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COLUMN: Local teen could make history at NHL Draft

Regarding when Orillia's Colby Barlow will be picked, 'it’s a crapshoot between about four and 10,' says scout

Born on Valentine’s Day, Colby Barlow has tugged at the heart strings of NHL scouts for two seasons while playing for the Owen Sound Attack.

The 2023 NHL Draft goes a month today in Nashville with the opening 32 selections, followed by rounds 2 through 7 the next day.

Barlow, an Orillia native, will be taken on opening night and has the potential to break into the top 10, which would make him the highest local player taken in decades.

“It’s a crapshoot between about four and 10,” said Mark Edwards, who runs HockeyProspect and its online portal, “… but I can see him as a (top-10) player … Barlow is a safe pick. It really (comes down) to whether a team wants that or takes a risk on another player with a higher ceiling.”

Edwards’s thoughts on Barlow, a big, goal-scoring winger, have been echoed by other scouts and draft-connected hockey people since he broke into the OHL.

He followed a 30-goal rookie season in 2021-22 with 46 more in his sophomore season. Though the Attack was eliminated in four straight games, Barlow scored three goals in four games in a loss to the eventual Western Conference-champion London Knights. Earlier this year, he was named Orillia's Athlete of the Year.

Combined, Barlow has 126 points in 118 OHL games throughout his two seasons.

Some historical context to Barlow’s position ahead of Nashville: Two local products, Hall of Famer Mike Gartner (fourth overall, 1979) and Shayne Corson (eighth overall, 1984), are the highest selections from the area.

Huntsville-born Ethan Moreau, whose family moved to Orillia when he started high school, was a stellar OFSAA medal-winning thrower at ODCVI and was a star for the Jr. A Orillia Terriers; he was drafted 14th overall in the 1994 NHL draft by Chicago.

Both Gartner and Corson are from Barrie, which is a much bigger place now, and played minor hockey here. Barlow is from Orillia and played in both Orillia Minor Hockey and AAA hockey with the North Central Predators in Rama before playing in the Greater Toronto Hockey League for the Toronto Marlboros.

Two more selections will follow Barlow with local connections: Kitchener Rangers forward Carson Rehkopf, who grew up just outside of Barrie, and Colts defenceman Beau Akey will likely be taken in the next two rounds.

During a telephone chat with Akey a couple of weeks ago, the Colts defenceman was still disappointed about his club’s heartbreaking Game 7 loss to the North Bay Battalion but content with his sophomore season.

Akey earned praise for his offensive and skating ability, scoring 11 goals and adding 36 assists in 66 games.

Though it meant less ice time overall and on the power play, Akey seemed to flourish after Brandt Clarke returned to Barrie, despite it knocking the other Colts defenceman a notch down the lineup. That shift brought on by Clarke’s return tended to get Akey better match-ups and, to the naked eye, he became more forceful and energetic, especially with the puck on his blade.

Still, there are concerns about Akey’s general defensive play.

“He needs to bear down in his own zone more,” said Red Line Report chief scout Kyle Woodlief, who has Akey rated in the third round but expects him to be taken higher than that because of his offensive skills.

“I can see how (some day) a coach in the American league could (instil in him) how to play better defensively, but right now I don’t see that happening (with the Colts).”

To be perfectly blunt, defencemen are often only noticed when they make a mistake, but paradoxically, scouts came away impressed with Akey’s “recovery ability.” That observation is inherently tricky: You have to make a mistake in order to show how well you bounce back.

Ideally, this is where the paradox comes in. The idea is to make as few mistakes as possible.

“But all young defencemen do it,” one NHL scout observed during a playoff game after Akey gave the puck away in his own zone. “… It’s nice to see how quickly he corrects it and shuts them down.”

Rehkopf has presented a different but similar dilemma as Akey in the minds of scouts because of his inconsistency. He came back from Victoria, B.C., after earning his team MVP honours on a side captained by Barlow at the Top Prospects Game. His draft stock bolstered somewhat, but he failed to build any momentum due to inconsistent play, which may have been due to a difficult season at the Aud.

He scored 30 goals and added 29 assists this season in 68 games, and Rehkopf’s draft rating is roughly about the same as Akey’s.

Czech forward Eduard Sale, who is Colts property but has not yet reported, is rated about the same as Barlow. The team that takes him will determine if he ever shows up in Barrie. A more likely destination is the American Hockey League.

“After a year playing against men in his own country, to me it makes more sense for (Sale’s NHL club) to send him to the AHL, or even to send him back (to Czechia),” said Woodlief, whose analysis is particularly interesting because he scouted Sale heavily for both his NHL work and his duties that evaluate import players to play in the Canadian Hockey League.

Further down the draft ledger, Colts centre Beau Jelsma has earned a second look after not hearing his name called last year. It can be difficult to predict the later rounds because of the tendency for NHL clubs to take Europeans and college players because they hold their rights longer.

Jelsma scored 31 goals and 30 assists and added 11 more points in nine playoff games, numbers that, combined with his skating, should give NHL clubs pause to consider the 19-year-old from the Tillsonburg area. It’s interesting Jelsma and Rehkopf, with the Colts centre about seven months older, had virtually identical offensive production in their second OHL season.

Larry Keenan, who grew up in Midhurst and has played U.S. prep school hockey the past two seasons, is starting to gain traction on draft charts. He’s the grandson and namesake of the former St. Louis Blue, and his father, Cory, has lived locally for years after his own career wound down. Keenan, 18, is a towering defenceman and is expected to end up in the NCAA either next season or in 2024-25, having been linked to UMass.

Barlow will be invited to Canada’s World Junior Championship summer evaluation camp in July, with Akey also having a decent shot to attend. Barring injury, Barlow will likely play a key role on Team Canada at next year’s event that is slated for Gothenburg, Sweden, over the holiday season.

Barlow helped Canada win bronze at the U18s earlier last month; both Barlow and Rehkopf won gold with Team Canada at last summer’s Gretzky-Hlinka U18 tournament.

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Peter Robinson

About the Author: Peter Robinson

Barrie's Peter Robinson is a sports columnist for BarrieToday. He is the author of Hope and Heartbreak in Toronto, his take on living with the disease of being a Leafs fan.
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