Two seasons ago, the Ottawa 67's and Kingston Frontenacs, longtime bitter rivals, were left picking up the pieces as they combined for one playoff win between them, both in seasons with plenty of expectation.
The difference was that Ottawa had one more year left in their contending window, while it's the closest Kingston's been to contention since. However, many are now considering the Fronts to be the future class of the OHL with their strong crop of young players. As Ottawa's biggest rival and a team to be reckoned with in the next few years, the Frontenacs are a great team to compare to the 67's.
Similar to the 67's, Kingston allowed a number of rookies to take a regular shift against other team's top lines in 2012-13.
What sets Kingston apart is that they traded for a pair of older defenders to shore up their blueline at the trade deadline. They also boast one of the top defencemen in the league in Roland McKeown, who only just turned 17.
The closest the 67's have to that type of defenceman is Jake Middleton, who could be considered the second-best blueliner from the 2012 draft behind McKeown.
After drafting forwards in the first round, Ottawa and Kingston took blueliners in the second round of the 2013 draft. Ottawa passed on hometown defenceman Kris Myllari, taking American Troy Henley and letting Mylarri slip to the Frontenacs.
Kingston could have the edge on defence, because they have a franchise cornerstone that they can build around, which Ottawa doesn't quite, and they are willing to trade for veterans, something Chris Byrne hinted he wasn't interested in doing in Ottawa. However, defence is all about depth, and whether or not the 67's other '96-born players can have a stronger year could swing this either way.
The two teams are expected to go with overage goalies Clint Windsor and Matt Mahalak respectively, neither of which were true starting netminders until recently. Both are capable of holding teams in games, but not necessarily stealing wins.
What sets Kingston apart is the amount of young talent they have up front, the most exciting of which is Spencer Watson, whose mix of explosiveness and goal-scoring touch is unmatched by anyone in the OHL with the exception, perhaps, of Ottawa's first selection in 2013, Travis Konecny.
While Konecny may be better than Watson, Watson's fellow 2012-13 rookie forward Sam Bennett can provide more offence than Ottawa's 2012 first rounder in Dante Salituro. It's also unlikely that any young 67's forward outside of Konecny will be better than Konecny's teammate late season, Lawson Crouse.
If Sean Monahan returns to the 67's, his mix of talent and experience can't be matched by anyone on the Frontenacs. Ryan Kujawinski was Kingston's top forward selected in the 2013 NHL draft, taken 67 picks after Monahan. While Monahan is clearly the better forward, he isn't a lock to return, while Kujawinski is.
Ottawa has more depth forwards on their roster right now than Kingston and might get more scoring from their top-six, and Joseph Blandisi could also have a breakout seaon. However, with most of Kingston's core at forward adding a year of experience, the Frontenacs attack looks far more dangerous than Ottawa's.
The 67's might have more depth up front, and the defencemen they drafted this summer in the priority and import drafts could be better than Kingston's in the long run, but the Frontenacs simply have too much top-end talent for Ottawa to match.
After combining for 80 goals and 14 fights in nine matchups last season, the rivalry has been renewed between Kingston and Ottawa, and is one of the most exciting rivalries for OHL fans to watch. If both teams stay the course, the rivalry will continue to improve as the teams continue their upswing. But for now, Kingston has reason to be considered the future class of the OHL, and Ottawa has plenty of work to do if they want to parallel the rebuilt Frontenacs.
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 1 (Barrie Colts) available here, Part 3 (QMJHL's Gatineau Olympiques) and Part 4 (1995-1999 Ottawa 67's) to come soon.