2023-24 OHL Season Preview: Erie Otters

2023-24 OHL Season Preview: Erie Otters

The next era for the Erie Otters begins this season, as fresh faces will be playing in their lineup. Matthew Schaefer was selected first overall, after an impressive performance at the OHL Cup propelled him to the top of the draft. Malcolm Spence dazzled at the Hlinka Gretzky tournament for Canada, which saw him score the golden goal with 7 seconds remaining in overtime. 

via @CHLHockey on Twitter

The team finished with a 21-40-2-5 record last season, which placed them fifth in the Midwest Divison. They are poised to take a step forward, but it awaits to see how far they can climb ahead as they were 23 points behind the fourth-place Kitchener Rangers. Let’s discuss their recent draftees, and which players you can expect to hit the ice at the Erie Insurance Arena next month.

2023 OHL Priority Selection Draftees

  • Round 1 – #1: D – Matthew Schaefer (Halton Hurricanes – SCTA U16) (signed)
  • Round 2 – #24: F – Wesley Royston (York Simcoe Express – ETAHL U16) (signed)
  • Round 4 – #64: F – Vital Dinis (Pembroke Lumber Kings – CCHL)
  • Round 4 – #77: D – Oliver Turner (Mississauga Rebels – GTHL U16)
  • Round 5 – #84: G – Chase Furlong (Thunder Bay Kings – GTHL U16)
  • Round 6 – #110: F – Jordan Visneskie (Huron Perth Lakers – Alliance U16)
  • Round 7 – #124: D – Keagan Knight (Toronto Jr. Canadiens – GTHL U16)
  • Round 8 – #144: F – Matthew Lansing (Smith Falls Bears – HEO U18)
  • Round 9 – #164: F – Cayden Smith (York Simcoe Express – ETAHL U16)
  • Round 10 – #184: F – Ethen Fines (Barrie Colts – ETAHL U16)
  • Round 11 – #204: G – Dryden Riley (Greater Kingston Gaels – ETAHL U16)
  • Round 12 – #224: F – Max Campbell (Sudbury Nickels Capitals – GNML)
  • Round 12 – #230: F – Tanner Ducharme (London Jr. Knights – Alliance U16)
  • Round 13 – #244: D – Dustin Lariviere (Niagara North Stars – SCTA U68)
  • Round 14 – #264: F – Luca Morano (Toronto Jr. Canadiens – GTHL U16)
  • Round 15 – #284: F – Emerson Taylor (Mississauga Reps – GTHL U16)

Schaefer played with the Hurricanes last season, and projects to be a top-pair defenseman at the OHL level.  He was the strongest skater of any defender in the draft class, and can quarterback a powerplay. Wesly Royton has committed to the team, but likely see’s most of his time with the Aurora Tigers in the OJHL next season. 

via @OHLHockey on Twitter

Mark Scheig, who covers the Erie Otters for The Hockey Writers, believes that if Royston can realize his potential, he could become “one of the steals of the OHL Draft.” 

“He plays the game like a true power-forward and is nasty to play against,” Scheig said when describing the native of Oro-Medonte’s playstyle.

I’m a big fan of the Oliver Turner and Luca Romano selections, having seen them play extensively in the GTHL last season. Turner has some defensive deficiencies, but is a solid puck-moving defenseman that displays calmness and poise. Morano played behind Brantford Bulldogs prospect Jake O’Brien with the Toronto Jr. Canadiens. He is effective in transition, and is willing to enter and win battles along the boards to regain possession of the puck.

The team has set itself up for a competitive window over the coming years, and they added another pivotal piece in the CHL Import Draft.

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2023 CHL Import Draftee

  • 1st: Martin Misiak (Signed)

The Otters selected Slovakian center Martin Misiak with the first overall pick in the import draft, and he adds a lot of experience to a youthful team. He has already participated in two world junior championships. and spent time with the Youngstown Phantoms in the USHL last season. In 27 games, he scored 6 goals and 17 points, and when he played for HC Nove Zamky in Slovakia, he produced 1 goal, and 10 points in 29 games.

via @ErieOtters on Twitter

“He’s going to bring much-needed championship experience to a young up-and-coming team. He will fill a need on the right side with the potential to play with Malcolm Spence and Carey Terrance on a top line.” Scheig said. “Misiak plays the kind of game that is annoying to play against. One moment he’ll forecheck you and the next, he’s finishing a goal. He fits exactly what the team is looking for in terms of showing the young players how to play.”

There is a lot of hopeful energy surrounding the organization, which has grown accustomed to being one of the premier franchises in the league. The real question is if they can return to that status in time for next season, and if the internal growth will be enough.

Season Prediction: 34-27-6-1 (3rd in Central)

The Otters are poised to make it back to the playoffs next season, and to get some elevated performances from their younger players. Spence should take steps, and Anaheim Duck’s prospect Carey Terrance should have a productive D+1 season. Even if Schaefer has some missteps, he has enough pieces around him to learn the next level at his own pace.

“They (Erie) are better in all areas in which making the playoffs should be a baseline. They addressed center ice when they acquired Pano Fimis last year at the deadline.” Scheig said. “This season should be seen as a stepping stone to next season when Spence and Schaefer are both draft-eligible. Make progress this season and then go all-in next season.” 

The Otters will be a fun team for casual fans to watch over the course of the regular season.

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