Wolf Tracks: Lots to prove in wolf country

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There are plenty of Wolves players who have something to prove this season, and that promises to be a good thing for anyone spending a night or several nights in the old barn on Minto Street.

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In fact, the list is about to grow by one, given this week’s exciting news that young Slovak star Jakub Chromiak is on his way to the ocean come and ply his trade in Nickel City. The not-quite-17-year-old defender, who captained his country’s side to the World Under-18 Championship, will look to cement his position as potentially one of the best prospects on the planet for the draft of 2024 of the NHL. He’ll have two full seasons in the OHL to prove himself, but Chromiak will surely want to make a statement immediately in the world’s premier junior hockey league.

Given his age, it’s unlikely Chromiak could step in and dominate right away, but he’s another eager and talented player in a team of young stallions. Chromiak was selected seventh overall in the CHL Import Draft this summer, and the addition of the 5-foot-11, 186-pound player is a major feather in general manager Rob Papineau’s cap, as it looked like he would spend the year in Slovakia.

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Speaking of players wanting to prove themselves, goaltender Joe Ranger and forward Kocha Delic may have made the biggest statements on the OHL’s first weekend of the season. Ranger stopped 41 of 43 against the Mississauga Steelheads – the team he spent the previous four years with – in a 6-2 win on Sunday. The overage goaltender has somehow stuck with his former club, just months after they sent him to Sudbury in the offseason for a fourth-round draft pick.

Meanwhile, Delic had hoped to hear his name called in the 2022 NHL Draft, as had his frequent linemate David Goyette, who was picked up by the Seattle Kraken in the second round. But it’s clear that the determined 18-year-old is not about to accept a refusal. He had a goal and two assists in Sunday’s win, after registering a goal and an assist in the Wolves lost 6-5 at home Friday night against the Barrie Colts. It’s only two games, but Delic’s five points left him second in the OHL scoring race at the end of the weekend.

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Head coach Craig Duncanson thinks people who weren’t paying attention before will definitely wake up soon enough.

“Kocha has been solid since the day we met him,” Duncanson said of his dependable forward, who not only posted significant offensive numbers but also posted a plus-4 differential on the weekend. . “He’s worked very hard on his game, he always brings energy and always works hard, so even when we have shortcomings he seems to make up for a lot.

“We expect great things from Kocha. The fact that he was overlooked in this draft, I think a lot of people will regret going forward.

The same could be said for Evan Konyen, who also saw his NHL dreams blocked, but not stopped at the draft. The skilful winger netted three points over the weekend.

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While the newly added Chromiak import won’t get a chance to hear his name until the 2024 draft, a number of players are hoping to convince scouts that they’re worthy of a 2023 draft. Delic and Konyen, for starters, have another season to impress scouts, bearing in mind that last year was their first in the league after COVID-19 wiped out their 16-year-old campaigns.

But there are also former OHL first-round picks Quentin Musty and Alex Pharand, who each scored goals on the weekend, and Matthew Mania, Ohio-born defenseman, who bagged a pair and is surely creeping up the leaderboards as fast as the leaves fall in Northern Ontario. Mania and Chromiak give Wolves a nice dynamic pair of defenders from the 2005 vintage.

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The list of players with something to prove doesn’t stop there, but what I’ve described above is no ordinary collection of determined players. Chromiak’s arrival raises the skill level now, and if his development goes as planned, he could be a big part of a highly skilled group that continues to grow together next season.

Coach Duncanson bluntly admitted his team was sloppy in their opener on Friday, and their goaltender bailed them out early on Sunday before things started to kick in. It might take a little while for it all to come together, but there are a lot of similarities to this group of hungry wolves.

Potential doesn’t win hockey games, but there’s more of it right now than we’ve seen in a very long time.

Wolf Tracks takes place weekly during the OHL hockey season.


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Toya J. Bell