Bolts in the Pipeline: Victor Fernandes on the Erie Otters

The <a href="http://GoErie.com">GoErie.com</a> reporter spoke with Raw Charge about the prospects on the Otters and the teams chances to win it all.

On Wednesday I spoke with Victor Fernandes of GoErie.com while he was on his way to game four of the OHL Championship Series, about the Erie Otters and the Lightning prospects on the team.

Anthony Cirelli

Most of this team played against Cirelli in the 2015 OHL Finals, so they knew what he was about before he came to Erie. Strome and Raddysh got an extended time to get to know him at the World Juniors, and he came exactly as advertised.

He’s so much more than numbers. He’s such a big game player, we’ve seen this in the post-season time and time again, he’s involved in just about every key play that the Otters have had. We saw it in game two against Mississauga. Tie game, under two minutes to go, there’s a blocked shot and Cirelli corrals the puck, Warren Foegele starts screaming down the ice, and he flips aback hand from the top of the circles and catches Foegele mid stride just beyond the red line. He’s got such a knack for coming up big. If not for him and Foegele this team would not be where it’s at right now.

I would say right now, that Cirelli is front runner for  playoff MVP.

He’s great on the penalty kill, great on the power play. Forget the first eight games he was here, he was pressing a little bit, feeling the pressure because he was the big name to get at the OHL trade deadline. Look at his scoring in the playoffs. Half of his goals have tied the game, gave them the lead, or won the game.

Tampa Bay is going to love him for much more than his numbers, because he could be a top line centre, he could be number two, or even be number three on the defensive line. He’s such a versatile player, and in the post-cap era you need a player who can do these different things.

Here’s a great example. Roger Hunt, the GM of the Oshawa Generals after the trade was made, told me “I didn’t want to trade him”. They needed pieces to keep the team on top next year because they were bidding to host the 2018 Memorial Cup Tournament (The Regina Pats eventually won the right to host). He said “It was like trading my own son”. He was absolutely torn about having to trade Anthony. He’s going to be one of those players who will be a leader no matter if he has a letter on his jersey.

Erik Cernak

The biggest thing I’ve seen with Cernak this year is that he is a lot more comfortable with his surroundings. Just like every European player who comes over, he had to adjust to a new culture, new language, and a completely different style of play. This year he was your typical stud on defense. His offensive style has really come out this year. He’s carrying to puck a lot more this year, we’re calling him Erik Karlsson because he loves carrying the puck.

He’s really starting to take on more of an offensive style. Carrying the puck more, taking more shots. He has a really good, heavy shot, and it’s a very accurate shot as well. He’s always been a pretty good skater, he’s am big physical player. He’s 6’4”, well over 200lbs and looks like he was chiseled out of stone.

People ask me why he doesn’t fight and my response is “Would you want to fight this kid?”

He could be a Victor Hedman type player, a big, strong, physical player who’s offensive game has come on with his offensive game as he gets comfortable and adjusts his style of play.

It will take him time at the next level, like it took him time here. You won’t see the dividends right away, but by year two or three at the pro-level you’ll see more of the Erik Cernak that we’re seeing now with the Erie Otters.

Taylor Raddysh

His game isn’t ready for the NHL. I think the Lightning will give him a long look (in the OHL and AHL), his game is patterned around a player like Alex Killorn. Strong, physical, we see some of this play ramping up.

I can’t recall a player in Erie evolving his game as much from a 16 year old rookie to their 18 year old season, as Tayor Raddysh. He is not the same player he was two years ago. Not even close. At 16 he had 21 goals, 4 assists. He was a goal scorer, but not the power forward you want to see from a kid his size. He wasn’t detail oriented or defensive at all. A one dimensional player, still finding his way. Now, he’s more of that power forward, crashing the net, getting the garbage goals, the tip ins. His skating has improved tremendously, and become almost elite at the junior level.

He has skill, finish, ability, and he’s become an excellent play maker.

Tremendous vision, great shot, and as far as I can recall in my 14 years covering the Otters, he’s gained so much experience and has put in so much work to his game. He deserves a long look at camp next year, I don’t think he’ll stick, but he certainly has got the body and the skill. Once he develops more at the OHL level, he’ll be a top line guy next year. He’ll be high on the trade block, wanted by a contender next year, as the Otters look to rebuild.

He’ll probably be back in the OHL as a 20 year old, I don’t think he’ll spend a ton of time at the AHL level. He’s physically ready for higher levels, and jsut has to work up his skill to stay there. He has made tremendous strides, improved his game and he’s only going to get better.

The Erie Otters and the OHL Championship

With the Otters up 3-1 in the OHL Championship Series, will they be able to eliminate the Steelheads?

Since the Otters Head Coach Kris Knoblauch took over 4 years ago, the Otters have only lost back to back games 14 times out of 339 games. They have only lost three games in a row once. They’re good at erasing deficits, they’ll close it out at home [tonight]. I don’t see this series going past five games.

Both teams have very good top sixes, both goaltenders have played well, but it’s the depth that has gotten the Otters to this point.

If the Otters win tonight, how do you think the Otters will fare at the Memorial Cup?

We look at how good Regina has been so far, and how dominant Saint John has been. I think they have enough to make it to the final game, but it’s going to be tough for them to win.

There are a lot of different styles at play in the tournament, Regina has so much depth and the Quebec league is all about offense. It’s goign to be interesting to see how they match up, especially speed wise.

If the Otters win tonight, it will be their first championship in 13 years?

Fifteen. Wednesday was the 15th anniversary of when they won that championship, it would have been great to see them sweep and win on the same night.

The Otters have been in a powerhouse Western Conference, how excited would Otters fans be winning this year, after a few years of having such high expectations with Connor McDavid, would this feel like a more important championship won doing it without him? Or would it just feel like everything finally coming together after having a top team for so long?

This one would mean more, the fact was the past three years they were the second best team in the league. They weren’t as deep as the Guelph Storm in 2014, they weren’t as deep and multi-faceted as Oshawa in 2015, and there were some NHL teams who wouldn’t have beaten the London Knights last year. The Otters could have played the best games of their lives and not beat London last year. The Otters are that team this year.

The championship would mean a lot not just because the last four years were so close, it felt like they’d never come that close gain. The off-ice issues, relocation rumours, the eventual sale of the franchise, the lawsuit from the Edmonton Oilers, bankruptcy proceedings. This fan base, much like the franchise, has been through so much the past decade, a 10 win season in 11-12, so much negativity, so many losses, they’re due. It will make being a .500 team or less next season much easier to swallow, because you don’t know if you’ll ever get another kick at the can again.


The Erie Otters host the Mississauga Steelheads tonight in game five of the OHL Championship Series, and have the opportunity to win their second J. Ross Robertson Trophy on home ice. You can stream the game on OHL Live.

You can follow Victor Fernandes on twitter at @GoErieHockey and @ETNfernandes. You can read his work on GoErie.com.

Thank you to Victor for taking the time and sharing you insights to the Tampa Bay Lightning prospects, and the Erie Otters.