Division. Plymouth has done so nine of the past 15 seasons, so there's a territorial thing there.

3. Who's a bigger potential loss, Carrick or Wilson?

Wilson, granted, is a force of nature on the ice who makes all his teammates stand an inch or two taller when he's doing his thing. However, the fact he got into three Stanley Cup playoff games with the Capitals definitely signalled there was a prospect he would not return. Plymouth, between losing Tyler Seguin to the NHL in 2010 and J.T. Miller to the AHL last season, has managed to carry on after losing a teenaged forward. Defensively, Carrick has made outstanding progress in the 15 months since being drafted. His stay in either the NHL or AHL, which he is eligible for by virtue of having played in the U.S. during his draft year, deprives the Whalers of a "criminally underrated" 25-minute-a-night offensive defenceman. Chatham would at least try to replace Wilson's impact, but it's hard to see who could cover for all the qualities Carrick contributes.

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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