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Blueprint: Putting Kingston Back in Front

Doug Gilmour is in his third season as the General Manager of the Kingston Frontenacs. When he began he had a blueprint for the franchise to help guide it out of the Ontario Hockey League basement and into a perennial contender. His vision would see Kingston become a desirable location to play, a beautiful city with a professional Frontenac’s club starting a long and proud traditions of excellence and winning. 

Gilmour made his first impression on the team when they drafted Max Domi eighth overall in the 2011 OHL Priority draft. Knowing his friend Tie Domi’s son would only play for the London Knights, Domi refused to report to Kingston and the Fronts were compensated with a 2012 first round pick. The Frontenacs proceeded to trade Domi to London for two 2012 second round picks and a 2015 second round pick as well. Armed with five picks in the first two rounds of the 2012 Priority draft Gilmour was able to load the franchise up with fresh new talent and selected Roland McKeown second overall after Connor McDavid was granted exceptional status. Sam Bennett was selected with the second first round pick, ninth overall. McKeown and Bennett were teammates with the Toronto Marlboros Minor Midget AAA team. With the first two picks in the second round the Fronts added Dylan DiPerna and Spencer Watson. The future was indeed starting to look brighter for Kingston.

The fruits of that draft are ripe indeed as Sam Bennett is the number one North American ranked skater in the 2014 NHL draft class as ranked by NHL Central Scouting. Chris Edwards of Central Scouting had this to say of Bennett

"Bennett has not only been very noticeable but extremely effective every shift of every game so far this season, his puckhandling and playmaking are excellent and he has one of the best shots in this year's draft class.”

photo by Aaron Bell, OHL Images
photo by Aaron Bell, OHL Images

Indeed it is a testament to the scouting staff Gilmour hired and the Coaching staff of Todd Gill and Darren Keily who have help develop Bennett into the top ranked player in his draft.

The Frontenacs also made two significant acquisitions at the 2012 import draft when they selected Mikko Vainonen and Henri Ikonen. Ikonen would lead the Fronts in scoring in 2012-13 and was selected by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the sixth round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. Together, the pair would win the Gold Medal for Finland at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Tournament.

Another major move Gilmour made early was to trade the team’s best player Ryan Spooner in his final season to the Sarnia Sting for Ryan Kujawinski. The Sting were loaded with stars Nail Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk and had visions of a championship and Memorial Cup and felt the addition of Spooner would give them the push they needed. The cost was Kujawinski, who was selected fourth overall in 2011 ahead of Max Domi in the Priority draft. Spooner left Sarnia the following season to play pro in the AHL and Kujawinski has since been drafted by the New Jersey Devils and is still a key member of the Frontenacs.

The development of the young players acquired by Gilmour has been very successful. The team has improved and returned to the playoffs in 2013 but was summarily dismissed by the Barrie Colts in four games. The Fronts will again return to post season play with home ice in 2014 and look to make a deep run and challenge for a Championship as they currently reside in third in the Eastern Conference.

With star players and future NHLers Sam Bennett, Roland McKeown, Ryan Kujawinski, Henri Ikonen, and Spencer Watson all very likely to return for another season with the Frontenacs the best is still to come.

The OHL is a cyclical league typically where few teams are able to sustain long stretches of success because of the short playing career of the players. Turnover from year to year is significant and the best players graduate sooner than later. While Gilmour has succeeded in bringing a winning team back to Kingston in a short period of time with his blueprint, the true test will be if the team can maintain that success year after year.