Saturday, April 11, 2009

Ottawa 67's Year in Review

Sean Keogh has provided us with his season review of the Ottawa 67's and its players.

Check it out...

The Ottawa 67s’ season, along with Brian Kilrea’s coaching career, ended 13 seconds into overtime in Game 7 of their first round series with the lower seeded Niagara Ice Dogs. A more upsetting and uncomfortable end to a hockey game I have never experienced. Kilrea said after the loss however, that he considered this team to have overachieved this year, and the first round loss did nothing to change how he viewed a very successful season. Forty wins for a team which regularly dressed three rookie blueliners, not to mention losing an NHL first round pick in Tyler Cuma for the season in December, is in fact impressive.

The strong year can be attributed to the outstanding play of Logan Couture, an outstanding first powerplay unit, and great offensive depth. The 67s led the Eastern Conference in goals and had 7 players score at least 23 goals, and it would have been 8 if Tyler Toffoli had played a full slate of games. Moreover, almost every player on the 67s had a much better 2008/09 season than they had 2007/08, not the least of which would be their captain Logan Couture. With that in mind, the following is an overview of all of the notable 67s players.

Logan Couture – Draft by San Jose in 2007, 1st round, 9th overall.

When Couture arrived in Ottawa as a 16 year old, he came with great expectations after being the consensus first pick in the OHL draft until John Tavares was granted exceptional player status. Entering his second year, he was considered a potential first overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft, only to drop over the course of the year. Throughout his four years in Ottawa, at times plagued by injuries and illness, Couture was a consistent but underwhelming producer. In his final year, particularly after Christmas, he put it all together and emerged as an all-round star for the 67s. In almost every game I saw, both live and on television, he was their best player, not simply offensively but all-round. Fans expecting Couture to electrify may be disappointed, but that is not because Couture is not an outstanding offensive player. He has very smooth and fast hands, a great release and most of all great playmaking and distribution skills. Moreover, he is extremely capable of creating offence not only for himself, but his linemates, thanks to the above-mentioned skills, as well as great work along the boards and impressive puck protection skills. Both Corey Cowick and Anthony Nigro exploded offensively after being placed on his line this year, and that line’s success and chemistry was entirely predicated on Couture’s superior offensive abilities. What separates Couture from other offensive forwards though is his strong defensive play and his ability to play in all situations at all times. His defensive awareness and back-checking skills allowed him to break up plays with great regularity, and the fact he was consistently on the first penalty killing unit is confirmation that Kilrea appreciated this as well. It is important for a prospect of Couture’s caliber to improve over the course of their career in junior hockey and emerge as an elite player. I wondered going in to the year whether Couture would be able to take that next step, and was pleased to see he did just that this season. San Jose is a very deep team, particularly down the middle, so he may begin next year in the AHL, but there is no reason to believe he is not capable of being a legitimate scoring line center for that club in time. Couture will need to continue to work on his skating, as well as keeping his motivation level where it was in the second half this year, but after injuries, illness and slow development, he is now firmly and confidently on the right track.

Anthony Nigro – Drafted by St. Louis in 2008, 6th round, 155th overall.

Perhaps the turning point in the 67s season was the trade that sent Michael Latta to Guelph for Nigro and Travis Gibbons. While Latta was a good player with great potential, the two players received in return both stepped in and became major contributors. In Guelph, Nigro was a checking center, tasked with playing a more defensive role, whereas soon after arriving in Ottawa he ended up on the first line alongside Couture. His offensive game took off thereafter, and he finished with 30 goals and 69 points on the year. Although he remained a solid all-round player, Nigro was more of a triggerman when playing the wing in Ottawa. His quick release became a major part of the Couture line’s offensive game plan, and his solid board work helped that line cycle. Although not a particularly big or fast player, Nigro’s effort can never be questioned, and that suggests he will work hard to improve his game. The season was undoubtedly a success for Nigro, and next year he will be expected to shoulder a bigger load in creating offence with Couture gone, perhaps returning to his natural center position. While I like Nigro, I question his NHL projectability. Other than his shot, his offensive skills are not outstanding, and the 67s have had better shooters like Chris Hulit and Miguel Delisle go nowhere after junior. Although I could perhaps see him develop in to a versatile, dependable third line player, that will require several more years like this one for Nigro.

Corey Cowick – Undrafted

The run-away winner of the most improved player category in the Eastern Conference coach’s poll, Cowick used a trade from Oshawa last summer to go from third line role player to first line goal scorer. He got off to a torrid start and briefly led the league in goals before finishing with 34, as well as another seven in the first round of the playoffs. Undrafted last year, he has a good chance to get picked this time around. He has good size, although he is neither physically imposing nor impressively strong. While he is a capable finisher at this level, he is not a gifted offensive creator either, and benefited greatly from playing with Couture. What Cowick has going for him is good defensive ability, a good overall make-up and enough size and skating that he might have NHL potential as a role player. He can bang and crash, but does not do so consistently. This season can be considered nothing less than a huge success for him, and while I am not sold that Cowick has the tools to stick at the NHL level, his evident improvement means somebody probably will be impressed enough to take him in the late rounds of the 2009 draft.

Thomas Kiriakou – Undrafted

Although Couture was the captain, Kiriakou might as well have been the co-captain. In his fifth and final season with the 67s, Kiriakou was everything an overage player should be. His effort was consistent, his leadership unquestionable and he was a contributor in all zones and situations. Already an outstanding penalty killer, superior face-off man and responsible defensive player, he became a capable offensive contributor this year, potting 29 goals and 65 points. What the future holds for the fan favourite I am not sure. If Kiriakou was going to get an NHL contract on the merits of his overage season, he probably would have received one by now. He has options in the minors, in Europe and with Canadian universities, like most good undrafted overagers. I would put his chances of becoming an NHLer at remote, but not nonexistent. Although not tall, he is well built and has the defensive abilities and character to keep improving, but his skating could hold him back. I wish him the best of luck in whatever direction he chooses to pursue.

Tyler Toffoli – 2010 Draft Eligible

The 67s’ first round pick last year, Toffoli had a strong rookie season, which earned him a spot on the First All-Rookie Team at year’s end. He produced at near a point per game pace, and despite battling some injuries, actually might have played his best hockey at the end of the year and in the playoffs. Toffoli is neither big nor a speedster, but he is a well-rounded offensive talent who will only improve as he gains confidence and strength. What I found intriguing was how Toffoli started playing with an edge by the end of the year. He was not shy about taking a few runs at Alex Pietrangelo in the playoffs, and showed some moxie for a 16 year old. At this point he is a very strong bet to go in the first round next year, and could very well be a lottery pick if he plays well.

Ryan Martindale – 2010 Draft Eligible

Martindale was one of the few players who definitely peaked early in the year. He thrived out of the gate on the Kid Line with Latta and Toffoli, but his second half was forgettable. After Latta left, the lines were shuffled, Martindale eventually contracted mononucleosis and he was not the same when he returned. He still scored near a point per game, including 23 goals in 53 games. He is not eligible for the NHL Draft until next year thanks to a late birthday, and that could work to his advantage. Martindale is a tall center at 6’3”, and has the kind of offensive ability that makes a player of that size a good bet for the first round in any year. In some ways he is advanced, because he is fairly responsible defensively, but he also needs to improve his skating and learn to use his body more. Depending on who returns and what position Nigro plays, Martindale could be the first line center next year, so he will have every opportunity to emerge as a top prospect.

Thomas Nesbitt – Undrafted

Passed over in last year’s draft, Nesbitt’s break out season was largely overshadowed this past season by the improvements of players like Couture and Cowick, but it was nonetheless a strong year for the former second round pick. Offensively he improved significantly, scoring 23 goals and 49 points, easily besting his previous career highs. More importantly, he displayed a strong all-round game, including good defensive play, great penalty killing and tons of energy. Few players were as consistent in their effort from one game to the next as Nesbitt. I would say that if Nesbitt had more size or better skating ability, he might get a sniff at being drafted, but it is unlikely at this point. That being said, his improvement should land him a NHL rookie camp tryout next fall, which at least puts you on the radar for certain teams.

Cody Lindsay – Undrafted

Lindsay is in a similar boat to Nesbitt in that in his third year in the OHL, he took a major step forward, more than doubling his point production from the previous year. A consistent presence on the second line, Lindsay is an undersized forward who uses a low center of gravity and good speed to his advantage and has good lower body strength for his age. He is probably a bit more creative and is a better skater than Nesbitt, but is not quite as strong defensively. Although Central Scouting ranked him at some points last year, he was undrafted and I would be quite surprised if he was selected this time around, despite a strong third season. At 5’9” he simply needs a few more big steps forward before he is guaranteed to receive NHL interest.

Tyler Cuma – Drafted by Minnesota in 2008, 1st round, 23rd overall.

The season began with great promise for Cuma, who had a fantastic training camp with Minnesota a couple of months after they used their first round pick on him. Upon returning to the 67s, he was to be their undisputed number one defenceman, and was also a strong candidate to make the Canadian World Junior team. Unfortunately for Cuma, his season was washed out in the December camp for the WJC, where he suffered a knee injury. He made his return in mid February, but re-injured his knee in the second period and that ended his season. Even in that game, he did not look back to his old self anyways. Overall Cuma suited up in only 21 games for the 67s. For that reason, Cuma is no further ahead in his development than he was a year ago. He remains a good all-round blueline prospect, with great mobility in all four directions and room to improve his offensive contribution. It sounds like Minnesota might plan on keeping him next year, but I believe he would be better served returning to junior for another season. What Cuma has yet to do at the junior level is assert himself as a star player, and make that transition from talented prospect to elite junior player, just as Couture finally did this year. Taking his game to the next level at the OHL level would be a valuable piece of his development, but Minnesota has rushed teenage prospects before.

Julien Demers – Drafted by San Jose in 2008, 5th round, 106th overall.

When Cuma went down, Demers became the undisputed number one blueliner on the 67s. The other turning point for his season was the acquisition of Travis Gibbons, who thrived when placed on the top pairing with Demers. A strong, thick blueliner, Demers was known for his big hitting last year, but this year was a more complete and consistent force. He played 30 minutes a night, quarterbacked the league’s best powerplay and was a pillar on the penalty kill. In turn his production rose, as Demers notched 42 points in 61 games, as well as an impressive +28. There is much to like about the package Demers provides. He has size, strength, offensive potential, defensive ability and a history of being a physical presence. If there is one thing that he needs to work on it remains his skating. His stride is somewhat similar to Couture’s, not awkward but also not explosive, but Demers is heavier on his skates. Demers has good offensive instincts, enough so that he could be more of a puck carrier if he improved his skating, but it is more important for his defensive ability that he gets quicker. A late birthday, he could return next year as an overager if San Jose either does not sign him, or gives him a contract but decides another year in Ottawa would be better than him playing in the AHL at such a young age. In my opinion Demers is a legitimate NHL prospect, a late bloomer who simply continues to improve, very similar to former 67s blueliner and fellow Sharks prospect Derek Joslin.

Marc Zanetti – 2009 Draft Eligible

Like Joslin and Demers before him, Zanetti is a late round OHL pick who has emerged as a regular contributor as a 17 year old. Moreover, like those two before him, he has a good chance of being drafted this summer, being ranked 139th by Central Scouting. Zanetti is less dynamic and offensively talented than the other two. He put up only 17 points this year, though his 102 PIMs hint at his style of play. Zanetti is first of all a stay-at-home blueliner. Although not any taller than 6’0”, Zanetti has broad shoulders and a good build. His one-on-one defensive abilities are very good, and he is a willing battler who will block shots and take on all comers. This year, his all-round play was dependent on his level of confidence. When he struggled, he was a liability with the puck, but more often than not he made a solid first pass and showed some offensive potential for this level. I believe Zanetti should get drafted, but he is not quite on the same level as Demers or Joslin. Both players developed into outstanding OHL blueliners, and I am not sure Zanetti is capable of doing the same. Brock has compared him to Marc Methot, who was always very good in his own zone and instead of becoming an all-round star in the OHL, simply transferred his defensive abilities extremely smoothly to the professional game and is now a regular in Columbus. My concern is that Zanetti, at only 6’0”, 200lbs, may not be able to smoothly transfer his stay-at-home style to the professional game as the much bigger Marc Methot has. In my mind, right now Zanetti does not project as a physical monster that can lean on players in the defensive zone. I do believe he is worth being drafted, but I am less confident of his NHL potential than I was Joslin and Demers.

Travis Gibbons – Undrafted

Anthony Nigro was considered the biggest piece acquired in the Latta trade, but I believe Gibbons made the bigger impact, even though Nigro was impressive. While the 67s had depth up front, once Cuma went down, Demers and erratic second year import Martin Paryzek were the only veterans on the blueline. Gibbons arrived and immediately stepped on to the first pairing with Demers, and from then on that first pairing paced the 67s all the way. In every situation Demers played, so did Gibbons. After only 4 points last year, Gibbons was passed over in the NHL draft, and he will likely be again. At 5’10”, a blueliner has to have an exceptional skill to be an NHL prospect, whereas Gibbons is more of an all-round player. His offensive skills are not elite, he doesn’t have the skating to dictate the tempo or electrify and he does not play much bigger than his size. It is unfortunate that there is no room in the NHL for intelligent, all-round blueliners at that size, but such is the reality. If he improves his strength and skating, I could see Gibbons eventually getting a contract, but like Nesbitt and Lindsay, in the meantime he will be a very good junior player for the 67s.

Chris Perugini – 2009 Draft Eligible

Goalie prospects for the NHL do not come much smaller than Perugini anymore. Listed at only 5’10” and 147lbs, Perugini’s stature will always make him an underdog. If nothing else though, he is a battler, as shown when he wrestled the starting job away from last year’s starter, the much bigger and NHL-signed Adam Courchaine. Perugini played in 49 games and posted a very impressive 27-10-3 record. The only blemish was his nervous play in the first round against Niagara, which resulted in Courchaine taking back his job if only for the last few games of the year. Perugini is ranked 16th by Central Scouting among goaltenders, but higher ranked goalies have gone undrafted before. Perugini is a hard working, focused and highly athletic goaltender, and this year he improved in reading the angles and making himself as big as possible. However at his size, his rebound control needs to be much better because he is not as acrobatic as a guy like Mike Murphy. Goaltenders are harder to predict, but after his poor playoff showing, Perugini is not a lock to be selected.

Adam Courchaine – Signed by Boston

This past season had to be disappointing for Courchaine. After being rewarded with an NHL contract for his strong season in 2007/08 as a starter, Courchaine’s consistency issues plagued him much of the year. He was outplayed by Perugini and only in the playoffs did he seize on an opportunity to steal back some playing time. The local product has the size and athleticism NHL teams want in a goalie, but I have to wonder whether he will stick with the Bruins’ AHL affiliate in Providence next year after taking such a noticeable step backwards. Goalies take a long time to develop, so Courchaine cannot be counted out simply based on one bad year, but at this point he would have to be considered a long shot prospect.


Personally I very much enjoyed watching the 67s this year. Having lived out in Nova Scotia over the past five years, as well as in Central America for the latter half of 2008, it was the most I had been able to see of the 67s in about five years. The 67s’ organizational philosophy is that they will not sacrifice the future to make a run in the present, and that achieving consistent competitiveness is the best environment for developing teenage hockey players and young adults. It is for that reason that the 67s almost always have intriguing prospects, but never field a roster that will make the London Knights or Windsor Spitfires too nervous.

Next year is shaping up to be the same, with key variables being whether key players like Cuma, Demers and Cowick return. Cuma could be in the NHL, and both Demers and Cowick could be in the AHL, but neither have professional contracts yet. With Logan Couture gone, the future of the 67s offence is now Tyler Toffoli and Ryan Martindale, both of whom are potential first round picks in the 2010 NHL Draft. The defence will depend on Demers and Cuma, but rookies like Zanetti will still be a year older and hopefully better. How the 67s perform under new coach Chris Byrne is perhaps the most intriguing question, and one not asked in a very long time. But like the impressive roster of players who have come through the 67s organization over the past 30 plus years, Byrne, an assistant coach this year, is also a product of Kilrea’s tutelage, and as such 67s fans can expect more of the same this year.


Brock Otten said...

The one guy I'm interested in seeing more next year is Dalton Smith. A 92 who didn't play a lot this year until the end of the season. In the times I saw him play, I came away very impressed with his ability to work the corners, and drive hard to the net with the puck. Looks like a possible power forward prospect. With some openings, wouldn't surprise me if he grabbed a top 6 spot, or at the very least became a significant top 9 contributor.

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