The Hamilton Bulldogs are a team in the midst of a significant transition.
After claiming the OHL Championship in 2017-18, the Bulldogs have watched a number of their former overage stars leave town and have traded a number of their most consistent producers of late to boot. This shift from a veteran laden roster to one that is rich with elite young talent was not only necessary but a transition which could very well lead the Bulldogs to significant postseason success in the near future.
Despite being knocked out of the OHL playoffs in the opening round at the hands of the Ottawa 67’s in 2018-19, Hamilton’s young talent has the team on-track to be far more competitive this upcoming season. Led by Logan Morrison and sure to be supplemented by the likes of Avery Hayes, Michael Renwick, and Ryan Winterton, the Bulldogs should boast a surprisingly deep roster this upcoming season and one flush with the ability to take their opponents by surprise.
Five Storylines to Follow in 2019-20
As mentioned, here are five potentially critical storylines to follow in Hamilton this upcoming season. If able to receive favourable outcomes in the situations listed below, the Bulldogs could return to prominence within the OHL’s Eastern Conference. However, if unable to receive timely contributions from their young talent as well as steady play in goal, Hamilton could very well be bounced from the postseason in 2019-20.
1. Can the Bulldogs Rebound from a Tough Season?
After claiming the OHL Championship in 2017-18, the Bulldogs stumbled to a 29-34-5 record in their 2018-19 campaign. Although they were still able to clinch a place in the postseason, Hamilton was promptly swept in the opening round by a loaded Ottawa 67’s squad. However, this result did not come as a surprise so to speak, as a number of the Bulldogs’ top players either left to embark upon professional careers or were traded at this year’s deadline.
Now, the major question facing the Bulldogs is exactly how they will rebound from this past season. Although a number of players will once again move on from the team in 2019-20, a crop of wildly talented youngsters led by the likes of Logan Morrison, Zachary Roy, and Ryan Winterton will look to steer Hamilton in the right direction. If able to receive substantial contributions from their younger players while receiving star play from Arthur Kaliyev and Matt Strome — should he return — the Bulldogs could once again stand as a significant threat in the Eastern Conference.
2. Will Logan Morrison Lead the Way?
Despite missing 21 regular season games due to injury in 2018-19, Logan Morrison showed signs of becoming a consistently impactful player at the OHL-level. In his 47 games played this past season, Morrison potted 14 goals and 34 points — a 0.72 point-per-game pace which stood as the seventh-best mark amongst all 2002-born rookies. In fact, Morrison’s rate of offensive production stood greater than the likes of highly touted prospects such as Will Cuylle, Ty Tullio, and Antonio Stranges.
Now, as Morrison heads into his second campaign in the OHL, it goes without saying that the Bulldogs will be expecting a great deal more from the former first round selection. Sure to become a lethal offensive threat on a nightly basis, Hamilton will look for Morrison to play a starring role at both ends of the ice and one that will allow the Bulldogs to become a well-rounded two-way team. If able to add a sprinkling of leadership alongside his natural abilities on the ice, Morrison could rapidly develop into a top prospect eligible for the 2020 NHL Draft.
3. Can Zachary Roy Take the Next Step?
In his first season of play in the OHL, netminder Zachary Roy stepped into the Bulldogs’ lineup and claimed the starting role in goal. At just 18 years-of-age, Roy appeared in a whopping 44 games for Hamilton and earned a 3.59 GAA and .884% SVP in the process — impressive numbers given his he was competing in his rookie campaign. Now, as we head towards the 2019-20 season, there is no question that Roy will retain the starting role and earn the vast majority of starts for the Bulldogs in the process.
However, Roy’s sudden ascension to the starting role in Hamilton begs the question of whether or not he can become one of the OHL’s next top netminders. As a former standout with the Toronto Nationals of the GTHL and a fourth-round selection in the 2017 OHL Priority Selection, it certainly goes without saying that Roy has the potential to accomplish exactly such. Incredibly athletic and innate in his abilities in the crease, Roy could push the Bulldogs deep into the postseason this coming campaign if able to backstop his team with both poise and confidence.
Side note — could we see Marco Constantini grace the ice in a Bulldogs’ uniform this coming season? Based on Constantini’s stellar play at the Jr. B level this past season, it is safe to say that Roy could feel slight pressure to preform in 2019-20.
4. Will the Bulldogs’ 2019 Draft Class Play a Role?
The Bulldogs enjoyed a tremendous 2019 OHL Priority Selection, as all of their initial five picks — as well as others selected outside of the sixth-round — hold the potential to become quality players at the OHL-level. First and foremost there is Ryan Winterton — a former star with the Whitby Wildcats who is widely expected to jump into Hamilton’s lineup in 2019-20 and make an immediate impact at both ends of the ice.
However, perhaps more interestingly, there are the likes of Lawson Sherk, Chandler Romeo, and Owen Simpson — three players of varying positions who should push extremely hard for a place within the Bulldogs’ roster to begin the upcoming season. In Romeo and Simpson, Hamilton holds two former Toronto Red Wings stars capable of creating offence and calm from their posts on the blue line. Further, in Sherk, the Bulldogs boast a natural playmaking centre with size who should be able to transition to the OHL-level with little issue.
If these youngsters can crack Hamilton’s roster and come to contribute, the Bulldogs could hold unprecedented depth and potential within their lineup.
5. Can Ryan Winterton Make an Immediate Impact?
Ryan Winterton was nothing other than dominant as a member of the Whitby Wildcats in 2018-19, blasting home 38 goals and 72 points in just 36 regular season games played. Skating alongside Brenden Sirizzotti and Thomas Johnston, Winterton was a member of what was one of the strongest lines in all of minor midget hockey in 2018-19. It was this incredible play and level of offensive productivity which led to Winterton being chosen by the Bulldogs with the eighth-overall selection in the 2019 OHL Priority Selection.
Set to begin the 2019-20 season at the OHL-level with Hamilton, it will be incredibly interesting to evaluate the impact which Winterton can and will have in his rookie season with the Bulldogs. Based upon his size, strength, and ability to process the game at a rapid rate, Winterton should be able to step into Hamilton’s lineup and playing a growing role in sheltered minutes. However, based upon his stellar shot and playmaking abilities, Winterton will surely see sporadic playing time in a variety of special teams situations — success within which could springboard him higher in the Bulldogs lineup.