A team that always seems to find its way onto the KIA CHL Top 10 Rankings each season, the London Knights are no different in 2018-19, sitting second in the country for the third straight week.
Still awaiting the hopeful return of captain Evan Bouchard (Edmonton Oilers) and high-pace winger Alex Formenton (Ottawa Senators), the Knights are off to a 2-1 start after scoring victories over Windsor and Flint. Their lone loss came at the hands of the Soo Greyhounds, a team they haven’t been able to figure out for the past two years, dropping nine consecutive decisions against the defending Western Conference champions.
The Knights franchise has finished with 80 points or more in 14 of the past 15 seasons, an unparalleled level of long-term regular season consistency. The recent return of Columbus Blue Jackets first round pick Liam Foudy and this past weekend’s debut of Chicago Blackhawks top prospect Adam Boqvist has injected new optimism into the club’s quest for a trip to Halifax next spring.
“They’re two elite players and we’re very happy to have them back,” Knights GM Mark Hunter, who recently served as assistant general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, told Ryan Pyette of the London Free Press. “We’ve got to get them going right away. Last year, it took some time when we got our players back to play and understand you’ve got to be in the right frame of mind.
“That’s part of our job, to get them going.”
Though the dust hasn’t quite settled, the Knights have a steady goaltending situation with overage veteran Joseph Raaymakers and Vegas Golden Knights prospect Jordan Kooy returning to the crease.
Raaymakers enjoyed a successful training camp with his Knights teammate Foudy in Columbus, suiting up in an exhibition game against Boqvists’s Chicago Blackhawks.
“It was cool playing against him and I wanted to make sure he didn’t score on me,” he said of the experience. “I’ll definitely bug him about that.”
While the final destinations of 2018 10th overall NHL Draft selection Bouchard and Formenton, who also started last season in the NHL, remain unknown, the Knights have more than enough bodies to evaluate as a new wave of young talent gets established.
A competitive Knights team won 39 games last season, but took a step back late in the year as veterans Max Jones, Cliff Pu, Robert Thomas and Sam Miletic joined other clubs for the playoff drive. The Knights failed to reach the second round for the first time since 2011, but with a number of draft picks in their possession, returned for 2018-19 with highly touted young names in Luke Evangelista, Antonio Stranges, Sahil Panwar and Gerard Keane along with former first round OHL selections Nathan Dunkley and Connor McMichael on the depth chart.
The addition of talented Russian forward Matvey Guskov through the CHL Import Draft along with former 50+ assist overage defenceman Matthew Timms from the Peterborough Petes has given London two more valuable pieces for the year ahead.
The Knights also feature some additional sandpaper to accommodate all of the skill playing under the OHL’s winningest active coach in Dale Hunter.
While Dunkley plays with an edge, crash-and-bang winger Cole Tymkin is off to a strong start with three goals and an assist though his first three games. Two-way forward Billy Moskal is also contributing with three points (1-2–3) in as many games.
With a deep pool of talent and a well-stocked cupboard of assets to work with down the stretch, it’s needless to say the Knights have set the bar high once again.
“Our goal is always to win the Memorial Cup and develop kids for the National Hockey League,” Hunter told Pyette prior to the club’s home opener. “It’s going to be fun.”
The KIA CHL Top 10 Spotlight takes a closer look at one team from the weekly KIA CHL Top 10 Rankings.
Past KIA CHL Top 10 Spotlight editions:
Sept. 26, 2018 – Halifax Mooseheads