The Kitchener Rangers have come to be known as a perennial powerhouse in the Ontario Hockey League’s Western Conference, and for good reason.
Over their past fifteen years of play, the Rangers have fallen short of the postseason on just two occasions — an era of success highlighted by the franchise’s OHL championship during the 2007-08 season. And, fortunately for the Rangers and their passionate fanbase, this fact appears destined to remain unchanged in the years ahead.
Currently defined by their ideal mixture of seasoned veterans and highly skilled young prospects, Kitchener boasts a deep and competent roster which should push deep into the playoffs this coming campaign. Although a number of questions marks do remain — the majority of which we will touch on below — the Rangers are poised for success not only this coming season but long into the future to boot.
However, before the Rangers can attain this almost certain success, they will need to answer a handful of questions specific to their current roster.
Five Storylines to Follow in 2019-20
As mentioned, here are five storylines for fans of Kitchener and the Rangers themselves to follow throughout the upcoming 2019-20 OHL campaign. While it goes without saying that positive outcomes in all of these situations would be ideal, the Rangers stand as a remarkably deep team seemingly capable of overcoming any adversity or shortcomings which it may face.
1. Can Jacob Ingham Stabilize the Rangers’ Crease?
When the Mississauga Steelheads targeted goaltender Kai Edmonds of the Barrie Colts this offseason, it meant that they needed to trade their long-time starting netminder in Jacob Ingham. Long a fan favourite in Mississauga, Ingham has become widely known for his ability to make timely, highlight reel saves with a startling level of consistency. Further, as a prospect of the Los Angeles Kings, Ingham takes to his crease with poise and features the size and raw athleticism necessary to thrive in the OHL-level and beyond.
This level of production and effort is exactly what the Rangers coveted when they landed Ingham from the Steelheads, as Kitchener has long lacked a definitive starting goaltender. If able to arrive in Kitchener and put forth a consistent and effective effort on a game-by-game basis, Ingham could very well lead the Rangers upon a deep playoff run despite the perennial strength of the OHL’s Western Conference.
2. Will Valade and Sebrango Take the Next Step?
The Rangers landed two stellar young players in the 2018 OHL Priority Selection.
At 17th overall, Kitchener nabbed Reid Valade — a former standout with the Toronto Marlboros of the GTHL who brought speed, skill, and a total of 20 points to the ice in his rookie OHL campaign. Secondly, the Rangers were able to steal Donovan Sebrango with the 40th overall choice in the event — a selection which paid immediate dividends, as Kitchener received 26 points from the youngster as a freshman.
Now, with the 2019-20 OHL season upon us, the Rangers will undoubtedly expect to receive a greater level of production from both Valade and Sebrango. Sure to be rewarded with increased playing time this coming season, Kitchener will stand as a much deeper and potent force if both Valade and Sebrango are able to take the next steps within their personal developments. If Valade can dramatically increase his offensive productivity while Sebrango polishes the fine details of his game, the Rangers could rather easily boast a dynamic roster capable of competing with the Western Conference’s power-house teams.
3. Is Pinelli Ready to Dominate?
Signed by the Rangers to round out the month of July, the impending arrival of Francesco Pinelli has Kitchener’s management team and fans alike drooling with anticipation. As a member of the Toronto Red Wings in 2018-19, Pinelli put forth an overwhelming 49 goals and 114 points in just 71 games played — a mark which stood alongside the likes of Shane Wright and Brennan Othmann in the GTHL. Perhaps most impressive of all was the manner in which Pinelli recorded his point total, as the youngster was a natural leader who directed his team with poise in all three zones of the ice.
So, could Pinelli become a dominant player in his rookie OHL campaign? Absolutely.
The driving force behind Pinelli’s on-ice consistency and lethality at both ends of the ice is the youngster’s impressive level of maturity. Not phased by tough calls or unfortunate plays against his team, Pinelli boasts a level of poise and calm typically reserved for seasoned veterans and has the ability to rally and re-direct his team when necessary. Come his freshman campaign with the Rangers, expect Pinelli to seize increasingly important minutes while playing a surprisingly significant leadership role to boot. In short, Pinelli could very well captain Kitchener in the years ahead.
4. Can Vukojevic Lead Kitchener’s Blue Line?
Despite initially intending to embark upon a career in the NCAA, Michael Vukojevic left the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL for the Rangers in 2017-18 and hasn’t looked back. Since arriving in Kitchener, Vukojevic has developed exactly as expected — dominating both ends of the ice owing to his intimidating size and strength while providing intermittent offence from the blue line.
Well, Vukojevic heard his name called in the third round of the 2019 NHL Draft by the New Jersey Devils and will surely be in contention for a place within Team Canada’s WJC roster in the years to come. Now, the main question facing Vukojevic will be exactly how potent and persistent of a defenceman he can become at the OHL-level. Sure, he has dominated his opposition and caught the attention of scouts in the past, but can Vukojevic take the next step in his personal development and become the go-to blue-liner for the Rangers? Likely to tackle greater playing time once again this coming season, Vukojevic will hold the opportunity to prove himself as a premier major-junior player on the fast track to significant success at the professional-level.
5. Will Jonathan Yantsis Score 50 Goals… Again?
To say that Jonathan Yantsis exploded during the 2018-19 season would be both accurate and underwhelming. After scoring just five goals and 12 points for the Rangers in his first full regular season campaign with the team, Yantsis hammered home a whopping 50 goals and 73 points in his sophomore OHL season. This dramatic increase in offensive production saw the native of Markham, Ontario improve his goal total by 45 and his point total by 61 — marks which stood amongst the best in major junior hockey.
With a 4️⃣ goal performance tonight, Jonathan Yantsis became the first player to score 50 goals for the @OHLRangers since Jeff Skinner.
After scoring five goals in the 2017-18 campaign, Yantsis has bested his previous career-high by 45 goals in 2018-19. https://t.co/a9oUjdanw9
— Prospect Pipeline (@NHLProspectLine) March 16, 2019
Now, the test facing Yantsis will be his ability to prove that his dynamic offensive season of 2018-19 was not a fluke. Fortunately, Yantsis has a number of factors working in his favour. First and foremost there is Yantsis’ size, as the youngster stands 6-foot-2 and tips the scale at 210 pounds — a reality which makes him difficult to knock off of the puck as well as a force on the Rangers’ forecheck. Secondly there are Yantsis’ smooth hands while in control of the puck, as he boasts the ability to elude defenders, deflect pucks, or fire the puck home with a well-placed shot. Essentially, if Kitchener wishes to stand as a threat in the Western Conference, they’ll need veteran players such as Yantsis to dominate the ice on a regular basis.