The emergence of Chmelevski, Barron and Keating paired with numerous young additions to the blue line signal a changing of the guard in Ottawa.
The youth movement is on in the nation’s capital.
Big scorers Dante Salituro, Jeremiah Addison and Nathan Todd have moved on and a bright young core of forwards has emerged to lead the offence in 2016-17.
Sasha Chmelevski, Travis Barron and Austen Keating look to establish themselves as some of the OHL’s top forwards this season in what’s sure to be a transitional campaign for the 67’s, who feature a young blue line in front of goaltender Leo Lazarev.
Chmelevski, who was the centrepiece of a trade that saw star winger Travis Konecny dealt to the Sarnia Sting last season, has recovered from an injury-shortened campaign that limited him to five games with Ottawa after the deal. He recorded 19 points (8-11–19) over 34 games as a rookie before leading the United States to silver at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament this past summer.
“He’s going to be our best player if he isn’t already,” affirmed 67’s head coach and general manager Jeff Brown. “He’s a professional, he wants to be a pro. He’s got a tremendous hockey brain, great vision and he’s a really good player that makes guys around him better. I’ve been really impressed with the way he came in.”
Chmelevski, who hails from Northville, Michigan, didn’t skip a beat following the move to Ottawa, embracing a new role with a new club despite being eight hours from home.
“It’s refreshing isn’t it,” said Brown. “It’s nice to see that there are still guys out there that just want to be pros, and will do whatever it takes to get there. His willingness and enthusiasm to come here and be a big part of what’s happening really speaks to his character.”
Former first round selections Travis Barron and Austen Keating will also factor prominently into Ottawa’s offence. Barron was a seventh round pick by the Colorado Avalanche this past summer while Keating put up 32 points (13-19–32) over 50 games as a 16-year-old.
“Nobody worked harder than Travis Barron this summer,” said Brown. “This could be a big breakout season for him. He is coming off two good seasons, not great, but we’re expecting him to have a great year. Austen Keating did some great things as a rookie in our lineup, so we think there’s more where that came from as well.”
Russian winger Artur Tyanulin returns to the club looking to build off a 20-goal season while overagers in Patrick White and Trent Mallette join 19-year-old Ben Fanjoy as regulars up front.
Ottawa features a host of forwards looking to get themselves established in the league including 18-year-olds Chase Campbell and Connor Warnholtz along with newcomer Ben Evans, who recorded 66 points (21-45–66) in 48 games with the Fort Erie Meteors Jr. B last season.
The 67’s feature a young blue line led by elder statesman Jacob Middleton, who will see some of the biggest minutes in the OHL this season.
“He’s everything for us,” said Brown of the former Los Angeles Kings draftee. “He’s our captain, he sees ice in all situations, he’s a 30-minute-a-night guy. He’s probably our most important player as far as how much success we’re going to have as a team.”
Calgary Flames draftee Stepan Falkovsky and veterans Evan de Haan and Nevin Guy have moved on, clearing the way for minutes to be re-distributed on the back end.
2016 draftees Peter Stratis, Carter Robertson and Kevin Bahl join the club as 16-year-olds while sophomores Noel Hoefenmayer and Hudson Wilson look to take the next step in their development.
Fortunately for the 67’s, the acrobatic Leo Lazarev stands as the last line of defence. The diminutive Russian netminder has been known to steal a game for his team.
“Leo is a big-time competitor,” said Brown. “He’s won us games by himself and we’ll be counting on him to do that a few times this season. It’s his crease now and it’s his year to run with it.”
While Lazarev is a big fan favourite in the nation’s capital, the 67’s feel good about newly instated backup Olivier Lafreniere, an 18-year-old former third round pick by the club in 2014. The Bradford, ON, native comes off two years spent with the Jr. A Wellington Dukes.
“We like our goaltending situation,” Brown added. “Both guys are very capable and can help provide some stability behind our young club.”
Patience will be key for Brown and his staff this season as young players go through the process of development, one that will undoubtedly include some mistakes along the way.
“We’ve got a young blue line, and it’s tough for 16 and 17-year-olds to compete against the size and speed of forwards in our league on a nightly basis,” he said candidly. “Development takes time and we’re going to give these guys every opportunity to learn and grow.”
“We may take our lumps along the way, but we’re excited to see what guys can do given a bigger opportunity. We’re committed to building a winner here in Ottawa.”
2015-16 Record: 36-29-2-1 (2nd East Division)
Head Coach: Jeff Brown (3rd season)
Key additions: Patrick White, Peter Stratis, Carter Robertson, Kevin Bahl, Mitchell Hoelscher, Quinn Yule, Olivier Lafreniere, Andrei Golikov, Kody Clark, Ben Evans
Notable graduates: Dante Salituro, Nathan Todd, Stepan Falkovsky, Evan de Haan, Nevin Guy, Connor Graham
Leading scorer: Artur Tyanulin* (67 GP, 20-32–52)
Leading scorer (defencemen): Jacob Middleton* (68 GP, 7-24–31)
Leading scorer (rookie): Austen Keating (50 GP, 13-19–32)
Leading goaltender: Leo Lazarev (45 GP, 26-16-1-0, 2.80 GAA, .901 SV%, 3 SO)
Fast Fact: The 67’s have used five of their seven picks inside the opening three rounds of the 2015 and 2016 OHL Priority Selections to take defencemen.
#OHLOpeningWeek schedule: Thurs. Sept. 22 at PBO (7:05pm), Sun. Sept. 25 vs. BAR (2:00pm)
* – among returning players
ontariohockeyleague.com will feature one team each day in advance of the 2016-17 season which begins Wednesday September 21.
Read more OHL 20 in 20 previews:
East Division: Hamilton Bulldogs, Oshawa Generals, Peterborough Petes
Central Division: Sudbury Wolves, Mississauga Steelheads
Midwest Division: Guelph Storm, Owen Sound Attack
West Division: Saginaw Spirit, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds