When the 2017/18 season gets started, there are going to be three very important jobs up for grabs for the Windsor Spitfires.
During the 2016/17 season, the Spitfires’ roster was full of hungry veterans who were eager to win a Memorial Cup. There were some younger players scattered around for depth and to gain valuable experience, but the majority of the players knew the league inside-and-out.
This coming season, though, the majority of the team is going to be young and hungry to learn. This is where the three overage (20-year-old) spots become very important. Windsor lost three big overage players to graduation – forwards Cristiano DiGiacinto and Jeremiah Addison, and defenceman Jalen Chatfield. They will also likely lose several other players to the pros.
This can be overcome, though. They have many quality options for overage players entering the 2017/18 season. Let’s take a look at who might return and who might move on.
Plenty of Veteran Help Available
Mario Culina – 6’2” 184lbs – G
– A free agent signing prior to the 2015/16 season, Culina put up solid numbers but couldn’t beat Michael DiPietro for the starting role. With young Brock Baier ready to go in the system, it would be a surprise to see Culina back for the Spitfires. He might be an ideal trade candidate, though.
Graham Knott – 6’4” 195lbs – LW
– Knott was a big acquisition for Windsor and proved to be a clutch player in the Memorial Cup with three goals in four games. Being a Chicago Blackhawks prospect, though, makes him likely to be in the pros next season.
Julius Nattinen – 6’2” 192lbs – C
– Nattinen came in with high expectations and produced on the biggest stage in junior hockey. The Anaheim Ducks prospect saw a short stint with San Diego (AHL) prior to coming to Windsor. Expect San Diego to be his home next season.
Aaron Luchuk – 5’10” 180lbs – C
– Luchuk is a wild card. After back-to-back 25+ goal seasons, the veteran could provide a huge boost to the Spitfires’ offence. He could also go the university route. It’s a real toss-up.
Hayden McCool – 6’3” 202lbs – C
– A former top-10 OHL selection, McCool came to Windsor in the Josh Ho-Sang trade. He turned into a typical power forward; not much scoring but plenty of physical play. This is a guy you might want to consider for protection.
Adam Laishram – 5’9” 166lbs – C
– Laishram was a key deadline acquisition for Windsor. The diminutive forward became a fan favourite for his energy and speed. Coming back for one last season would be a significant boost for the Spitfires.
Austin McEneny – 5’11” 170lbs – D
– McEneny was a free agent brought in from Quebec just before the 2016/17 season. At first, he was expected to stick around until the defence was healthy. Instead, he quickly became Mr. Reliable and a minutes-eater. Like Luchuk, McEneny could go the college route but a spot on the Spitfires’ defence is certainly enticing.
Daniel Robertson – 6’ 190lbs – D
– Brought in from Oshawa at the deadline, Robertson provided depth for the Spitfires down the stretch. Unfortunately, injuries hindered the end of his season and he didn’t see any action during the Memorial Cup.
The Verdict Is In
It’s unlikely that Knott or Nattinen will be back in a Windsor uniform, even to start the season. Combined with the departure of DiGiacinto and Addison, the Spitfires need offence.
If he doesn’t go to school or sign in the pros, Luchuk would be a perfect candidate for an overage slot. It would be his fourth year with the Spitfires and he has proven to be effective in all areas – both on and off the ice. He’s the kind of player the Spitfires are going to need to lean on as the season gets going. Here is a clip of Luchuk scoring the Memorial Cup-winning goal:
The same could be said for Laishram. His work ethic quickly won over fans and teammates. While he won’t provide the same offence as Luchuk, his performance on the penalty kill cannot be underestimated. A return to the Spitfires may prove invaluable.
A tricky spot is McCool. While he’s mainly the team protector, that role could go to 6’7″ 230lb defenceman Logan Stanley. If a forward spot in camp came down to McCool or a younger player, it wouldn’t be a shock to see McCool going to school instead.
A spot also needs to be used on a defenceman. While Robertson provides depth, McEneny is the best option here. Expectations weren’t high when he first signed on, but he used his minutes wisely and became a reliable player. He’ll quickly jump into the top-four and show the young defence how to get the job done.
As the Spitfires rebuild, the team will be focusing on the youngsters’ development, while relying on the veterans to lead the way. Having Luchuk, Laishram and McEneny would be ideal for Windsor. They know the league and what it takes to win.
I’m a resident of Windsor, ON and a graduate of St Clair College Journalism and New Media program as well as the University of Windsor Communication, Media, and Film program. I’ve been a junior hockey fan (specifically the Windsor Spitfires) for 30-years and have written about/photographed junior hockey since about 2005.