By Kathryn Jean
As the OHL season comes to a close for the 67’s, the fans and management can look back at many highs and lows during the season and playoffs.
On paper, the Ottawa 67’s were the team to beat in the East in the first half of the season after a great record of 10-3-1-0. The team was playing well and the stars were emerging. Tyler Toffoli and Shane Prince were both awarded with the OHL Player of the Week honours before early January. By the end of the season, the team started to coast – and didn’t look so much as a team rather than a team of individuals.
Breakout seasons – Past
Off a great second half of the 2010-11 season, Shane Prince continued his stellar play into the 2011-12 regular season. His skating has improved and his hockey IQ is still at the top of the pack in the OHL. He ended with 43 goals and 90 points in 57 games good enough for Top 4 scorer in the OHL.
While Prince had another good season, the real breakout season belongs to Sean Monahan. With the departure of Ryan Martindale, Monahan was given more ice time and put into more key situations. At the age of 17, it speaks a lot of Chris Byrne’s trust and belief in Monahan’s play. Near the end of the regular season, he fell into a bit of a slump. He was playing well, but just could not finish. Monahan still managed to finish with 33 goals and 78 points in 62 games, good for 16th in the OHL for goal scorers.
Breakout seasons – FutureI predict a couple of breakout seasons for next year. These following players have shown glimmers of hope behind the top line. Remy Giftopolous will only shine with more ice time and 1 and a half season of experience under his belt. Brett Gustavsen was one of the hardest working players over the course of the season. His work ethic and speed will boost him to another level next year. Tyler Graovac had a rough season and started to turn things around the end up until the playoffs where he elevated his play to a whole new level. While I expected big things from him this season, I think next season will prove that Minnesota got a steal in the 2011 NHL Draft.
There were many positives during the regular season, but there were also some disappointments. After playing so well in the first 5 months, the team had a tendency to coast during the remaining 1-2 months and into the playoffs. By the last couple weeks, they saw a Niagara Ice Dogs team that struggled at the start of the season easily over take the OHL Eastern Conference lead. It was also then that the top line of Toffoli – Prince – Monahan were not producing like they were before. Toffoli ended up losing the OHL scoring race by a measly two points.
67’s had a bit of luck in the playoffs. In the first round, they faced a team they had no trouble beating during the regular season, in fact, they pretty much manhandled the Bulls. But it was their first test and despite the series victory, they did not play the best they could.
Next round, the 67’s faced a depleted Barrie Colts team that they had trouble with all season. The 67’s still did not play their best. But give the 67’s credit for storming back from a 3-1 series deficit to advance to the conference finals in 7 games. This series could easily have been either way.
The 67’s finally showed some life in Niagara in games 1 and 2, but Niagara was too strong in the end and was able to defeat the 67’s in 5 games.
This post-season was disappointing because this wasn’t the team that started the season. The best players were not their best players and even Mrazek faltered at times. The team was unable to give a full 60 minutes and the inconsistency eventually took a toll on them. Toffoli was one of the players I felt would not show up, but in fact he proved me wrong and Prince seemed to have a lot of trouble. Monahan started to come around, but was still far away from his regular form. Tyler Graovac, Jake Cardwell, Cody Ceci and Steven Janes were the other players who seemed to elevate their game when their team really needed it.
With the possibility of several key players departing from the 67’s, it appears that the 67’s will be in a rebuild mode. Unless Chris Byrne and the scouts are able to put the same touch on the team as Kilrea – to retool rather than rebuild. It will be a busy and very interesting off-season. The review of prospects will come at a later date.
Overagers: These three players will not return as they are not eligible.
Mike Cazzola, Centre, shoots left
Daniel Broussard, Defense, shoots right
Marc Zanetti, Defense, shoots left
NHL Prospects: These players could make the jump to the NHL and some more likely their AHL affiliates. There is still a chance that they could be back in the 2012-13 OHL regular season.
Tyler Toffoli, LA Kings, 2010
Shane Prince, Ottawa Senators, 2011
Petr Mrazek, Detroit Red Wings, 2010
Dalton Smith, Columbus Blue Jackets, 2010
John McFarland, Florida Panthers, 2010
Cody Ceci, Eligible 2012, ranked top 10
With back-to-back 50 goal seasons and coming within 2 points of back-to-back scoring titles, there’s not much left for Tyler Toffoli to prove to the LA Kings in the OHL… except the experience of winning a J Ross Robertson Cup or Memorial Cup. However, the Kings may prefer to see Toffoli with their AHL team in Manchester and play against men.
Shane Prince is in an interesting situation. All signs point to him not returning, however, I feel he could benefit from returning for a final season in junior hockey. With the Ottawa Senators right around the corner, the scouts are able to keep a close eye on his progress and are able to have frequent meetings with training staff and coaches. On the flip side, the Binghamton Senators could use Prince right away with not much depth on RW with the club.
Petr Mrazek is almost a sure bet. Mrazek has proven his worth in the regular season, playoffs and even on the world stage. Mrazek is definitely ready to take the next step and with the Red Wings on a possible decline, he will fit right into their plans. Mrazek will get a fair shot to make the big club next season, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him spend the majority of the season with Grand Rapids. Note, if Mrazek returns to the 67’s he would be taking up both an overager spot and import spot.
After excelling with a top line pairing earlier in his career, Dalton Smith took a new role on the team. While his scoring has gone down, Smith has developed in to a physical force and a solid power forward that can play at both ends of the ice. With the re-tooling in Columbus, his services may be needed sooner rather than later. Don’t expect to see Smith back in a 67’s uniform as he should be ranked pretty high on Columbus’ LW depth chart.
There is a chance that John McFarland could be back in a 67’s uniform. There have been many questions about his lack of consistency. While he didn’t have much of a journey with the Ottawa 67’s due to his injury, when he was here, the team played well. Adding another centreman helped take pressure off the – talented but young – Sean Monahan. The team played with confidence and together. Once McFarland injured his shoulder, the pressure on the 67’s started to show. McFarland’s injury may delay his chances with the Florida Panthers.
Cody Ceci is rated top 10 in the first round, which means he will likely be an early to mid-round pick when you take into account the goaltenders and European skaters. The status of Ceci as a 67’s will be determined with the team that drafts him. Regardless of the team, Ceci will be given a chance at making the big club – the depth of that team will have a huge factor. This will be something to discuss at a later date.
Eligible overagers next year: These players are eligible to return for a final season in the OHL. They all may return, but the 67’s can only keep three. Note: The 67’s can carry four, but there is a deadline the OHL will set where the roster must be set. The 67’s could use an additional overage player as trade bait.
As it stands right now, taking into consideration of players moving on, Jake Cardwell and Shayne Campbell are pretty much a lock as overagers next season. Michal Cajkovsky will likely not be back as he will take up an overager and import spot. I believe there is a chance that McFarland or Prince will take the third spot. Ryan MacLean could be the odd man out.
Possible Captains: 2011-12 captain Marc Zanetti will not return while alternate captains Dalton Smith and Tyler Toffoli will likely also graduate from the OHL. Two players who have shown leadership are Jake Cardwell and Tyler Graovac. I believe these are the two best candidates for this young team going forward. Honorable mention to Brett Gustavsen, but I believe he is still one year away from getting this honour.