The Erie Otters failed to reach the postseason in 2018-19, marking the second consecutive campaign in which the club fell short of the playoffs since winning the OHL Championship in 2016-17.
However, expect this troubling trend to come to a decisive end this coming season, as the Otters stand as a dramatically improved team owing to an influx of promising young talent.
Sure to play an impactful role this coming campaign and long into Erie’s future is Connor Lockhart — the team’s first choice in the recent 2019 OHL Draft who has the ability to impact the game at both ends of the ice. While he will come to lead the Otters’ offence, Jamie Drysdale will undoubtedly pace the team’s defence — the youngster stands as one of the top defenders eligible for the 2020 NHL Draft. In short, these two elite prospects stand as the present and future of the franchise.
However, Lockhart and Drysdale won’t be able to do it alone. Fortunately, Erie holds a number of other promising prospects as well as experienced depth players who should come to play an important role in the season ahead. If able to receive production from their depth forwards, stable defending, and quality minutes between the pipes, the Otters could do some significant damage in 2019-20.
Five Storylines to Follow
With this being said, here are five key storylines to follow in Erie this season. Although the Otters likely won’t push deep into the postseason, they are a team which could pose a significant challenge to other competitors if they receive positive outcomes in the areas which we have identified below.
1. Will Jamie Drysdale Lead the Otters to the Postseason?
As a former fourth-overall choice in the OHL Priority Selection, nothing other than greatness has come to be expected from Jamie Drysdale. A smooth skating and puck moving defenceman, Drysdale continues to display the ability to impact any given game at both ends of the ice with a remarkable level of poise and consistency.
This poise — and lethality — was on full display in Drysdale’s rookie campaign, as the youngster collected 40 points in his first 63 games of OHL action. Although he also collected a lacklustre -24 plus/minus rating in the process — a total reflective of the Otters’ poor team play — the fact remains that Drysdale is a young prospect booming with potential who has proven he has the skill set necessary to lead Erie back to the postseason.
If he can continue to mesh with his increasingly talented teammates while making improvements in his defensive zone, Drysdale should be able to push the Otters into playoff contention with apparent ease.
2. Can Connor Lockhart Spark Erie’s Offence?
With the third-overall selection in the 2019 OHL Priority Selection, the Otters nabbed the agile and highly skilled Connor Lockhart. A dynamic offensive force for the Kanata Lasers this past campaign, Lockhart is a young centre who can push the pace of playing owing to his speed while devising devastating offensive opportunities in the process.
Officially committed to the Otters for the upcoming 2019-20 OHL season, keep a close eye fixed on Lockhart as the campaign progresses. Sure, he will be one of the youngest players on the ice, however, Lockhart’s raw speed and electrifying shot should allow him to play a crucial depth role for Erie while he continues to improve and strengthen a variety of aspects of his game.
3. Will Aidan Campbell or Forbes Anderson Push for Playing Time?
The Otters struggled to find consistency between the pipes last season, as Dan Murphy, Cole Ceci, and Noah Battaglia pieced together an average campaign of goaltending for Erie. However, with Ceci now set to play for York University in 2019-20, the door has been opened wide for one of the Otters’ young goaltending prospects to seize valuable playing time.
Of the lot, Aidan Campbell or Forbes Anderson could make a significant push for the Otters crease. With both netminders coming off of excellent seasons last year, both are high in not only ability but confidence with the 2019-20 OHL campaign rapidly approaching. And, although it would appear as though Murphy will once again handle the majority of the workload, one or both of these youngsters could come to play a crucial role as the Otters’ backup netminder next season.
4. Hayden Fowler: Star in the Making?
Despite suffering a fractured collarbone this past season, Hayden Fowler fired home eight goals and 18 points in his 25 regular season games played — an impressive point-per-game total for a player who was not yet eligible for the NHL Draft. However, Fowler will be eligible for the NHL Draft this upcoming season, and the Otters are hoping that the youngster can continue his torrent offensive play once the 2019-20 campaign kicks off.
If able to stay healthy this coming season, Fowler should come to play a significant role for his team at both ends of the ice. As a former first-round choice of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the 2017 OHL Priority Selection, Fowler has the skill-set and determination necessary to become an impact player for the Otters — a reality which he was quickly seizing last year before suffering the first significant injury of his career. If able to play a full regular season, Fowler’s contributions could single-handedly push the Otters towards the post-season.
5. Can the Otters’ Depth Break Through?
The Otters have been mired by inconsistent depth production in recent years — a lack of offensive contribution which has placed a great deal of strain and expectation upon the team’s top players. So, if Erie wishes to legitimately compete for a post-season berth in 2019-20, they’ll need to receive heightened contributions from their bottom-six forwards. While another year of play and additional experience will certainly help the Otters this season, the presence of a number of the team’s mid-round prospects could certainly give the team an offensive edge.
If able to receive commitments from the likes of Brett Bressette, Cole Melady, and Ryan Forberg in the months ahead, the Otters could very well feature a bolstered bottom-six capable of contributing sporadic offensive this coming season. Although young, additions such as these would not only earn valuable experience but provide Erie with a strong foundation for their future in the process.