The biggest question for the Barrie Colts heading into this offseason was scoring.
With the departure of top scorers Evan Vierling, Ethan Cardwell, Brandt Clarke as well as overage forward Declan McDonnell, the Barrie offence is losing most of its top weapons.
The foursome alone combined for 114 of Barrie’s 284 goals scored last season.
With just a little more than six weeks before training camp opens, the Colts believe they’ve largely addressed those concerns. The trades for Riley Patterson from Flint and Bode Stewart from Saginaw along with the addition of Czech prospect Eduard Sale should provide them with a boost of offence this season and beyond.
“That’s what we’re happy about,” said Colts general manager and head coach Marty Williamson. “We’re going to be young, but we’re going to be awfully good. We got guys that can really produce at a young age.”
The Colts need a sniper to replace Cardwell and believe they have one with Sale. Selected by Barrie in last year’s CHL Import Draft, the highly-skilled winger went 20th overall to the Seattle Kraken in this year’s NHL Draft and could step right into a spot on the top line.
“He sure can. This kid is highly, highly talented,” said Williamson of the 18-year-old, who played pro last season with HC Kometa Brno in the Czech Extraliga. “He was considered behind Russian Matvei Michkov (who went to Philadelphia with No. 7 pick) and obviously Connor Bedard (first overall to Chicago) skill-wise. He’s right in that group.
“There was a little bit of a knock on him for his overall game. He’s got to work on things, but he also played in a men’s league and was getting five or six minutes of ice time and wasn’t happy. I think if he could go back, he would have come last year and then probably been a top-10 pick.”
While Sale has yet to sign with the club, the Colts met the family at the recent NHL draft and are confident he’ll be joining them.
“We took the family to dinner in Nashville,” said Williamson. “Mom and dad are excited, and Eduard is excited to come over. I think Seattle is a great fit. Ron Francis is a great supporter of our league and he took a Barrie boy with his second pick (Barrie native Carson Rehkopf).
“I think things are lining up real good that we’ll see him in our lineup next year.”
The Colts also believe they have a future No. 1 centre in Patterson.
The North York Rangers forward had 30 goals and 43 assists for 73 points last season and was named both the Ontario Junior Hockey League top rookie and Canadian Junior Hockey League top rookie.
Selected by the Firebirds in the third round of the 2022 OHL Priority Selection, the 17-year-old had committed to Michigan State University before the Colts dealt six draft picks for him, including a pair of seconds, a third, and pair of fourths, to acquire him.
“Riley was some hard work, but good luck,” said Williamson of landing the highly-skilled forward.
The Colts learned the forward could be available and got permission from Flint to talk to him.
“He liked what we offered and liked his opportunity and all of sudden things came together very quickly,” added the coach.
Williamson believes Patterson could step right in and produce offence from the hop.
While he doesn’t like comparisons, Williamson says the situation is similar to that of when Barrie acquired Mark Scheifele from Erie. Patterson also happens to have the same agent as the Winnipeg Jets star.
“He just seems like a really extremely focused player, wants to be a pro and he was looking to pass this way,” he said. “It’s very similar to Mark. As much as NCAA was a nice option for him, when we came with our opportunity it’s very fortunate for us he made a very quick decision.”
Williamson believes Patterson could step right in and produce offence.
“We really do,” he said. “I watched him play against my son a bunch of times. He played with Luke Ellinas (Colts prospect on North York) and when I went to watch Luke I kept watching this kid and it was like, ‘Wow! He’s a player.’ Even when I asked my son, I kind of mentioned his name, and he said, ‘Dad, he’s really good.’
“For a 16-year-old, what he did in that league is unheard of with 30 goals and 43 assists. And to be the best player in Canada at that level, I don’t think his transition is going to be that difficult into our league. He’s going to be a year older. He’s going to be ready to, I think, produce.”
Stewart also gives the Colts another talented young scoring forward. With Saginaw hosting the Memorial Cup and looking for draft picks to ice an older team this season, the Colts were able to snag the 17-year-old forward.
He was a player the Colts were looking to take in last year’s draft before he was chosen ahead of them.
“He brings a ton of speed,” Williamson said of Stewart, who played for Canada Black at the U17 World Hockey Challenge last year. “He’s got tangibles of getting in on the forecheck, scoring goals. He’s a big addition.”
With Patterson and 2022 10th overall pick Cole Beaudoin, the Colts believe they have two No. 1 centres going forward.
“Different players, but both very good at what they can do,” said Williamson. “It’s pretty exciting having those two big rigs up the middle.”
“Cole Beaudoin played extremely well for us last year and he just needs to add a little bit of offence to his game and this second year I really do think we’ll see him take off,” he added. “Then Patterson and then, obviously, (Beau) Jelsma and (Jacob) Frasca are staples and we know what they deliver. We’re expecting a big year from those two.
“Then we’d like someone to step up from that other group. . . The forward group, I’m pretty excited about with the way it looks right now.”
Carter Lowe should also be ready to take another step in his development after a strong finish, while Ellinas is another young forward the Colts are excited about.
And of course, there’s this year’s top pick in Shane Moses.
“He’s on the ice, he’s working hard every day,” said Williamson. “He’s really putting in the effort to try and make an impact next year. I think he understands it’s going to be a learning year for him, but at six-foot-three and 200-pounds plus he’s going to be a nice plus.
“He’s going to be a nice depth piece for us (this year) and then he’ll be able to take that step, especially on the right side.”
The Colts bolstered the offensive prospects with two forward selections in the recent draft. Highly-touted right-winger Michael Brandsegg-Nygard could be a first-round pick next season and while he’s not expected to come over to North America this season, the forward, who hails from Norway, could come over next year.
Swiss winger Endo Meier should be in camp and had 17 goals and 22 assists in 46 games with the GCK Lions in the U20 Swiss League.
“I like our group. I like how we’re set up,” said Williamson.
Another big decision facing the Colts this season will be who will be their three overagers. With only three spots open, the club will have to choose between goalie Anson Thornton, defencemen Connor Punnett, Braden Hache and Artur Cholach and forwards Jacob Frasca and Tyler Savard.
Some players could sign pro deals before the season, so Williamson is holding off on moving anyone.
“I’m not too anxious to move them,” he said. “I’m getting lots of calls (especially on Punnett and Hache), but I’m not too anxious to do anything until I know for sure they’re both back or maybe I keep both of them. Our goalie is back, Frasca is back, Savard is back.”
Williamson can see himself waiting right up to the start of the season to make any moves.
“The good thing is they’re wanted in the league,” he said of his veterans. “They’re assets for us and we just got to decide which ones we want. We’re in a good position with a lot of assets.”
While the Colts moved a boatload of picks in both trades, they still have all their second-round picks for the next four years.
“We didn’t deplete ourselves too badly,” said Williamson. “And we’ll get more picks once we start moving our overagers.”
Banner image via the Barrie Colts