April 12, 2013

67's Rebuild Comparison Part 1: the Barrie Colts

Since the Barrie Colts joined the Ontario Hockey League in 1995, it has been a near certainty to see both them and the 67’s in the playoffs.   However, two years ago, Barrie found themselves with the worst record in the country, and this season, Ottawa suffered a familiar fate.  Now, Barrie’s a top team.  Can Ottawa replicate this instant turnaround?

These two teams, who faced off in the 2012 Eastern Conference semi-finals, are easily the most comparable when looking at a rebuild, and it’s an optimistic view from the perspective of 67’s fans seeing as the Colts haven’t lost a playoff game through two rounds this year.

Ex-Colts in Barberpoles

Although they’re now in different stages of their career, two members of the 67’s were once with Barrie, and are hoping that in similar fashion to their old team, that Ottawa can turn it around.

Brendan Bell, not related to the ex-67’s captain from the early 2000’s, was acquired from Barrie for a third round pick in late November. 

“I think we have the players right now that next year we're going to be good and the year after as well with some high draft picks coming in,” said Bell.

Clint Windsor took a different route before he came to the Nation’s Capital, traded from Barrie to Saginaw in January of 2012, sent from Saginaw to Mississauga early last season before coming to Ottawa in the midst of a mid-November firesale for the team.

“Over the summer everyone works hard and gets better,” said Windsor on whether or not Ottawa could have a quick resurgence.  “Hopefully I have the opportunity to come back next year.”

The Top-Ten NHL Pick

Barrie’s rebuild started and revolved around Mark Scheifele, drafted seventh overall in the 2011 NHL draft by the Winnipeg Jets.  For Ottawa, Sean Monahan should be taken top-10 in June and will have to play that same role.

The scenario is slightly different because the 67’s have already had Monahan in the fold for three years, while Scheifele also just finished his third season, two years after he was drafted. 

Physically, Scheifele was more NHL-ready than Monahan and was sent back to Junior twice in as many years by the Jets.  Unless a team feels the need to rush a center in, Monahan should be in the same boat. 

In their three seasons, Monahan has 14 less points than Scheifele, and one would expect the Ottawa captain’s point production to continue to skyrocket after his draft year.

The First Overall Pick

The biggest difference between Ottawa’s re-tooling and Barrie’s is that the Colts used the first overall pick, obtained from their last-place season, to take exceptional status defenceman Aaron Ekblad.

Ottawa had the ability to do so, but instead opted to select forward Travis Konecny over 2013’s exceptional status defenceman.

After the final home game of the 2012-13 season, although nobody was sure who the 67’s would select first overall, the two current Ottawa players who did play alongside Ekblad in Barrie discussed the possibility of playing with another first overall selection.

“I think we have a good group of guys here and obviously adding a first overall pick isn't going to hurt your team,” said Windsor, who played 12 games behind Ekblad in 2011-12

“Ekblad was a great player and great kid as well,” added Bell.  “To have another one of those top picks on our team would be awesome.”

How can Ottawa replicate Barrie?

The strong performance in net from Mathias Niederberger seemed to come out of nowhere for Barrie in the past two seasons. 

If the 67’s goaltending situation was hard to predict last summer, it’s impossible now.  Windsor, Jacob Blair and Danny Potter all want to garner interest from the coaching staff in the fall, and Ottawa used two selections in last weekend’s draft to select netminders.

Goaltending is as hard to predict for the 2014 67’s as it was for the 2012 Colts.

Anthony Camara, a power forward on the left side, compliments Scheifele’s game perfectly in Barrie.  Ryan Van Stralen could fill a similar role for Monahan next season.  If one of Konecny or Dante Salituro puts up better numbers as a second-line center than Zach Hall of the Colts, Ottawa should have no problem scoring more than the current Colts moving forward.

Defence is where the two rebuilds become totally opposite.  The Colts built around Ekblad in the 2012 season, and only kept two defencemen, Alex Lepkowski and Norm Ezekiel, from their last-place team.  Chris Byrne, on the other hand, has said he’s confident that his young defence will grow, and probably won't be nearly as aggressive in altering his defence.

Having won all three playoff series’ against the Colts in their existence, the 67’s have Barrie’s number.  Now, they try to take a page out of the Colts’ book and have a quick rise back to the top of the Eastern Conference standings.

Since this is the first season that the Ottawa 67's have missed the playoffs since 1994-95, a number of fans may not be familiar with a full-on rebuild.  To help fans see the direction that this team could head moving forward, this four-part series will compare the Barberpoles to other teams who have kick started a rebuild. 

Part 2 (Kingston Frontenacs), Part 3 (QMJHL's Gatineau Olympiques) and Part 4 (1995-1999 Ottawa 67's) to come soon.

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