When it comes to playing their lead hand, three of a kind is just fine for the Barrie Colts.
For some hockey coaches, the key to assembling a good line is about creating a balance. The thinking is often along the lines of having a checker, a playmaker and a scorer. The checker battles to get the puck in the corners and then gets it to the playmaker, who finds the scorer to finish it off.
Yet what happens when you change that chemistry and instead put together three of the most prolific scorers in the OHL this season? What you get is the dominating line of centre Aaron Luchuk between wingers Dmitry Sokolov and Andrei Svechnikov.
The Barrie trio have been tearing it up since head coach Dale Hawerchuk united them back on Jan. 18 in a home contest against the Saginaw Spirit. Together, Barrie’s top line has combined to tally 14 goals and 31 points in just five games.
“Right away we tried them a little bit and we could see there could be something there,” said Hawerchuk, who first had Sokolov on a line with Lucas Chiodo and Ben Hawerchuk, after the Russian winger was acquired from the Sudbury Wolves at the Jan. 10 OHL trade deadline.
“Now they’ve taken off,” added the Colts bench boss, whose club continues its four-game road swing against the Attack on Jan. 31 at Owen Sound. “They’re finding each other pretty good.”
When it comes to finding the back of the net, the trio’s numbers speak for themselves.
Luchuk, who was acquired in mid-December from Windsor, leads all OHL goal scorers with 37 goals and sits third in league scoring with 72 points in 47 games.
Sokolov’s 28 goals this season has him tied for seventh overall in the OHL. Considered a pure scorer, the seventh-round pick of the Minnesota Wild in the 2016 NHL draft has already lit the lamp 106 times in 175 games. Eight of those came in just eight games in Barrie.
Svechnikov, considered one of the top prospects for 2018 NHL draft, is on a 50-goal pace for this season. Despite missing 21 games with a hand injury earlier this season, the Russian world junior team member is still second in rookie scoring with 21 goals and 36 points in 26 games.
“Obviously (we’re) three guys who can really shoot the puck and score from any point on the ice,” Luchuk said. “We look for each other too. We’re not selfish with the puck. We’re always trying to find open nets for each other.
“Whether I’m scoring, Sokolov is scoring or Svechnikov is scoring it doesn’t really matter for us as long as we’re putting up the points.”
That the three relish the sniper role is no surprise. Sokolov celebrates scoring with the best of them, often dropping to one knee and reaching back like he’s grabbing an arrow, loading it and then firing it.
With the two talented Russians on his wings, Luchuk finds himself with more open ice. The overage player has racked up three goals and six assists in the five games they’ve been together. Sokolov leads the way with six goals and six assists, while Svechnikov has scored five times and added five helpers.
“We’re all similar in that way (scorers),” said Luchuk. “We’re all looking to get our shot, but at the same time we’re trying to be mindful of each other and getting each other looks. Sokolov and Svechnikov, they draw so much attention when they have the puck that it’s easy for me to kind of get lost to the defence and stuff like that.
“Both of them are very good passers, too. For me, it’s easy in the offensive zone. Just try to get open and they’ll find me.”
The Colts depth throughout the lineup is one of the reasons they find themselves battling for top spot in the Central Division and are among the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
Still Hawerchuk isn’t afraid to lean on his top line when they find themselves behind, much like he did against the league-leading Greyhounds Jan. 27 at Sault Ste. Marie.
Down 3-1 and heading to the third period, the top unit came through and helped get Barrie back into the game when Svechnikov scored just 26 seconds in. A little more than three minutes later, Sokolov, with his second of the game, tied it.
While the Colts would eventually go on to lose the game, 4-3, their number one line was a force. Pitted against the Hounds’ top line, they combined for three goals and six points.
“They’ve done well, but we’ve got some big goals from other lines,” Hawerchuk said. “You can’t win with just one line, but those guys all have a nose for the net. You can’t teach some of the stuff they create.”
Being counted on a big way is just fine with Luchuk. He wouldn’t want to have it any other way.
“It’s certainly something we understand,” said the Senators prospect, who signed a free agent contract with Ottawa just after Christmas. “The three of us on a line, we’re expected to produce every night and if we don’t it’s kind of a failure for us.
“We try not to put too much pressure on ourselves to play our game. We think if all three of us play with heart and work as a unit, things will go well for us.”
Barrie wraps up a busy week on Feb. 2 at London, then back at the Barrie Molson Centre the next night against the Windsor Spitfires.
ICE CHIPS: A centre his whole career, Luchuk was moved to the wing this season at Windsor. He stayed there with the Colts before moving back in the middle after Alexey Lipanov was dealt to Sudbury. “Definitely a little more comfortable for me,” Luchuk said of the move back to centre. “Playing with guys like Svechnikov and Sokolov it’s been a real treat. We’re really forming as a line right now and hopefully we can keep going.” … The Colts schedule has them on the road quite a bit over the next stretch. Starting with a 6-3 win in Sudbury on Jan. 26, Barrie plays eight of its next 10 games on the road. … Colts defenceman Joey Keane was handed a game misconduct and thrown out of the game early in the second period on Jan. 27 at the Soo.
Photo: Barrie Colts forward Dmitry Sokolov has six goals and six assists playing on a line with Aaron Luchuk and Andrei Svechnikov. In just five games together, the trio have combined to score 14 goals and 31 points. Photo courtesy of OHL Images.