OHL Preview – Windsor Spitfires
WINDSOR SPITFIRESCoach: Trevor Letowski (32-30-0-6)
Windsor won the Memorial Cup in 2016-17 but went into last season without their coach Rocky Thompson who had moved on to the AHL. They also lost several key players like Jeremiah Addison, Mikhail Sergachev, Jeremy Bracco, Graham Knott and others so last year was a bit of a rebuilding one for the Spitfires. By midseason, they went full rebuild moving vets like Aaron Luchuk, Logan Brown and Sean Day. Despite all those personnel losses though, Windsor still managed to finish the season with a winning record and 6th in the Conference thanks to their outstanding goaltender Michael DiPietro who was stellar yet again and arguably the best goalie in the league.
That 6th place finish however set them up with an unfortunate 1st round matchup versus the Sarnia Sting who despite finishing the season with the 2nd most points in the OHL (97 pts) were the #3 seed. It was a back and forth series initially as Windsor stole Game 1 in Sarnia and it was tied after 4 games. DiPietro did his best to keep his team in the series posting a fantastic .934 SV% but in the end it wasn’t enough as the Windsor ultimately bowed out in 6 games.
Considering how many players the Spitfires lost in a short period of time it was actually a pretty good season for them when all was said and done. They didn’t score a lot last season (5th lowest in league) but they didn’t give up a ton of goals either (7th best in OHL). They have an extremely young but talented defence core that got some much needed experience and should be better off for it this year.
Windsor was also able to re-stock their Draft pick supply by unloading a bunch of veterans while acquiring a couple of talented young forwards to build around in the future in Curtis Douglas & Cody Morgan. It has actually been an incredible transformation in such a short period of time as this team went from Memorial Cup Champions one season, unloaded a pile of players the following year while still making the playoffs and now set themselves up for what looks to be another strong season.
This year’s Windsor Spitfires look to be a highly competitive team. Of course, a lot depends on whether their stellar goaltender Michael DiPietro returns. He signed his entry level contract with the Canucks this offseason and is determined to make the team out of camp. While you have to love his determination that is highly unlikely as 19 yr old goalies RARELY make the NHL at that age but you never know….
DT: Michael DiPietro may be too good & it may end up hurting Windsor. Ideally, Warren Rychel would keep him until January & flip him to a contender for a huge return but I’m hearing rumblings the Canucks are seriously contemplating keeping him in the NHL if he has a good camp.
— NA Central Scouting (@MarkSeidel) August 13, 2018
If he were to stick with Vancouver that would be a huge blow to Windsor as that tweet mentions. He is vital to their success this year and if nothing else they could flip him to another OHL team worst case scenario and get a huge haul for him. However, if he does not return to the OHL at all it will set the Spitfires back considerably. So needless to say whatever happens to DiPietro is the critical component for success in Windsor.
Assuming he does in fact come back, Windsor is set up nicely to make a nice run with their talented roster. Their defence is really deep and should be even stronger this season with the return of 6 of their Top 7 defencemen from last year (Four 17 yr olds). Up front, they should be able to improve on their Goals For last season which means we’re probably looking at a middle of the pack playoff team again with the potential to go further depending how the preseason shakes out.
Gone is F Jake Smith who was a veteran of the QMJHL until last season when he came over and contributed 20 goals & 48 points for the Spits. D Zachary Shankar who was acquired midseason from Niagara also moves on.
Offensively how good could they be?
Windsor has a couple of big, dominating Centers over the last few years in Gabriel Vilardi and Logan Brown who have had great success under this regime. Curtis Douglas is the next one in line and he is bigger than everyone.
Douglas, is a massive 6’8″, 252 LB center who has some nice hands and good speed for such a big man, came over in the Aaron Luchuk trade and had an immediate impact scoring 15 goals & 28 pts in 38 games. Now, he becomes the main man in the middle looking to build on last season where he ended up getting drafted in the 4th round of the NHL draft. He has the potential to put up 30+ goals in this his 3rd OHL campaign.
Flanking Douglas on one side will be 19 yr old RW Cole Purboo who returns as the Spits leading scorer from last season. He scored 21 goals & 49 pts in 68 games. 18 yr old LW Mathew MacDougall will likely man the left side of the Top line after coming off a 17 goal campaign.
That should give Windsor the makings of a pretty solid Top line. The question will be who else will step up and provide this team with some secondary scoring. There are several options including 17 yr olds in Cody Morgan, Daniel D’Amico and Tyler Angle all who showed promise last season as 16 yr olds.
Luke Boka is another player who should be able to help contribute more after posting a 15 goal, 40 point season last year. The brother of Nick Boka (6th rd, MIN) is a feisty forward with good size who goes hard to the net. He went undrafted by the NHL in his draft year +1 but works hard and brings experience and leadership to this young team.
If Igor Larionov jr. returns as an overager it should also help this top 6 tremendously as he had 23 points in 32 games including 3 pts in 4 games in the playoffs. He battled concussion and knee injuries last year but was highly productive when healthy.
Lastly, Jean-Luc Foudy brother of Liam Foudy (1st rd, CLB) of the London Knights is a blazing fast player like his older brother and is known for his high hockey sense. He is a diminutive player who can fly and who should be able to step in and play regularly right away though likely won’t contribute a lot offensively in his rookie year.
2019 Draft Eligibles
C Cory Morgan was acquired in the blockbuster trade with Kingston midseason. He was drafted in the 1st round (12th overall) in the 2017 OHL draft. He is a highly skilled forward who has a tremendous shot and release. His skating is a bit of a concern but he plays a solid 2 way game and is capable of playing in all situations. He scored 6 goals & 14 pts in 32 games with Windsor and will be relied on to increase his productivity significantly in his draft year. Tough to tell what kind of an NHL prospect he will be yet but he has a chance.
LW Daniel D’Amico is a playmaker who sees the ice extremely well and can make some beautiful passes. He scored 12 goals in 59 games last year too so he’s got some offensive skill. Smart, possession type winger who is a nice OHL player but probably won’t be drafted in June due to his lack of size and physicality.
C Tyler Angle, is another smaller forward who plays bigger and has good speed. He appears to be more of a grinder than a natural goal scorer but did manage to chip in 10 goals last season. It’s unlikely he will be drafted by an NHL club.
Overall, there is certainly talent here in this group. Douglas should be a monster up front and he has a few vets to work with but the real key will be how much production they get from their 16 & 17 yr olds. Adding another veteran or two might not be a bad idea either if the kids struggle early.
How good is the defensive unit?
Connor Corcoran (5th rd, DAL) was basically thrown to the wolves last year after Sean Day & Austin McEneny got traded midseason. He was playing with fellow 17 yr old Thomas Stevenson while the Spits had four other 16 yr olds garnering regular ice time. That meant Corcoran had to play big minutes for this club in all situations and against the other team’s top lines regularly. While there were some rough patches at times he managed to hold up remarkably well and was outstanding in the playoffs limiting the OHL‘s most dangerous player Jordan Kyrou to only 1 goal & 1 assist in 6 playoff games.
Corcoran was one of the most underrated players in the 2018 NHL draft. He is actually a converted forward who only started playing defence full-time once he got to the OHL in 2016. He is considered a shutdown defenceman right now but skates very well, has good size and mobility and is an excellent puck mover. He’s pretty solid in all areas quite frankly and with his big shot he has sneaky offensive upside as well. He will be leaned on a lot again this year but I suspect will handle it with extreme poise and could break out offensively if given more opportunity.
Stevenson, as mentioned partnered with Corcoran for the majority of the second half of the season and did an admirably job himself. He has the ability to jump up and join the rush but really worked hard on his defence last season playing top pair.
2019 Draft Eligibles
As mentioned, the Spitfires have four 17 yr olds now patrolling the blue line led by former NHLer Steve Staios‘ son – Nathan Staios.
LD Nathan Staios was the 17th overall pick in the 2017 OHL Draft. He inherits a lot of the same qualities his father had – he’s smart, he’s a leader, he works hard, he’s highly competitive and he plays bigger than his size. The young Staios also has a big shot and is capable of running a powerplay which should bold well for this team as he is probably the most natural doing so. He’ll need to continue to get stronger and hopefully bigger while also improving his skating along the way. He is a decent skater now with good edgework but lacks top end speed which got him in trouble a bit last year. If he’s able to get stronger in that area he could be a player of interest in the 1st couple rounds of the NHL draft.
RD Grayson Ladd was also drafted in 2017 OHL draft. In fact, he was selected 5 picks ahead of Nathan Staios by Kitchener (13th overall). He is rangy defender who is a tremendous skater that plays a solid 2 way game. Often referred to as a “toolsy” player he has untapped potential as a mobile puckmover but is highly inconsistent. Ladd should be a staple on the second pair but likely needs to improve his offensive production considerably if he is going to develop into a legit NHL prospect.
LD Lev Starikov is another massive player for the Spitfires. Listed at 6’7″, 190 on hockeydb.com he is surprisingly mobile for such a big man and actually has some nice puck rushing ability. His combination of size and speed could be tantalizing for some NHL team and his game is somewhat reminiscent of Nikita Zadorov at this stage.
D Louka Henault is a 5th rd pick in the 2017 OHL Draft. He is a good skater with good size but has limited offensive ability and will likely not be selected at the NHL draft.
Overall, this defensive unit was the youngest in the OHL last season after the midseason trades and held up surprisingly well all else considered. It helped they had a stellar goalie behind them but make no mistake this is a talented group. The key obviously will be the maturation and development of their four 17 yr olds but they are much more experienced now and it should show up on the statsheet.
Michael DiPietro, was all-world for this team last season and pretty much his entire OHL career up to this point. If he does come back to Windsor for his 4th year he is expected to be nothing short of superb yet again. He is extremely athletic and capable of making acrobatic saves. His recovery time is the best in the league and he lateral movement cross crease is outstanding. He’s confident and battles hard each and every night. If he does ultimately come back to the OHL and gets traded to a contender eventually, that team would be an immediate favourite to win the OHL. He’s that good.
Kari Piiroinen, was drafted in the 2018 Import draft to backup DiPietro. Considered by GM Warren Rychel as “the best goaltender in Finland in his age group” he is expected to eventually replace him and dominate in the OHL. He is touted as a very athletic goalie who is fundamentally sound. He posted a 2.78 GAA & .912 SV% last season for HIFK-U18.
This is a good Windsor team that is really strong on defence and in net. The development of some of their forwards up front is key as they have a chance to be really good if a couple of them break out. Piiroinen is also a huge wildcard. If he can step into the OHL and have success early it might accelerate a trade of DiPietro and bring back some valuable assets – assuming of course he is even back in the first place. Either way, this is definitely a playoff calibre team who could surprise.
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