With the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) season just around the corner, fans have found themselves wondering who the players on the ice are this season. For the Ottawa 67’s, this is no exception, and in fact, it might even be a little worse for them than some other teams around the league. There is plenty of promising, yet unproven, talent coming up through the system for the 67’s, and there is plenty of reason to be excited about the young prospects James Boyd and Jan Egert have compiled ahead of the 2021-22 season. Here are six rookies that fans should be paying attention to this season.
The 67’s used the 12th overall selection in the 2021 OHL Priority Selection on Ottawa-native Chris Barlas out of the Navan Grads U18 program after not seeing much of the ice since 2019-20 when he played U15 with the Ottawa Jr. 67’s. He comes with some experience wearing the classic barber pole, including his best season in AAA minor hockey in 2019-20. In that season, he scored 25 goals and added 26 assists in 29 games, averaging nearly two points per game. However, that was against 15-year-olds. His U18 season was virtually non-existent thanks to the pandemic, and he now comes to the 67’s perhaps a little more green than others.
Currently, Barlas is sick with a non-COVID-19 related illness and there is no timetable for his return. He may or may not be back in time to start the season, but for the sake of this piece and simplicity, we’re going to assume that he will be. When he does get back on the ice, he will be the kind of player who can facilitate plays in all three zones. He’s an intelligent player with more than enough skill to make things happen in his true rookie season.
People might look at his scoring numbers from minor hockey and expect that to continue into the OHL this season, but it’s more reasonable to expect him to take some time to settle in. Through training camp and the little time he saw in the preseason before falling ill, he showed to be a good playmaker, but his offensive tools seemed a little rough around the edges. None of that is out of the ordinary, however. It takes a special player to step into the OHL and produce right away — players like Shane Wright or Connor McDavid are some examples.
Related: James Boyd’s Patience has the 67’s Almost Ready to Compete Again
Barlas will get better as the season goes on, and by the end of his time in the OHL, he very well could be one of the 67’s’ best players. Some players that 67’s fans will know very well who became stars started out slow, including Noel Hoefenmayer, Tye Felhaber, Sasha Chmelevski, and even Jack Quinn. I expect Barlas to be a player that might not show up when you look at the box score, at least in his rookie season, but will have his fingerprints all over the game when you actually watch the tape.
If there was one player who made his presence felt in the preseason, it was the 67’s’ 57th-overall pick in the 2020 CHL Import Draft, Vsevolod Gaidamak. Through five preseason games, Gaidamak has stepped into the action and produced right off the hop. He has scored in all but one of his games and added two assists, bringing his point total to six in five games.
Oddly enough, Gaidamak hasn’t been a player that has scored a ton of goals in the past. Through his minor hockey, he scored enough, but usually the top scorers at the OHL level scored more than a goal per game. That wasn’t the case for Gaidamak, and in the MHL in Russia last season, he scored just five goals in 26 games. He totalled eight points with Omskie Yastreby, and yet he has started his OHL career strong.
It’s very possible that the North American style of hockey suits his style of game better, but it could also be possible that he has caught lightning in a bottle to start his career in the OHL. No matter the scenario, his start in the preseason has been very impressive. Though the scoring is great, Gaidamak’s game is more than that. He brings a level of physicality and size to the team despite being just 5-foot-11.
Some might argue that calling a player in the season after his draft year a rookie is unfair to younger players, but this is Gaidamak’s first season in the OHL. At the age of 18, Gaidamak should be expected to have some decent production in his first season. Maybe it won’t be the torrent pace that he has been on in the preseason, but the 67’s should be able to rely on him for some good numbers this season.
The other import player for the 67’s is none other than Vinzenz Rohrer, an Austrian native with a 2004 birthday. Rohrer was the 67’s’ 27th-overall selection in the 2021 Import Draft, and like Gaidamak, has played very well in his first handful of games with the team in the preseason. Rohrer had been held off the scoresheet for the first preseason games, but he found the back of the net twice in the team’s home loss to the Kingston Frontenacs on Sept. 29.
In the past, Rohrer has had some solid numbers playing in Switzerland, including his most recent season in 2020-21 with ZSC U17, where he scored 28 goals and 47 points in 26 games. He also played 22 games with GCK Lions U20, scoring two goals and five assists.
Related: Predicting the OHL Eastern Conference Standings
In comparison to his import counterpart in Gaidamak, Rohrer brings a little more flash and skill to the table while still bringing a willingness and ability to be physical when needed. Even though he can be physical at times, it’s not a massive part of his game. He has been compared to a better skating version of former 67’s import, Artur Tyanulin, by team play-by-play man, Kenny Walls.
Rohrer comes into this season in his draft year and will need to have a good season to boost himself up the rankings. There hasn’t been much talk at all about Rohrer when it comes to the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, but that could just be because not too many people have heard of him. A big season in the OHL could reflect pretty nicely in the rankings for him, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see it.
If you are interested in players who play the game hard and do the little things right, you will be a big fan of Brady Stonehouse. He is a gritty, grind-it-out type of player who likes to get to the dirty areas of the ice and be a pain in the backside for the opponent. Despite standing at just 5-foot-9 and 182 pounds according to his OHL profile, Stonehouse has shown to be more than capable of both taking and giving out hits. He does so many things away from the puck right, things that you wouldn’t expect rookies to be able to do right away.
Stonehouse is going to do more for the 67’s than just be physical this season, however. Through training camp and the preseason, he has shown that he is capable of scoring occasionally, and he is certainly not a liability on the offensive side of the ice for the 67’s. The goal scoring will likely be left to others on the team, but Stonehouse will be able to make that timely play for you, something like Tom Wilson does with the Washington Capitals does. That’s not to compare Stonehouse to Wilson, but it should give fans an idea of what to expect in terms of his scoring.
When Stonehouse does score, it likely won’t be the pretty goals where someone dangles around four players before going bar down and taunting the other team’s bench, but rather it will be a goal where he goes to the front of the net and bangs home the fourth chance at a rebound. In this sport, however, in both of those scenarios, the goal is worth the exact same.
Related: Ottawa 67’s 2021 OHL Priority Selection Recap
“That’s the type of player I am,” said Stonehouse. “I like to get to the dirty areas and when you go to those dirty areas, you get rewarded.”
Back when the 67’s lost to the Guelph Storm in the 2019 OHL Final, grit and toughness was a category the Storm held a distinct advantage in. When this team is ready to compete again, that shouldn’t be an issue. The overall size of the team when it comes to height isn’t anything to write home about, but the toughness and physicality certainly are.
There are now two members of the Pinelli family in the OHL. Francesco Pinelli has been doing big things with the Kitchener Rangers, and if Luca Pinelli is anywhere close to as good as his brother (who was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings 42nd overall in 2021), the 67’s will have themselves quite the young player. Putting such large expectations on Luca Pinelli‘s shoulders might not seem totally fair, but so far with the team, he hasn’t given anyone a reason to think he can’t be as good (or even better) than his brother.
Through training camp and the preseason, Pinelli hasn’t registered the massive numbers that he might later in his career, but he has been all over the ice. His offensive abilities when he has the puck are something else. His stickhandling and skating give him a combination that can allow him to find space and time to get to a threatening area of the ice. He didn’t find the back of the net in the preseason, but he did have a couple of shots ring off the crossbar of the post before harmlessly bouncing away. The goals are coming for Pinelli, and when he hits his stride in the OHL, I expect that he will be a dangerous offensive player for the 67’s.
Related: OHL Set to Enforce Mandatory Vaccine Policy
In many cases, the skilled forward who can score can tend to focus primarily on the offensive side of the ice and almost abandon the defensive end, but that isn’t the case for Pinelli. Despite being just 5-foot-9, he doesn’t mind sticking his nose into the physicality of the game, often initiating contact against much bigger players. A thing to remember, this is his true rookie season, and for him to be as impressive as he has been early in his OHL tenure is something else. He has future star written all over him.
Matthew Mayich is the only defenceman to appear on this list, and that’s not meant to disrespect Thomas Sirman or Derek Smyth who have both had their moments through training camp and the preseason, but rather a compliment to how consistent Mayich has been. He has been used in some tough situations and has passed with flying colours, showing that he can handle the pressure, especially in his own end of the ice.
In six preseason games, Mayich tallied three assists, but the strength of his game comes more in his own zone rather than the offensive zone. Coming into his rookie season, he reminds me of Jack Matier to some extent — a defensive-minded defenceman who will always approach every battle looking to defend, rather than attack. Matier was much the same in his rookie season in 2019-20. The defensive end was his territory, and while his numbers on the offensive end of the rink didn’t look all that good, he impacted the game in a different way, earning himself plenty of playing time.
That is the same kind of role that I expect Mayich to play this season. He has shown to be slightly more offensive than Matier at times, but he needs to put defence first this season. There is going to be an intense battle for playing time between Mayich, Sirman, and Smyth when Alec Belanger comes back from injury, but Mayich has positioned himself to be one of the young players the 67’s lean on this season.
Oozing With Young Talent
When you think about teams who have won as many games as the 67’s have in the past two seasons, you wouldn’t often think that they would have as rich a prospect pool as Ottawa does. There are other young players that fans should be interested in that were left off the list for the sake of keeping it somewhat brief, but it just goes to show how much young, promising talent is there. Get used to these names, 67’s fans. They will be some of the players that lead the team into their next window of contention.