Riding a 10-game win streak into their first-round series against the Sarnia Sting that begins Thursday, the Otters have plenty of scoring and defensive depth and a goaltender in Devin Williams who has his game in order at the right time.
"Our defence is pretty solid: We're big back there, we've got guys who move the puck," coach Kris Knoblauch said. "Devin's been looking on the up.
"And we can score goals with anybody in the league. ... Any time you can do that, have balance in those three spots, you can have a long run in playoffs."
Erie is seeded second in the Western Conference and is favoured along with first-seeded Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds to reach the OHL final. The top-seeded Oshawa Generals are the overwhelming favourite to come out of the East.
Sault Ste. Marie, which hosts Saginaw in Game 1 on Friday, acquired NHL first-round picks Anthony DeAngelo and Nick Ritchie. Oshawa, which opens Friday against Peterborough, got Montreal Canadiens prospect Michael McCarron and others to go for it this spring.
"Teams loaded up, but it doesn't really matter," McDavid said in St. Catharines, Ont., in January. "We made some good trades, too.
"It's not the best team on paper that wins a championship, it's the best team."
Erie made deals earlier this season for Remi Elie and Nicholas Baptiste to try to take advantage of McDavid's final OHL playoffs. Owner and GM Sherry Bassin didn't trade for a goaltender despite concerns of inconsistency surrounding Williams but the 19-year-old seems to have validated that trust.
With the help of goaltending coach Martin Biron and preparation coaches, Williams streamlined his game mentally and physically. Biron's biggest lessons were to enjoy hockey and play more compact in the crease, things that have Williams in a good frame of mind.
"You think you have to be the guy and bail everyone out every night," Williams said. "With this team, it's just not the case.
"We're too good for me to have to do that every night."
Knoblauch said Williams "doesn't have to put up a shutout, doesn't have to steal games, but just (has to) be a good goaltender." That's because the Otters are stacked, particularly up front.
Strome, a projected top-five pick in June's NHL draft, won the OHL scoring championship with 129 points (45 goals, 84 assists) while the slam-dunk No. 1 pick McDavid, averaged over 2.5 points a game and finished third with 120. Add Alex Debrincat and Erie features three of the league's top eight scorers.
"You can't really figure out what shutdown D pair you want to put on and all that," McDavid said. "One night it could be my line, the next night it could be Stromer's line. ... We're a deep team up front that makes defenders have to truly think of what they want to do to shut us down."
The Otters can outscore anyone in the OHL — maybe the entire CHL — when clicking, and that gives them a legitimate shot at the Memorial Cup. But a recent 3-0 victory against the Niagara IceDogs, in which McDavid was held pointless, may be a better recipe for playoff success.
"That's the kind of game you're going to get in the playoffs: a very tight-checking game and a low-scoring game," McDavid said. "We're going to have to win games like that."
That's an adjustment, but McDavid said Erie's forwards take a lot of pride in their defensive game. The blue-line led by Darren Raddysh and Travis Dermott also will be in the spotlight.
"(In the playoffs teams play good defensive hockey," Knoblauch said. "They don't give you as many opportunities. You can't rely on scoring five or six goals a night."
Eastern Conference: (1) Oshawa Generals vs. (8) Peterborough Petes, (2) Barrie Colts vs. (7) Belleville Bulls, (3) North Bay Battalion vs. (6) Kingston Frontenacs, (4) Ottawa 67's vs. (5) Niagara IceDogs
Western Conference: (1) Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds vs. (8) Saginaw Spirit, (2) Erie Otters vs. (7) Sarnia Sting, (3) London Knights vs. (6) Kitchener Rangers, (4) Guelph Storm vs. (5) Owen Sound Attack
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