For the third and final part of this season preview, it’s time to look at an area that could show a lot of promise in the coming years. Up front, the 67’s are sure to lose a lot of top scorers. Their 268 goals for in 2011-12 will probably not be matched this season, although the building blocks are in place for this team to put up some solid offensive numbers. The forwards should still be Ottawa’s strong point now and in the next couple of years as well.
Last season, Ottawa struggled all year to find a scoring center before acquiring Mike Cazzola at the trade deadline. The tables were turned this off-season as the 67’s concerns quickly switched to filling gaps on the wing. This isn’t to say that Ottawa is overly stacked down the middle, but it looks to be their most solid of the six positions heading into this rebuilding season.
Sean Monahan had big shoes to fill last season when Ryan Martindale didn’t return from the ECHL, and he did so perfectly, putting up 93 points in 80 games during the 2011-12 campaign, showing off an improved defensive game and solidifying himself in current 2013 NHL draft rankings as a projected top-three choice. 67’s fans and staff are hoping that Monahan has the team’s most dominant draft year for a center since Logan Couture donned the Barberpoles.
With Monahan being the guaranteed number one center, Ottawa’s first-round choice in the 2012 OHL draft should get his share of ice time. Dante Salituro averaged more than three points per game in the GTHL last season (for reference; more points per game than Monahan in his final year in the GTHL) and should be given the chance to play on the second line. At 5’8 and 170 pounds, Salituro doesn’t have the size to be a checking line forward, which is where Tyler Graovac enters.
Graovac is highly unlikely to stick with the Minnesota Wild organization this fall, but his stellar play in last year’s playoffs give a lot of reason for optimism. His big frame makes him the ideal checking line forward, and his puck skills and offensive awareness have him looking like Ottawa’s 2A center this year as he’ll be looked upon to play in all special teams situations.
There is no certainty on the wings this season, although the 67’s made it clear through the OHL and import drafts that they are preparing for the departures of all of John McFarland, Dalton Smith, Shane Prince and Tyler Toffoli.
Andrew Abou-Assaly may bring the most excitement of the rookies up front. Projected to be a top pick in the 2012 OHL draft, the Ottawa native fell to his hometown squad in the third round as teams were weary of his offers from American Ivy League colleges. Eventually, the 67’s brass managed to convince Abou-Assaly to play in Ottawa and attend Ashbury College. With a strong camp, he could end up playing alongside Monahan on the top line. Despite being a natural center, many believe that he will be utilized on the left side the same way Monahan was in his first OHL season.
With two import spots opened up by the departure of Slovak defenceman Michal Cajkovsky and Czech goaltender Petr Mrazek, the 67’s used the import draft to bring in another Slovak-Czech duo, both of them being forwards.
Ladislav Zikmund scored 28 points in the Czech Under-18 league last season. Another 5’8 forward, he will be expected to play top-six minutes. Richard Mraz boasts a much larger frame and could be utilized in a bottom-six role, but drafted at the age of 19 as an import, he will likely be expected to play a much bigger role this season. Mraz will miss the pre-season with injury, but should be good to go by the end of September.
Brett Gustavsen has done nothing but impress 67’s fans since his insertion into the lineup midway through the 2010-11 campaign. The pesky 5’7 forward became the hero when he scored in overtime of Game 7 against Barrie in last year’s playoffs. He’s proven that he can play in any role. Remy Giftopoulos showed flashes of brilliance, but only seemed to have an impact if he was given top-six ice time, something he may get a chance to do consistently now if Gustavsen plays on the third line.
Gustavsen, if placed in a bottom-six role, would alternate along with Ryan Van Stralen and Steven Janes on the third line. These checking line forwards would all be ideal to play alongside Graovac. Daniel Walsh finished the season with the 67’s finding himself in five games. Another small body, he could find himself a role in the bottom-six unless he goes on a tear in the pre-season.
We don’t know what line combinations will come from this season, and we don’t know how many goals this young offence can score. What we do know is that there is a lot of promise for the future, and watching the likes of Abou-Assaly, Salituro and Zikmund should give us a great glimpse into the future of this team up front.
What we already know:
-Nicholas Foglia will not be back with the 67’s as he was traded to the Brampton Battalion in exchange for Keegan Wilson
-The 67’s lose Mike Cazzola to age restrictions and he has since joined the Acadia Axemen
-Tyler Toffoli, coming off back-to-back 100+ point seasons, is essentially guaranteed a spot in the Los Angeles Kings’ organization for the 2012-13 season
-Shane Prince impressed many at Ottawa Senators’ development camp and after signing an entry level deal with the Sens, will likely not return
-Dalton Smith has signed an entry level deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets, but still could return as an overager
-John McFarland has signed an entry level deal with the Florida Panthers, but could be sent back to the 67’s as an overager to continue his development after season-ending shoulder surgery in 2011-12
-Sean Monahan will have to be Ottawa’s top center and likely their top scorer for this team to be successful
-After Monahan, this team may be scoring-by-committee with the number of rookies that will suit up
-The 67’s, even with the return of Graovac, Janes, Van Stralen and possibly Smith, are a lot smaller up front than last year
What’s left to be answered:
-If McFarland and Smith return, who gets traded to keep the team under roster restrictions?
-As mentioned in the last part, will Ryan Shipley and Taylor Fielding line up as forwards or defencemen?
-Can Remy Giftopoulos or Brett Gustavsen step up and be consistent top-six forwards?
-Which rookie can show the most promise?
-Who will kill penalties? Ottawa lost its two best penalty killers in Ben Dubois and Foglia within months of each other. Who will center the fourth line with these absences?
-Will Ottawa acquire an extra tough-guy if Smith doesn’t return? Would be ideal to fill out the fourth line and protect smaller, skilled guys
For Part 2: Defence, Click Here
For Part 1: Goaltending, Click Here