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Joel Vanderlaan The Hockey Writers

Published on Thursday, September 14, 2017





Russian Rebuild: Colts Aim for Playoffs

Last season marked the first time since 2010-11 that the Barrie Colts missed the Ontario Hockey League playoffs; both times the club finished in last place. In 2011, the Colts turned things around quickly, selecting Aaron Ekblad, who was only 15 years old at the time. The young defender had been granted exceptional status by Hockey Canada, allowing him to join the OHL early.

Ryan Suzuki Selected First Overall

Though finishing in last place is never enjoyable, the Colts were pleased to take Ryan Suzuki first overall. The club also grabbed Andrei Svechnikov first overall in the CHL Import Draft. The Colts weren’t finished revamping their offensive corps. Another highly-skilled Russian, Alex Lipanov, who was Barrie’s import selection (44th overall) a season ago, announced his commitment to the team.

The 16-year-old Suzuki will carry the weight of expectation after being selected first overall. Colts head coach Dale Hawerchuk does not believe those expectations will become a distraction. He thinks Suzuki will follow the lead of his older brother Nick Suzuki. Nick is a high-powered offensive center for the Owen Sound Attack.

Nick Suzuki

Nick Suzuki (Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

The elder Suzuki was selected 13th overall in this year’s NHL Entry Draft by the Vegas Golden Knights following an ultra-impressive campaign that saw him score 45 goals and 51 assists in 65 games. The Colts believe Ryan will be a difference maker for their organization, much like his brother is in Owen Sound.

Russian Duo Added

As noted above, Barrie should have a Russian one-two punch with Svechnikov and Lipanov expected to join the team this year. Svechnikov is widely considered one of the best forwards in the world in his age group. He is expected to hear his name called early in this year’s Entry Draft and is currently rated number two on Bob McKenzie’s preseason draft board.

The Russian winger was dominant a year ago for both club and country. Svechnikov scored 29 goals and 29 assists in 48 games for the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the United States Hockey League. He also won All-USHL First Team and All-USHL Rookie First Team honors.

The right winger was equally impressive for Russia, scoring five goals and three assists in four games, leading the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in scoring. Svechnikov would end his season playing in the World Under-18 Hockey Challenge, where he would score four goals and five assists in nine games. Andrei is looking to follow in the footsteps of his brother Evgeny, who was selected in the first round of the 2015 NHL Entry draft, 19th overall by the Detroit Red Wings.

Lipanov played at home in Russia in both the VHL and MHL before captaining Team Russia at the World Under-18 Hockey Challenge. Lipanov’s best point totals would come in the VHL, where he scored three goals and five assists in 21 games, whereas he struggled to score in the MHL, picking up just three assists. Lipanov is described as a feisty two-way center. The Tampa Bay Lighting selected the 6-foot-1, 170-pounder in the third round (76th overall) in this year’s entry draft. The Colts have added offensive fire power this offseason, something a Barrie team that scored the second fewest goals in the league, desperately needed to address this summer.

Veteran Goaltending Will Stabilize Team

The Barrie Colts acquired veteran goaltender Leo Lazarev on Sept. 10, stabilizing their goaltending situation. The 20-year-old Lazarev hails from Russia, but will not take an import slot on the team’s roster as Lazarev moved to Canada at age 16 and was selected in the OHL entry draft by Ottawa in the second round (24th overall) from the Greater Ontario Hockey League’s Waterloo Siskins.

The Colts dealt a conditional 12th round pick in 2020 for Lazarev’s services. In three seasons in the OHL, Lazarev posted a 3.31 goals-against average and .896 save percentage through 122 games played. For Barrie, which allowed 291 goals against last season or 4.27 on average against per game, Lazarev will be a welcome presence in net this season.

New Season for the Colts

With a revamped offense and the acquisition of a veteran goaltender, the Colts are hoping to make a major step forward following last season’s disappointment.

Dale Hawerchuk, OHL, Barrie Colts, Hockey, CHL

Dale Hawerchuk has coached 400 regular season games behind the Barrie Colts bench. (Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

The Colts will also rely on the growth of their players heading into their second and third seasons. One of these players is Kirill Nizhnikov, a player on whom the organization is high. The Colts acquired the Russian last September from the Mississauga Steelheads for a handful of picks: two second-round picks, three third-rounders, plus two more conditional third-rounders, two fourth-rounders (one conditional) and a conditional fifth rounder.

Though Nizhnikov hails from Russia, he moved to Canada and was drafted out from the Great Toronto Hockey League minor midget AAA Toronto Canadians (seventh overall) by Mississauga. Nizhnikov would never suit up for the Steelheads.

The right winger scored 12 goals and seven assists in 43 games last season. The Colts are expecting big things in his draft year.

The organization hopes to make a playoff appearance like they did in 2011-12, which was then too one season after finishing in last place.


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