The Ottawa 67’s have their sights on taking the next step as a franchise. After two seasons with consecutive exits in the first round of the OHL playoffs at the hands of the Niagara Ice Dogs, the 67’s are focusing on playing above .500 hockey as they enter the second half of the regular season.
After being a seller at last season’s trade deadline and dealing their star, Travis Konecny, eyes will be on head coach and general manager Jeff Brown to see if he will try and bolster his roster to make a push towards the playoffs.
Players Stepping Up
The 67’s lost last season’s leading goal scorer, Dante Salituro in the offseason. Salituro was signed to an entry-level contract by the Columbus Blue Jackets. After losing an offensive weapon like Salituro, Brown needed players on his team to step up and fill the void. This season has seen seven players contribute with 20 points or more. Leading the pack is Russian Artur Tyanulin, who recently earned himself an invite to Russia’s World Junior selection camp, he currently has 49 points in 35 games played.
Assistant coach Mike Eastwood had lots to say to reporters after Tyanulin was named to Russia’s World Junior selection camp in early December:
He’s been our most dynamic forward, he’s high-end skill, he’s a driven young man, he wants it, he wants it bad, all his hard work is paying off. His best hockey is yet to come, he was really good for us last year, he’s been really good for us this year and we expect him to be really good down the stretch and lead the charge offensively for us.
— Ottawa 67’s (@Ottawa67sHockey) October 6, 2016
After not being selected in the 2016 NHL Draft, Drake Rymsha is having a career OHL season and is third on the 67’s in points. Rymsha sits just below a point-per-game pace with 29 points in 36 games played.
“I think the season is going good. I’ve come back strong after my leg injury last year. I feel a lot better than I did last year and a lot more comfortable, things are going my way right now,” Rymsha told reporters after the 67’s faced the Kitchener Rangers at home on December 3rd, 2016.
Rymsha’s play has earned him praise from assistant coach Mike Eastwood. “He’s a tough guy to play against, when he is skating and aggressive and getting up and down the ice, he is really effective, he’s shown he can score and take advantage of the opportunity. He plays in all situations for us, wins a lot of big face-offs and gets power play time,” Eastwood stated after the Rangers game.
A Young Blue Line
The 67’s most significant roster changes came on the back end. The team lost their captain Jacob Middleton to the San Jose Barracuda of the AHL in addition to over-agers Evan de Haan and Nevin Guy. Losing these players made room for a much younger blue line, with younger players stepping up to fill the void.
Leading the charge on the back end is Noel Hoefenmayer. The 67’s blue liner is eligible for the 2017 NHL Draft and has increased his draft ranking with his excellent play to date. Currently ranked a “B” level prospect by NHL Central Scouting, he is projected to be drafted between rounds two to three of the NHL Draft next June in Chicago.
Since entering the OHL last season, Hoefenmayer has added almost 15 pounds to his frame and is looking better as the season progresses. He currently has 19 points in 30 games.
— Ottawa 67’s (@Ottawa67sHockey) November 2, 2016
The 67’s have three rookies on their blue line, all selected in the 2016 OHL Priority Selection. With any young blue line, there will be growing pains and the coaching staff knows this:
“We are trying to get [the defense] to be active on the blue line and keep pucks in and be a part of the cycles. It’s a work in progress, we have a young back end and we continue to get better,” 67’s assistant coach Mike Eastwood told reporters after their home game against the Peterborough Petes on December 11, 2016.
With a roster of younger players, there will be ups and downs and that was certainly apparent in the first half of the season. The key will be if the 67’s can put together enough wins to carry momentum into the playoffs and perhaps advance beyond the first round for the first time since the 2011-12 season.