GOALTENDING: The three Whalers goaltenders are in different stages of their respective careers. Jeremy Smith (Brownstown) – already signed by the NHL’s Nashville Predators – comes back as one of the best goaltenders in the OHL. Eighteen-year-old Matt Hackett – acquired by the Whalers from Windsor last November in the Michal Neuvirth deal – came to the Whalers last year as an unknown quantity, but established himself as a capable OHL goaltender. Hackett is a steady goaltender who seems to flourish in shootouts. Rookie Scott Wedgewood comes in highly touted, played well in preseason and will see playing time when Smith is away at Nashville’s camp and then if Smith makes Team USA for the World Junior Championship.
“I think this year’s going to be a big year for Jeremy,” said Stefan. “He got last season as the number one guy under his belt and we expect big things from him. He’s one of the key players for our success this year. With Matt, I had never seen him until last year, but I thought he played well. Saying that, I think Matt has to come in from the start of this year and play well. I think he’s capable of doing just that.”
BLUE LINE: The Whalers expected veteran Brett Bellemore to return as an overager, but Bellemore played so well for Albany of the American Hockey League last spring that he was signed by the Carolina Hurricanes. Bellemore isn’t expected back in Plymouth.
If you like a blue collar grinder with plays with grit, third-year-forward Kaine Geldart is your man. Quiet off the ice, Geldart gets chirped and chirps with the opposition as much as anyone in the OHL. He was voted the Whalers Labatt Blue Collar Player of the Year last season and will continue in that role this year. Stefan awarded Geldart an “A” as alternate captain on Monday.
UNSUNG, BUT EFFECTIVE: It’s taken a little time, but Joe Gaynor appears to be ready to have an excellent year. Always good defensively, Gaynor used his size effectively during the preseason.
DARK HORSE?: Sportsnet.ca writer Patrick King rates the Whalers as a darkhorse in his Ontario Hockey League preview.