Barrie Colts brass could be looking to add pair of Russian forwards to the lineup for next season
All eyes are on a loose puck in front of goaltender Jet Greaves during the Barrie Colts rookie camp intrasquad game on Sunday. KEVIN LAMB/PHOTO
Barrie Colts fans got a first-hand look at the future this weekend when the Ontario Hockey League club held its annual rookie camp at the Barrie Molson Centre.
While there was plenty of attention on first-overall pick Ryan Suzuki, and for good reason, the on-ice sessions and intra-squad game provided an opportunity to see all of the organization’s top prospects.
The Colts are in the midst of a major rebuild and grabbing a cornerstone, franchise forward like Suzuki should provide a much-needed offensive boost for a team that needed to add elite skill and scoring up front in a big way.
Barrie, the OHL’s youngest team this past season, scored 192 goals and only the Kingston Frontenacs found the back of the net fewer times.
This promises to be a very busy off-season for the Colts’ brass and there’s still much retooling to be done before training camp kicks off in August.
In both the OHL Priority Selection and OHL major-midget draft, the Colts believe they addressed several needs, including depth in net and on the blue-line.
While it’s expected returnees such as Lucas Chiodo, Zach Magwood, Kirill Nizhnikov and Jason Willms should take another step forward offensively, the opportunity is there for the club to bolster the offence in a big way over the next couple of months.
Perhaps a big first step will be getting Russian centre Alexey Lipanov, the Colts’ 44th-overall pick in the Canadian Hockey League Import Draft last season, to come to Barrie.
Lipanov had a strong showing in captaining Russia to a bronze-medal finish at the just wrapped up world under-18 championships in Slovakia.
The 17-year-old is expected to go in the first two or three rounds of this year’s National Hockey League Draft in June and coming to Barrie could help the Russian better adapt to the North American game and rinks.
The Colts can add another big piece shortly after the NHL Draft when the CHL Import Draft is held.
Barrie holds the first-overall pick and there’s little doubt who is the top import prospect this year.
While the Colts have yet to say just who they’ll use that top pick on, it’s hard to believe they’d pass on another Russian, Andrei Svechnikov.
The winger is already pegged as a top-five pick and a possible first-overall selection in the 2018 NHL Draft.
The 17-year-old dazzled as a rookie with the Muskegon Lumberjacks in the United States Hockey League this season, putting up 58 points, including 29 goals, in 49 games.
Svechnikov, who was Lipanov’s linemate at the U-18s, had four goals and five assists in seven games at the tournament.
A strong selling point in convincing the Russian forwards to come to Barrie will be the ability for both to play together in the next step on their hockey journey.
Colts fans might dream of a possible Russian line with Lipanov in between Svechnikov and Nizhnikov. That’s a serious haul of talent up front.
Add that to a young core that also includes Suzuki, defenceman Tyler Tucker and Willms and perhaps that could help recruit another big-time offensive talent to the team in Jack McBain.
Last year’s 20th-overall pick has committed to play with the NCAA’s Boston College, but the opportunity to play in Barrie with a Svechnikov or Lipanov during his NHL draft year is a nice carrot to dangle in front of the gifted centre.
The opportunity is there for the Colts to impact their roster in a big way, though nothing is set in stone and there remains plenty of work ahead.
The only other time Barrie faced a rebuild like this came in 2010-11 when the club used its first-overall pick to grab a defenceman by the name of Aaron Ekblad. With a few more key moves, they were back contending the next year and followed that up with a run to the OHL final.
The Colts would love nothing more than to take that same path with this rebuild and a strong next couple of months would be a huge step toward that.
GOALTENDING DECISISONS: Christian Propp got the bulk of the starts over the last couple of weeks of the season and the rookie responded with a strong finish, and that should give him the edge for the starting gig heading into training camp.
The Colts could have three open overage spots and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the team look to add an experienced goaltender via the trade route over the summer to push Propp.
Overager David Ovsjannikov and Ruan Badenhorst could also return, though it’s a possibility if the Colts don’t trade for anyone they go with a young net tandem featuring Propp and the best prospect who emerges at the end of training camp.
Barrie did grab two goalies in this year’s OHL Priority Selection, using their third-round pick to select Cambridge Hawks ‘AAA’ minor-midget netminder Calvin Greaves and their first pick in the 11th round to draft Barrie native and Toronto Jr. Canadians ‘AAA’ minor-midget goalie Joe Howe.
The Colts continued the goalie rush in the major-midget draft when used their second-round pick to select Pierce Charleson (Barrie Colts ‘AAA’).
Kai Edmonds, an 11th-round selection in last year’s OHL draft will also get a long look.
DEPTH APLENTY ON BLUE-LINE: With all seven defencemen eligible to return, perhaps it was somewhat surprising when Barrie used two of its first four picks in the OHL Priority Selection on point men and then used their first pick overall in the major-midget draft to select another.
Then again, general manager and director of scouting Jason Ford has said the club’s aim is to take the best player available, regardless of position, at the time of each pick.
The Colts were looking for a future quarterback in this year’s OHL draft and they believe they got that with the selection of Nate Allensen in the second round.
A strong puck-mover, the five-foot-10 former Waterloo Wolves minor-midget rearguard should push for a spot on the roster in this year’s camp.
Victor Hadfield, the Colts’ first-overall pick in the major-midget draft, is a strong skater with an offensive upside and should also get a long look at camp.
Big, rangy blue-liner Matthew Hill, a fourth-round selection, adds some physicality and could also work his way into mix.
With plenty of talent and depth on the back end, the Colts could also move a defender over the summer and open up at least two spots.
WHITE OVER BLUE: In the annual Colts Rookie Camp scrimmage, Team White skated to a 6-2 win over Team Blue.
Tucker led the attack for Team White recording a hat trick. Markham Majors ‘AAA’ minor-midget centre Evan Pringle, an 11th-round pick this season, also scored for the winning side.
Nizhnikov scored for Team Blue.
Howe was strong in goal for Team White.
Gene Pereira covers junior hockey for the Barrie Examiner.