Expectations were high for Mississauga coming into the OHL campaign.
The Steelheads were coming off a 71-point season; a 18-point improvement from the year before and the franchise’s best since 2011-12, when Mississauga finished with 73. With a strong returning core led by Michael McLeod and Nathan Bastian (both of whom were selected by New Jersey in this past June’s draft) along with McLeod’s younger brother, Ryan (who will likely follow in his brother’s footsteps and be a first-round pick in 2018), Nicolas Hague, and Owen Tippett, the Steelheads were expected to rise to the top of a relatively weak OHL Central Division.
That has not happened.
Mississauga has underachieved for much of the 2016-17 OHL campaign. The Steelheads had a 7-14-3-3 record as of last week, their 20 points tied with Barrie for last place in the Central. Mississauga sat 10 points out of first place, a perch held down by North Bay.
The Steelheads were able to make up some ground, however, this past weekend, sweeping the slate of games that included Kitchener, London, and Niagara to move into third place as the rest of the division slumped its way to a 2-7-1 weekend. Mississauga made up four points on North Bay, whom it now sits six behind. The Steelheads are two-points behind second-place Sudbury.
It should come as no coincidence that the trio of wins came along with Spencer Watson’s addition to the lineup.
Watson, who was voted the best overage player in the pre-season OHL coaches poll, was acquired from Kingston in early November for the sole purpose he served the weekend, where he made his Mississauga debut after recovering from offseason wrist surgery, to provide a boost to the struggling young club.
He did so to the tune of seven points in three games, registering hat tricks in the latter two. The first three-goal performance came in a 7-3 win over defending Memorial Cup champion London; the second a crucial divisional match with Niagara as the Steelheads spotted the IceDogs a 2-0 lead before Watson scored twice to force overtime, punctuating his weekend performance with a third 31 seconds into overtime.
Watson, a seventh round pick by the Kings in 2014, is in his fifth OHL season. He spent the previous four in Kingston, putting up 43-46=89 totals last season in 64 games for the Fronteacs.
We’ll see if Mississauga can turn it around with Watson in the lineup. If anything, his addition certainly has them moving in the right direction.
Other CHL stars
Michael DiPietro, Windsor: The 2017 draft prospect registered back-to-back-to-back shutouts for the Spitfires over the weekend, stopping all 64 shots that came his way. After allowing 23 goals over a seven-game stretch from November 6-27, he’s allowed just three in five games since.
Jayden Halbgewächs, Moose Jaw: The 19-year-old center had five goals and 10 points over the weekend to extend his point streak to nine games. Over that stretch, he had 14 goals and 24 points to catapult himself to the top of the WHL points leaders list. Only Regina Pats Sam Steel and Adam Brooks, with 48 points apiece, have more points than Halbgewachs’s 47.
Jake Guentzel, Wilkes-Barre Scranton: The forward – at this point a 4-A player who soon should be in Pittsburgh’s lineup put up six points in three games this weekend for the Penguins.
Oskar Sundqvist: Like Guentzel, a guy who will rove between being a Pittsburgh bottom-sixer and Wilkes-Barre top liner for the time being, Sundqvist had four goals in a Pens victory on Saturday. The Swede has 11 goals and 21 points in 22 games in the AHL.
Zach Sanford: The rookie had three goals and six points in three games for Hershey this weekend. He’s got seven points in six games.
Max Veronneau, Princeton: Veronneau had six points in the weekend sweep of Quinnipiac. The sophomore had 18 points to lead the Tigers, who are rolling with five wins in six games, a stretch that also includes a sweep of then-No. 10 Bemidji State. He has 14 points over that span.
Spencer Foo, Union: A four-goal weekend for Foo, three of which came in a 5-3 win over Yale on Saturday. Foo now has 30 points in 17 games, joining teammate and NCAA leading scorer Mike Vecchione (35) and UNH’s Tyler Kelleher (31) in the 30-point club.
Chase Pearson, Maine: Five goals and six points in a two-game sweep of American International in Orono.
Emily Clark, Wisconsin: A seven-point weekend for Clark in a two-game sweep of Ohio State, including five on Friday.
Ann-Renee Desbiens, Wisconsin: Didn’t necessarily have to stand on her head facing just 25 shots overall on the weekend, but she stopped every single puck that came her way. She leads the nation with eight shutouts and a 0.75 GAA. Her .957 save percentage is highest among goalies that have played double-digit games.
Megan Hinze, Minnesota State: A pair of third period goals for Hinze led Minnesota State past third-ranked Minnesota-Duluth.