The Barrie Colts top line of Aaron Luchuk, Andrei Svechnikov and Dmitry Sokolov and all that offence may have moved on, but don’t expect Dale Hawerchuk to post a help wanted sign on the front doors of the Barrie Molson Centre just yet.
The Colts head coach is hoping that when the OHL club opens training camp Aug. 28, he’ll have the players in place to help fill some of that offensive void.
“It’s pretty similar to years where we start to turn the corner,” said Hawerchuk, who has 17 returning players from last year’s team that finished first in the Central Division with a 42-21-4-1 record. “You lose some of your top guys, obviously your older guys, but then that next year’s generation is ready to come in and fill those spots. Then, you got the young guys from last year moving up in the lineup and rookies trying to crack into the lineup.”
Hawerchuk has reason to be encouraged after watching both of Barrie’s teams face off in the final of the Carnevale Summer League, which feature players and prospects from OHL clubs around the league.
“We were guaranteed to win,” he said, with a chuckle.
The Colts bench boss is happy with the development he’s seen from his players over the summer.
“Watching a month-and-a-half ago and then watching (the championship game on Aug. 14), you see the guys who have made good strides,” said Hawerchuk, who is entering his ninth season behind the bench with Barrie. “It’s always exciting at the start of the year.”
There’s little doubt one of the biggest questions surrounding the team, as they head into this year’s camp, will be on offence. Luchuk, Svechnikov and Sokolov combined for 140 goals and 283 points last season. That’s a ton of scoring gone.
“I think we’ll access that through camp,” Hawerchuk said of the possibility of trading for more offence. “We’re losing some offence obviously with our top guys. They were a pretty special line, but we’ve got some guys right on the cusp.
“If we feel like we need more (scoring) maybe we got to make a move, but I like our grit, the pace of our forwards. As the season goes and you bring in more offensive guys, or you buy time for these guys to develop, it’ll determine how we play the game that’s for sure.”
Overage forwards Lucas Chiodo (30 goals) and Zach Magwood (27) both showed they could play leading roles up front, while 2017 first overall pick Ryan Suzuki appears ready to join them down the middle after a strong rookie campaign and helping Canada strike gold at the recent world under-18 championships.
“He looked really good at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup,” Hawerchuk said. “I thought he had a real strong tournament, so he should come in real confident. He’s obviously a foundation point we’re building around here for the next few years.”
Other forwards like Jason Willms, who had 27 goals last season, Jaden Peca, Aidan Brown, Luke Bignell and Sam Rhodes will be expected to play more prominent roles.
“A guy like Brown made great strides, but unfortunately wasn’t available to us in the playoffs,” Hawerchuk said. “This is a big year for him. We’ve got a lot of strength up there as well. It might be a little quieter under the radar right now, but I think there’s some good possibilities there for sure.”
The Colts are also high on a rookie crop that includes first-round pick Riley Piercey and third-rounders Tyson Foerster and Eric Russell, while second-year prospect Connor LePage should also be one to watch.
“It’s night and day from his first few games in the summer league,” Hawerchuk said of Piercey. “Watching him again, the confidence has just grown, so it’s all about getting confidence for the young guys.”
The blue line should be a major strength for the Colts with captain Justin Murray, Joey Keane, Tyler Tucker, Nathan Allensen, Chris Cameron, Matthew Hill and Victor Hadfield all returning.
“(Hill’s) really made good strides this summer,” Hawerchuk said. “He’ll be a presence.”
Rookie Austin D’Orazio, a 2018 fifth-round selection, could push his way into the picture with a strong camp.
“He’s another one who has made good strides this summer,” the Colts head coach added. “It all starts for real (at camp), so we’ll see how they go against all the big boys.”
There appears to be a wide-open battle in goal with the departure of Leo Lazarev. Backup Kai Edmonds is coming off a solid rookie year. He’ll be joined by recently signed prospect Jet Greaves, a third-round pick in 2017 and 2018 CHL import draft pick Maksim Zhukov, 19, who impressed Hawerchuk with his play in the summer league.
“He reminds me a lot of (Mathias) Niederberger,” the coach said of Zhukov, a Vegas Golden Knights fourth-round selection in this year’s NHL Draft. “He has great attributes, he just has to get used to the smaller ice, the quickness of the glass behind him and the closer proximity of shots. Yeah it’ll be a little adjustment, but (Zhukov) looks the part (of a starting goalie) for sure.”
With the camp roster trimmed down significantly after three days and the Colts set to kick off 2018-19 regular season, at home, on Sept. 20 against the Owen Sound Attack, that leaves a short window for Colts prospects to make an impression on the coaching staff.
“They’ve got to make sure they’re ready for day one and make that impact,” Hawerchuk said. “We get into it pretty quick.”
ICE CHIPS: The Colts will hold morning and afternoon scrimmages Aug. 28-29 at the Barrie Molson Centre. The annual Blue and White game is set for Aug. 30 at 7 p.m. . . Barrie will have four overagers when camp starts. Murray, Chiodo, Hawerchuk and Magwood are all vying for one of the three OA spots available. Magwood signed an entry-level contract with the Nashville Predators earlier this summer. . . Barrie opens its exhibition schedule against the Niagara Ice Dogs on Aug. 31 at the Thorold Community Arena and then returns home to host the Owen Sound Attack on Sept. 3 at the BMC. Game time is 6 p.m.
PHOTO: With the departure of some key forwards up front, the Barrie Colts are hoping returnees like Aidan Brown will be able to play more prominent roles on offence this season. That’s one of the main questions facing the OHL club, as they get set to open training camp later this month. Terry Wilson/OHL Images photo