67's Training Camp, Plenty Of Questions, Plenty Of Optimism
Coming off of a last-place season, and outside of drafting, having a low-key off-season, the Ottawa 67's headed to training camp this past week as 51 players vied for spots with the 2013-14 edition of the Barberpoles.
Plenty of questions were raised about the Ottawa team that only won 16 games the previous year, and for the time being, we may have answers as to who will fill what voids, and how this team plans to be competitive again come September.
The biggest question mark was on the back end, where it seemed impossible that a team who already finished worst in the league in goals against, would somehow replace the physical presences of Sean Callaghan, traded to Saginaw, and Michal Cajkovsky, lost to age.
There's no way to fill the void left by Cajkovsky, a physical force, heavyweight tough guy, powerplay quarterback and offensive specialist, but Import Draft 2nd overall pick Alex Lintuniemi showed that with the puck, he can play a very similar type of game.
As for Callaghan, his style of play can be emulated by second-year Jonathan Duchesne who had a solid training camp. His performance can be taken with a grain of salt, because Duchesne had a great camp last season and came out flat, but it appears as though he's ready to take on top-four minutes and be the physical presence Ottawa needs.
Rookie Troy Henley adds that much more depth to the blueline, while Nevin Guy, Taylor Davis and Adrian Sloboda will continue to duke it out for remaining spots.
The biggest issue will still be keeping pucks out of the net. Ottawa doesn't have a terrific goaltending trio, with overager Clint Windsor, local product Jacob Blair and training camp standout Dan Mannella, but they're formidable goaltenders who will do their part if the defence holds up.
As 67's fans can attest to after their 2011 playoff collapse against Alain Valiquette and the Sudbury Wolves, having an overage goalie over the course of a playoff series pays off, and with Windsor's solid play towards the end of last season, as well as his near-perfect performance in training camp, he could be Ottawa's Valiquette in 2014.
It may not be a huge improvement, but this training camp has indicated that the 67's will be at least as good on defence as they were last season, and as such, the key could still be to score more than they allow, which on some nights, may be a lot.
Down the middle, the 67's may be on the smaller side, but they're set to become one of the top teams in the OHL at the center position. Dante Salituro is even faster than he was in his rookie campaign and was hands-down the best player on the ice for long stretches during camp.
While Salituro may have to take on the role as number one center, the number two center, by default, is 2013 top pick Travis Konecny, who also assumed the role of 'best player on the ice' at times this past week.
Whether he can pull off the brilliant rushes that he did at training camp in an actual game is yet to be seen, but Konecny made nearly every opposing defenceman look silly at one point or another, scoring several highlight-reel goals and throwing his weight around, most notably knocking 220-pound Ryan Van Stralen on his back during a scrimmage.
Konecny is the type of player who could win a scrimmage by himself in four or five shifts. If he can do that in a game, Ottawa will have no problem winning games if they choose to play firewagon hockey.
Alongside Konecny for the final day of scrimmages were rugged wingers Taylor Fielding and Van Stralen, a unit that was double-shifted as they tried the young star with the two big veterans. Konecny often looks to pass, but if he has the talent to do most of the work himself through the neutral zone, could benefit from having big bodies around him instead of finesse players.
Past the two young centers, the 67's are hoping that one of Andrew Abou-Assaly, Connor Graham or Daniel Walsh takes a big step forward this season. The bottom-six will be filled out with big, tough forwards, and it'll be up to the finesse guys to hold their end of the bargain and put up points.
The question that should be dancing through the heads of fans in the Nation's Capital; is how intriguing it would be to see at least one playoff series in an NHL rink. Canadian Tire Centre isn't intimidating at all for OHL teams now, but come playoff time, it could be a tough arena to come out of with wins.
Are the 67's a playoff team?
That raises a whole other set of questions, will the goaltending and defence hold up?
Will Mississauga, a defensive-minded team, be able to continue their style of play successfully with so many blueliners having graduated?
Can North Bay adapt to their new rink, having lost a number of '93's and their two key imports?
Will a Niagara team that lost eight of nine games after losing Dougie Hamilton to the pro ranks face a similar fate when they have to replace NHL-bound Ryan Strome?
Has Peterborough improved that much on last season, and have they improved more than Ottawa?
The playoff picture is still up in the air, but on paper and having watched the players they currently have, this team can easily finish in a playoff spot.
However, even with the questions answered this weekend, there are still many to be solved. The biggest of which involving a certain young man who heads to Calgary today to try and start his pro career.
Captain Sean Monahan will miss at least the start of the season, if not all of it. It's entirely likely that he stays with the Calgary Flames all season. But if he does come back, whether he stays in Ottawa or goes via trade, it would be just another reason for optimism as the 67's turn a page in their franchise's history.