Youthful 67's still aiming high

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:38 AM ET

It appears the OHL schedule maker did the 67's a favour by having them stutter-start the 2006-07 campaign.

The break between tonight's opener in Kingston and their second game of the season -- next Friday at home against the Peterborough Petes -- should give Brian Kilrea's team the chance to become more like the contender it expects to be in what figures to be a hotly contested East Division.

"We could have three pretty good defencemen away, and three pretty good forwards out of the lineup," Kilrea said earlier this week of his first chess match with former 67's star defenceman Bruce Cassidy, now the Frontenacs' coach. "Yeah, that's a pretty big hole to start in."

For his 30th opener with the organization, Kilrea was contemplating the possibility of missing three blueliners away at NHL camps in Derek Joslin (San Jose Sharks), Joe Grimaldi (New York Islanders) and Jakub Vojta (Carolina Hurricanes). Frontmen Jamie McGinn (concussion) and Shea Kewin (shoulder) were questionable after injuries suffered in the pre-season, and winger Brett Liscomb still has four games left to serve on a suspension he received in last spring's playoffs.

Even with a sudden run of good fortune before the first puck drop, Kilrea will most certainly take on Kingston without Grimaldi and Liscomb -- key components as the latter is one of his three overagers and the former expected to be another.

And even a temporary loss of experienced personnel is quite noticeable on this team as, at full strength, the 67's are promising yet very young.

Consider the fact that, after the 20-year-old Liscomb, the oldest Ottawa forward is the Jesse Biduke, who was acquired for a draft pick from Oshawa this week. Biduke, who had 13 goals and 16 assists in 54 games for the Generals last season, will turn 19 on Feb. 1.

Kilrea can't remember the last time he started a season without a 19-year-old forward on his roster.

"There's no doubt Belleville finished last season as a very good hockey club," Kilrea said in beginning his assessment of the division. "Kingston has, I think, eight players who were drafted. They'll be one of the top teams. Oshawa should be strong ... they had some extra draft picks to go along with (John) Tavares. And people say Peterborough lost a lot, but when you have (Jordan) Staal, (Daniel) Ryder and (Steve) Downie, you're in pretty good shape up front.

"I think we'll challenge for first," Kilrea added when asked for a prediction, going out on a limb he visits most every September. "I'm not giving anybody an excuse by saying third or fourth. You want to be the best you can be, and first is the best you can be."

For the 67's to have a shot at the division crown, they will need some exceptional goaltending from Swiss import Lukas Flueler (who doesn't turn 18 for five weeks) and 19-year-old Brady Morrison, who was Danny Battochio's backup last season.

Morrison will get the nod against Kingston, his former team, even though most see Flueler as his best option, Kilrea refuses to call either his No. 1 netminder right now.

He only expects that one will play around 40 games, which will leave 28 for the other, and that circumstances will determine to whom the heavier workload will go.

GOALTENDING KEY

"Every year it comes down to goaltending and Morrison and Flueler have been excellent in the pre-season and practice," said Kilrea. "They'll certainly be better when we have an established blue line here.

"Morrison bided his time last year, sitting patiently behind Danny. Lukas is a dandy, and he will get his chance the following week, when we have two home games. I just hope both get enough time to satisfy themselves."

When the roster settles, the 67's will likely start off with defensive pairings that opponents saw much of last season. Joslin and Vojta will form one, Elgin Reid and Sean Ryan another. First-round pick Tyler Cuma will play with overager Brodie Beard, at least until Grimaldi gets back.

The 67's top line for the next couple of years is expected to have Logan Couture -- the No. 1 rated pick in next spring's NHL entry draft -- between McGinn and Matt Lahey.


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