The OHL, like every major junior league in the world, is cyclical in nature. You load up your team for a big run, and whether you succeed or not, you make your way back down the ladder in a bit of a rebuild or re-tool mode. Make some trades, draft some talent and then you back after the brass ring in a couple seasons. That is Major Junior hockey folks.
The difference in a successful franchise and the other franchises in major junior, is how fast you can get back up the ladder. In the OHL you rarely see the ‘elite’ teams (Kitchener, London, Plymouth, Ottawa) drop to the bottom after they build for the OHL Championship. More often then not, in a retool year, these teams end up no lower than 6th in their division. Then you have the other teams who go from 1st or 2nd to worst during every cycle.
In recent years, the Kingston Frontenacs have always attempted a re-tool when a full rebuild may have been necessary. Always adding a hot commodity, like a sniper, or a veteran goaltender, instead of actually addressing their needs which is developing youthful talent and creating a system of competition.
That has all changed under General Manager Doug Gilmour. After stepping off the bench and moving upstairs, Gilmour has changed the definition of franchises being cyclical. One name is all you need to remember: Nathan Cull.
Why do you need to know the 94 birth year forward over anyone else on the franchise? That is because he is the only member of the 2012/13 Kingston Frontenacs to have been coached by Doug Gilmour as a regular player.
In a span of 13 months, eight different goalies have touched the blue paint for the Frontenacs, 14 different defenceman tried to keep pucks out of their net and 31 different forwards attempted to put the puck in the opponents net. This is an unseen amount of turnover seen in a single OHL season.
Now I should state that both Warren Steele and Spencer Green were around during the 2010/11 season, but the pair played less than 18 games combined during that season.
When Gilmour entered his new job as GM of Kingston, many cocked their eyebrows and awaited his first move to see what direction the Frontenacs would be headed. Suffice to say it did not start out on a popular note after Gilmour selected Max Domi from the Don Mills Flyers in hopes he could persuade the forward to play with Kingston, that didn’t work out as Domi went on to showcase his talent in the Memorial Cup this season with London.
From there it was an up hill struggle with most fans as they wanted to see things done properly and are hoping Gilmour would understand that after years of mediocrity, you have to completely rebuild the franchise and almost start from scratch. And quietly Gilmour succeeded at doing just that.
The Frontenacs have more stability after ‘sacrificing’ the 2011/12 season in favour of youth and development. Despite having no players drafted to the NHL this year, there were noticeable gains in the team as per individual skill. Warren Steele was allowed and succeeded playing top D minutes while playing key roles on the Power play and penalty kill. Young forwards like Billy Jenkins, Adam Lloyd and Ryan Kujawinski really thrived under the system that Todd Gill employed. But it wasn’t just the youth that were able to excel their game to the next level. Cody Alcock made his return to the OHL after spending a season in the OJHL, and was one of the Frontenacs’ key contributors; as well, despite his statistics line, overage goalie Igor Bobkov adapted to the North American style of game and became a workhorse goaltender who definitely improved upon his rookie OHL season.
Under the guidance of GM Doug Gilmour, Kingston has finally gone through a re-build that many suggested is long overdue. Sure it cost them a season of winning and potential playoff dates, but the team is now young, experienced and hungry to prove that they can win as a unit. This year the Frontenacs were able to draft 2nd, 9th, 22nd and 23rd overall. In fact they probably had the best OHL Draft in the league. With their four selections in the top 25, Gilmour selected Roland McKeown, Sam Bennett, Dylan Di Perna and Spencer Watson, who are all signed, and who can all step into the lineup in September and make an impact for this team.
Despite the drastic turnover in the Frontenacs roster, they really look to be moving forward full steam. They have a youthful core of 94 and 95 birth year players, up and coming 96 crop, and some ‘grizzled’ vets that will be able to lead and mentor the younger players.
Doug Gilmour may not be the most experienced GM in the league, but clearly he is a quick study and has rebuilt his Kingston team into something that could be feared when the puck drops in the 2012/13 season.