As the OHL’s Eastern and Western Conference finals are about to get underway, we decided to take a closer look at each of the final four teams’ x-factors, whose performances could be all the difference in the third round.
Recent Columbus Blue Jackets signee Justin Scott, who was largely kept out of the spotlight until this season (despite scoring 30 goals in 2014-15), is Barrie’s key to defeating the Niagara IceDogs in the Eastern Conference Final.
Scott has been scoring at a torrid pace during the 2016 playoffs, notching a postseason-leading 14 goals in just 11 games. However, a whopping 10 of those goals came in the first round while just four came in the four-game second-round series against North Bay.
Sure, those are still some pretty lofty numbers, but the key here is whether Scott can remain consistent or if he is going to regress as a result of a ridiculously high shooting percentage. The Colts forward needs to keep up the potent goal-scoring in order for his team to be firing on all cylinders, propelling them to a berth in the final round of the Ontario Hockey League playoffs.
This one is a no-brainer: Dylan Strome. Not just because he’s their captain, top scorer and obvious best player, but because there’s something special about the former Connor McDavid understudy.
In the wake of the Edmonton Oilers star’s departure, a great deal of pressure was placed upon Strome, who — aside from the two-month period in 2014-15 in which he became the team’s top center due to a McDavid injury/World Junior participation — had never really been tasked with facing any adversity at all.
There was, however, some scrutiny about his performance in the 2015 playoffs, where he scored 22 points in 20 games (meanwhile, McDavid scored 49 points in the same amount of games). He’s been erasing those doubts this spring though, scoring at a two-point per game pace with 18 points (10G, 8A) in nine games. He was especially impressive in the final game of the Otters’ second-round series against Soo Ste. Marie when he scored a hat trick and added two assists.
Riding a confidence high, Strome will be the most important figure for Erie if they hope to eliminate their toughest rival, the London Knights.
Speaking of the Knights, they too have an obvious x-factor. Mitch Marner has taken control of the OHL this postseason, leading all skaters in points (24), placing second in assists (15) and placing fifth in goals (nine). His team struggled a bit more than they should have in their opening round series against Owen Sound, taking it to Game 6 before moving on. They were shut-out by the Attack in one of the earlier games and Marner didn’t really find his game until mid-way through the series.
Once the forward got going, London found immediate success. Marner tallied 12 points in just four games, leading his team to a sweep over the highly-competitive Kitchener Rangers. They seemed to have the Otters’ number during the regular season, so it will be interesting to see if they make quick work of their Pennsylvania-based rivals.
Regardless, the prized Toronto Maple Leafs prospect will be the center of attention for the critically-acclaimed Knights as they seek to get revenge for their own four-game series loss to Erie last spring.
Of all the x-factors we’ve mentioned, Niagara’s Josh Ho-Sang may very well be the one who has the most to prove. Sure, he’s been great for his team – he ranks in the top-five in playoff scoring with 15 points and led his team to a sweep over the powerhouse Kingston Frontenacs just last week.
But whether you like him or not, you have to admit that there’s even another level Ho-Sang has yet to reach in this postseason, a level in which he is capable of scoring way more than just three goals.
The New York Islanders prospect only had one multi-point game and failed to register a single point in the final game of the second-round series, so there’s clearly a lot more potential we have yet to see. Every series is a new start, though, and Ho-Sang has the chance to begin anew in the third round against Barrie.
If the IceDogs wish to advance to face the winner of the West, they’re going to need their top forward to kick it into another gear in the third round.