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OHL 20 in 20: Ottawa 67’s

Tuesday September 9, 2014

By Evan Mathias @EvanMathias61

The Ottawa 67’s are looking forward to a two-year rebuild paying dividends beginning this season.

After the club claimed the East Division title and made a run to the Conference Final in the 2011-2012 season, the team dealt with major departures including the graduation of top scorer Tyler Toffoli, then local defenceman Cody Ceci to trade, and last season Sean Monahan who cracked the Calgary Flames roster at the age of 19.

The 67’s finished last place in the Eastern Conference in each of the last two seasons but compiled young talent led by 2013 first overall OHL Priority Selection pick Travis Konecny.

Konecny had an explosive first campaign scoring 70 points on his way to rookie of the year honours winning the Emms Family Trophy. In August, Konecny captained Canada’s Under-18 team to their seventh consecutive gold medal at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup, scoring six points in the process.

Konecny’s early success has landed him right in the spotlight as the second-year centre cracked the 2015 NHL CSS Futures List reserved for the top prospects eligible for next June’s draft.

New General Manager Pat Higgins believes if his team stays healthy (which has been an issue in the past) they can cash in on their rebuild.

“I think we should be competitive this year and take some strides forward in the standings and I’m looking forward to a positive year.”

Returning team top scorers like Konecny, along with veterans Erik Bradford, and Dante Salituro, Higgins knows Ottawa’s strength is at centre.

“The strength of our team is definitely down the middle,” said Higgins. “We have lots of depth there.”

Ottawa will rely heavily on Konecny for a repeat performance in his sophomore season. However with the departure of offensive threat Ryan Van Stralen due to overage graduation, Higgins says he doesn’t want to place too much pressure on the 17-year-old and is expecting large contributions from fellow NHL top prospect Salituro and overage forwards, Bradford and captain Brendan Bell.

“I’m hoping Dante Salituro (can contribute), he’s improved his point totals every year. This is his third year in the league so were expecting big things from him,” said Higgins. “Erik Bradford had a great second half of the year, he got hurt right at the end of the year but once he gets back in the lineup and healthy he will add some offence also.”

Ottawa can also expect some secondary scoring from players like Sam Studnicka and second-year winger Tyler Hill.

“They’re good support players for sure, if everyone chips in a little bit we can get offence from definitely three of our lines,” said Higgins. “We’re going to have a fourth line of all kids, but as long as they come along by Christmas I think they’ll help give us some depth.”

Third overall pick Travis Barron, who captained the Toronto Jr. Canadiens to a GTHL championship, headlines the fresh faces joining the nation’s capital along with CHL Import Draft pick Russian forward Artur Tyanulin.  They’ll learn from no less than 17 returning players giving the 67’s a core group of experienced players heading into their third and fourth seasons, something that is invaluable.

“Confidence and knowing the league and knowing what it takes, even in the summer, to prepare yourself for what it takes, to have a successful season comes with experience and our kids showed up in pretty good shape.”

One question mark for this team is a pair of unproven goalies including former London Knights’ first round pick Liam Herbst who has 10 games of OHL experience, and rookie Leo Lazarev who Ottawa drafted in the second round of the 2014 OHL Priority Selection. However, Higgins isn’t overly concerned with the goaltending tandem.

“We have lots of depth in goal,” said Higgins. “If our goalies stay healthy and can give us OHL goaltending… I think we should have a good year.”

In front of the two young goaltenders, the 67’s boast a pair of 2014 NHL Draft picks anchoring their blue line. Alex Lintuniemi and Jacob Middleton were both selected by the LA Kings in June chosen in the second and seventh rounds respectively.

In addition to the duo of Kings prospects the 67’s back end is bolstered by four more third year defenders.

“Two NHL drafted defencemen, Jonathan Duchesne is in his third year, Troy Henley in his second year, Nevin Guy in his third year. I like the depth of our defence,” said Higgins. “Mike Vlajkov is the key ingredient, if he can be healthy this year… I really like the depth our defence has.”

There’s certainly a lot to be excited about for 67’s fans as they welcome first year head coach and Ottawa native Jeff Brown, and return to the familiar confines of the revamped Lansdowne Park on October 10. 

With Konecny leading the young core group accompanied by a strong veteran presence, the time for Ottawa to step out of the rebuild and into a contending position is now.

ontariohockeyleague.com will feature one team each day in advance of the 2014-15 season which begins Wednesday September 24.

Read more OHL 20 in 20 previews:

West Division: Saginaw Spirit, Sarnia Sting,

East Division: Kingston Frontenacs,

Central Division: Mississauga Steelheads,

Midwest Division: Kitchener Rangers,

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