It has been an important off-season for the Erie Otters, a young team looking to make it back to the Ontario Hockey League playoffs for the first time since 2017. After a strong start for the navy and gold last season, the team finished 21-40-7 en route to its second straight season being eliminated from playoff contention*, and another year without playoff hockey in the 814.
The team fired head coach BJ Adams midway through the season, and found its coach of the future in former Battalion coach Stan Butler, who is one of the most respected coaches in junior hockey. Now, Butler and his team look to climb the standings and elevate back into the postseason.
There was a lot to like about this off-season for the Erie Otters, who were awarded the first overall pick in both the OHL Entry Draft and the CHL Import Draft. The team selected defenseman Matt Schaefer first overall in the OHL draft, who had 12 goals and 20 assists in 25 games last season for the Halton Hurricanes U16 AAA.
Erie also selected forward Martin Misiak, who had 17 points in 27 games for the Youngstown Phantoms last season. He was selected 55th overall by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft. Both players committed to the team for the 2023-24 season.
On the coaching side, the Otters did not renew the contract of former Bulldogs head coach and assistant coach Vince Laise, but did keep returning assistant coach Wes Wolfe. To fill the empty void, the Otters hired Ken Peroff, who played for Butler in Brampton as a defenseman and was recently the head coach of the Hamilton Kilty Bs. After having three coaches in three years, Erie hopes to find stability in their coaching staff.
With a lot going on over the off-season, fans are eager to learn some new faces, but are also excited for the talent returning to the team. But unfortunately not everyone was able to make the team as some were cut and others were overagers who graduated from the OHL.
Here are some players who will not be with the Erie Otters in 2023-24.
Forward Noah Sedore (graduated) —> University of Prince Edwards Island
Defenseman Cam Morton (graduated) —> University of Prince Edwards Island
Defenseman Artyom Kulakov —> Worcester Raiders (East Coast Hockey League)
Forward Liam Gilmartin (overager) —> Debuque Fighting Saints (East Coast Hockey League)
Center Colby Saganiuk (overager)
Forward Elias Cohen (graduated)
Why The Team Will Be Better
Despite the losses, the Otters have a lot to look forward to! Here are five reasons the Erie Otters will be better in 2023-24.
Stan Butler has had a full off-season with the team
Head coach Stan Butler made his coaching debut in early February and took over a team on a decline in a system he wasn’t used to. Now that he has fallen taken over, the team will be able to play ”the Butler way”, which includes tight defense, maximizing chances to score, and playing the full 60 minutes each and every game. Butler has some exciting defensive players to work with including talented Schaefer, who has impressed Butler over the summer, gritty overager Owain Johnston, offensive-defenseman Spencer Sova, and young players who can be stars in Ty Henry and Nicholas Holomego.
2. The team has NHL prospects who are stars in the making
One of the most exciting part about being an Erie Otters fan is to be able to watch all the talent that comes through Erie. This offseason, there were multiple Otters who were ranked in the Central Scouting. Although Spencer Sova, Alexis Daviault, and Ondrej Molnar did not get drafted, Carey Terrance did. The electric forward was selected in the second round in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft, joining teammate Martin Misiak as the only two players in Erie who were NHL-drafted in 2023. Also, goaltender Nolan LaLonde had a down year in 2022 and is eager to get back to being a top goalie in the league after he signed an entry-level contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets after being undrafted but impressing CBJ in preseason.
3. The team will be fully healthy entering the season
One of the biggest reasons the Otters struggled last season was because injuries affected the team hard. Only one player on the team played all 68 games, Spencer Sova. Top defenseman Owain Johnston only played 49 games last season, but the biggest loss was Brett Bressette. The overage forward's season ended after a big hit versus the Niagara IceDogs late in the final minutes of the game. He would miss the rest of the season, which hurt the team a lot both on and off the ice. As he was the leading scorer at the time, the Otters get back a great player and even better person.
4. It will be a big year for the team's young core
Although we have talked about Terrance, Misiak, Molnar, and Sova so far, those are just few of the young stars on this squad. One of the most exciting players on the Erie Otters is 2022 OHL second-overall pick Malcom Spence. The 2025 draft-eligible forward had a good rookie season and is primed for a breakout season after impressing over the summer for Team Canada. Another former second-overall pick in Pano Fimis is also a big name to watch. The former IceDog was traded for mid-season and is expected to have a huge role in the team's offense. Other players like Sam Alfano, Taeo Artichuk, Bruce McDonald and Alex Messier are also expected to have bigger roles this season.
5. Goaltending can elevate the team to new levels
For years, the Erie Otters have had struggles with goaltenders. Since 2017, the team has been searching for the answer in the net and fans got excited after Nolan LaLonde's electric rookie season. But last year, he had a down year as the team traded for Spitfires goalie Kyle Downey in the fall while rookie Jacob Gibbons was sent down to develop. LaLonde only had a .868 save percentage and a 4.10 goals allowed average. He will look to have a bounce back year and if he can play back to the level of his rookie year, this team will be better.
But don't be surprised if former second-round pick Jacob Gibbons fights hard for that starting spot. The 16 year-old had a promising preseason only allowing 2.14 GAA and saved 92 percent of his shots. If either one can have a great season, the sky is the limit.
The path to the OHL playoffs for the first time since 2017 will not be easy, but the Erie Otters have all the tools to make it. The London Knights likely will take the division easily with the Owen Sound Attack behind them. The Guelph Storm lost its best player in Cam Allen for a couple months while the Kitchener Rangers are expected to decline a little bit after securing the final playoff spot last season and upset the first seed Windsor Spitfires. If the Erie Otters want to move up the standings, they got to start strong but most importantly have a good second-half to the season.
Prediction: 30-32-6 4th Midwest Division and 7th in the Western Conference
Bold Take: Otters win a playoff series
The Erie Otters open up the season on the road in Mississauga to take on the Steelheads on Friday September 29th at 7:00pm. They will host the Steelheads the next day for their home opener on Saturday September 30th at 7:00pm at Erie Insurance Arena. The first 2,500 fans will receive a gold t-shirt. Let's Go Otters!
*the Otters made the playoffs in the 2019-20 season, but the playoffs were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Do you play fantasy sports? Check out Trophy Smack for your next league prize! If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to our Youtube channel & Newsletter for SR Original Shows & more! Finally, give our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok & Threads a follow, all of which have great content!