Pyette: Experience down middle no longer a problem

It’s not the rent-a-world-junior-star splash everyone was expecting from the Knights.

But London’s brass has long held to the belief that you win OHL championships when you dominate the centre of the ice. They watched Hamilton do it last year with Robert Thomas and it’s the same formula they used to claim three titles with Christian Dvorak in 2016, Bo Horvat in ’13 and Austin Watson in ’12.

That’s why Owen Sound standout Kevin Hancock, the third-highest scorer in the league this season and terrific in the faceoff dot, now calls Budweiser Gardens home.

He may be best known in London at the moment as Nick Suzuki’s former linemate, but that label will change in a hurry.

“He’s a heart-and-soul guy and you can see him push to try to win,” Knights GM Mark Hunter said. “We were worried about our middle. We were a little young there. Now we’ve got a little more age that has played that position. We needed to strengthen up the middle and Hancock’s a true centreman.

“Hopefully everything turns out.”

The cost for his services was 17-year-old defenceman Andrew Perrott and Sudbury’s third-round pick in the 2019 draft.

Since Hancock is 20-years-old, the Knights had to make a corresponding move to get back to the three over-ager limit. A few hours later, they sent defenceman Matthew Timms to Barrie for a conditional 15th-round pick in 2020. That becomes a sixth-rounder as soon as Timms suits up for the Colts.

Hancock’s arrival marks the end of Hunter’s roster improvement. The Knights have exhausted their supply of major junior cards and are not fretting over sitting out the final six days of shopping.

“I wasn’t going to make any more moves after this,” Hunter said. “There were enough moves. I don’t believe we need any more moves. We have a good team here and we don’t want the distraction of that many new players coming in. We’ve got enough changes. I like our group. I was just worried a little bit about down the middle.”

The price of a top-end 19-year-old like Suzuki or sniper Owen Tippett usually starts with a promising young player and a bunch of draft picks. The Knights will keep the four 16-year-olds currently on the roster – Antonio Stranges, Luke Evangelista, Sahil Panwar, Gerard Keane – and position them as the nucleus for a future championship run.

“It’s a really hard trade deadline this year,” Owen Sound GM Dale DeGray said. “Nobody is willing to give up their high-end young kids, it seems.”

London is banking on its four centres, Hancock, American free agent Paul Cotter, high-scoring Connor McMichael and Billy Moskal, to outplay the other top contenders in the middle of the ice while the team continues to boast the best defensive numbers in the league. That will be the Knights route to the OHL crown.

It’s been proven time and again to be the best path.

rpyette@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/RyanatLFPress


Number crunch on D meant sacrifice made

Kevin Hancock won’t be able to haunt the Attack after this season, but Andrew Perrott could do a number on the Knights for the next few years as a division rival. The sophomore defenceman needed ice time, especially since he is eligible for the NHL draft this June, and he will get it at the Bayshore.

“Now we’re going to play him for a long time here,” Mark Hunter said. “He’s a good player and a quality young man. With our D, we didn’t have a lot of ice time for him at this moment. I’m sure he will do very well there.” The Knights are set to graduate a big chunk of their back end this spring. They could use Perrott next fall, but they have the summer to replace those lineup holes. “That’s the sacrifice you have to make when you have a pretty good team,” Hunter said.

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