Ryan Pyette's Prediction for the Western Conference. He has the Rangers finishing 6th
Last year: 51-14-2-1, 105 points. Third in West. Won OHL and Memorial Cup titles.
The brass: Dale Hunter back for 16th season. Rob Simpson replaces Basil McRae (Blue Jackets) as GM.
Big guns: They could have five NHL first-round picks in their lineup — Mitch Marner (Leafs), Matthew Tkachuk (Flames), Olli Juolevi (Canucks), Max Jones (Ducks) and Jack Roslovic (Jets).
Paranoia time: If both Marner and Tkachuk stick in the bigs, London’s title hopes are dented.
Crazy stuff: The Knights sent an OHL-best 16 players to NHL camps this fall ... London has led the league in attendance every year since 2005-06 ... 2016 first-rounder Liam Foudy is reigning OFSAA junior hurdles champ.
Question/answer: Who replaces co-captain Christian Dvorak (Coyotes) as dominant centre? Speedy Cliff Pu (Sabres) plans to step up after strong playoff.
Prediction: Start your grumbling, rest of junior hockey. These guys will be good again. First in West.
Last year: 40-21-6-1, 87 points. 5th in West.
The brass: Head coach Rocky Thompson engineered a 35-point improvement in his first season.
Big guns: Their core group includes three 2016 NHL first rounders — Logan Brown (Senators), Mikhail Sergachev (Canadiens) and Logan Stanley (Jets).
Paranoia time: Michael DiPietro and Mario Culina need to be strong early or the Spits end up scrambling in the goalie market again.
Crazy stuff: Windsor has one playoff game win since star d-man Ryan Ellis graduated five years ago ... The city previously played host to the Memorial Cup tourney in 1981 — and the Spitfires weren’t in it ... Top NHL prospect Gabe Vilardi missed a month of training with a knee injury suffered at the Hlinka under-18 event.
Question/answer: Can GM Warren Rychel make the trades to turn them into worthy Cup hosts? Yes, but it will cost him a wad of future draft picks.
Prediction: Good enough to win their division. Anything else is wait-and-see.
Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Last year: 33-27-7-1, 74 points. 7th in West.
The brass: Former Memorial Cup champion Hounds d-man Drew Bannister’s second year in charge.
Big guns: Captain Blake Speers (Devils) is a joy to watch in the offensive zone and a clutch scorer (six playoff goals) ... Zach Senyshyn (Bruins) should score 50 in the OHL this season. But he just underwent an appendectomy this month.
Paranoia time: The best teams are built from the back out. Soo needs third-year goalie Joseph Raaymakers and its blue line, led by Colton White (Devils), to stand tall.
Crazy stuff: The Hounds took the fewest penalty minutes (605) in the OHL last season. Then, they bid farwell to overager Gabe Guertler, who accounted for 102 of those minutes ... The Soo won more games on the road (19) than at home (14) last year. That must change to contend.
Question/answer: Can they make a splash at the trade deadline? Not really. They don’t own a second-round pick until 2021.
Prediction: Third. They will be neck-and-neck with the Spits down the stretch.
Last year: 42-19-5-2, 91 points. 2nd in West.
The brass: Derian Hatcher’s first season as co-owner and coach was, if nothing else, fun to follow. Here’s hoping for more of the same this year.
Big guns: Jordan Kyrou (Blues) can be a dangerous offensive player. Same with Anthony Salinitri (Flyers) ... One year later, we’ll say it again: Jakob Chychrun (Coyotes) should be a dominant d-man and one of the faces of the league.
Paranoia time: Pavel Zacha (Devils) appears to be pro-ready and on his way to the bigs. If massive trade deadline acquisition Travis Konecny (Flyers) is gone, too, that will, er, sting.
Crazy stuff: Their first division title in 12 years earned them favourable second playoff seed in the West — and they still lost in the first round to the Soo ... No one killed penalties better than Sarnia (84.3 %) last year. They were even better on the road than at the Hive.
Question/answer: What should the Sting do with Konecny if he’s back? Trade him after the world juniors to the highest bidder.
Prediction: Fourth, but no roster is more of a toss-up.
Owen Sound Attack
Last year: 32-25-8-3, 75 points. 6th in West.
The brass: Coach Ryan McGill made an impressive transition from the WHL to the OHL. He’ll tame this Midwest Division bear in no time.
Big guns: Sophomore first-rounder Nick Suzuki (20 goals) and Petrus Palmu (23 goals) are a nice one-two punch for a squad that must score a lot more ... Overage leader Santino Centorame will log big minutes for one of the league’s deeper defensive corps.
Paranoia time: Their longest winning streak last year? Three games. If you don’t pile up wins early in this conference, you can’t catch up.
Crazy stuff: They were the only team to beat London in the playoffs last spring — and did it twice in the first round ... Overage forward Matt Schmalz was a career minus-132 in Sudbury. That number should shrink as a Bayshore Boy.
Question/answer: How many wins will stopper Michael McNiven register this year? Bank on 30-plus. The Habs prospect had 21 victories in 53 games last season.
Prediction: A gritty fifth, just missing out on home-ice advantage.
Last year: 44-17-5-2, 95 points. 4th in West.
The brass: Energetic bench with first-year boss Jay McKee, Matthew Barnaby and Jason Fortier, former Rouyn-Noranda associate coach, on board.
Big guns: Jeremy Bracco (Leafs) has 100-point skill, but no more Ryan MacInnis to set up ... Adam Mascherin (Panthers) has proven he can score at this level. He had 35 goals last year.
Paranoia time: Luke Opilka (Blues) is starting the season on the shelf with hip woes, so overager Dawson Carty will carry the net load early. If he gets hurt or struggles, there will be problems.
Crazy stuff: They had the longest winning streak in the OHL last year (11 games), which made them an early front-runner ... The Rangers are on their fourth coach in five years ... They are 3-16 in the past four playoff series with rival London.
Question/answer: Can they replace the output of MacInnis and Gustaf Franzen as the top two centres? Probably not without major wheeling and dealing, which isn’t really the Ranger way.
Prediction: Sixth, if everything goes well.
Last year: 52-15-1-0, 105 points. 1st in West.
The brass: Kris Knoblauch deserved OHL coach of the year for some time — and last year, he got it.
Big guns: Alex Debrincat (Blackhawks) scored 51 goals in each of his first two OHL seasons. It would be surprising if he didn’t do it again ... You can’t go wrong with a bunch of Raddyshes in the mix (Tampa prospect Taylor up front and overager Darren on the blueline) ... Troy Timpano was acquired from Sudbury to win games the way graduated goalie Devin Williams did last year.
Paranoia time: The Otters had three players hurt, including veteran centre Kyle Pettit, in final pre-season game at London. Hopefully, that’s not a sign of things to come.
Crazy stuff: They were the first OHL team to record three straight 50-win seasons and were much better without Connor McDavid than anyone expected ... Captain Dylan Strome (Coyotes) should be in the desert after 240 points in two years. He has nothing left to prove at this level.
Question/answer: Will they go 7-0 in shootouts again this year? Probably not. That was wild.
Prediction: Seventh, but who wants to face them in the first round?
Last year: 20-42-4-2, 46 points. 9th in West.
The brass: The OHL hired former Belleville/Hamilton boss George Burnett to clean up a giant mess as GM. Former Battalion assistant Ryan Oulahen is the new coach.
Big guns: Fifth overall pick Ty Dellandrea is already the franchise’s most important player, simply by reporting for duty ... Talented Ryan Moore scored 25 goals last season. There’s 30 in his stick.
Paranoia time: Can Rolf Nilsen really be a hands-off owner? Tune in this fall.
Crazy stuff: The Firebirds averaged nearly 3,000 fans a game, proof of a solid market. Nearly $4 million was spent to fix up the arena ... Flint went 3-1 in the preseason, for what that’s worth.
Question/answer: Can it go any worse than last season’s initial run? Well, the dealing of fed-up veterans and MVP candidate Will Bitten’s trade demands weren’t a promising start to Year 2.
Prediction: They’ll squeak into the 8th spot. It’ll be amazing.
Last year: 13-49-4-2, 32 points. Last in West.
The brass: Jarrod Skalde took over coaching reins when Bill Stewart quit in December and squeezed 10 wins from his cellar dwellers.
Big guns: James McEwan (25 goals) and Red Wing pick Givani Smith (23 goals) have to fill the net ... Overager Liam Herbst, a former London first-rounder, should see plenty of pucks between the pipes ... First overall pick Ryan Merkley, decked in an exhibition game by Sean Day, needs to contribute at the back end in a hurry.
Paranoia time: They better improve drastically on the 156 goals scored last year or they won’t win 25 games.
Crazy stuff: They made a nifty rebuilding deal by trading captain CJ Garcia to Saginaw for high-end draft picks ... They were 3-2 in shootouts last year, the second-best mark in the mighty Midwest Division.
Question/answer: Will they start better this year? Of course. They sputtered to only one win by early November last season. October can’t be that scary.
Prediction: Getting better, but not there yet.
Last year: 24-36-5-3, 56 points. 8th in West.
The brass: New skipper Spencer Carbery spent the past six years coaching in the ECHL.
Big guns: Veteran goalie Evan Cormier (Devils) is banking on a bounce-back season ... Tye Felhaber, who scored 20 goals as a rookie two years ago, needs to rip up the scoresheet.
Paranoia time: Their draft-day gambles Blade Jenkins and Bode Wilde didn’t show up. They are committed to the U.S. national team development program in Plymouth, Mich.
Crazy stuff: Canadian world junior forward Mitchell Stephens (Lightning) scored 20 goals in just 39 games ... Lost five of eight games to neighbour Flint in the Firebirds’ first season ... Ex-Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood joined the ownership group this summer.
Question/answer: Will this defence hold up? Keaton Middleton (Leafs) and Finn Markus Niemelainen (Oilers) will have to play major minutes.
Prediction: Remember when they were the youngest, most promising team in the league? Me neither.