Trading players is a tough job for any Ontario Hockey League (OHL) general manager (GM). When it’s a franchise player, though, it’s that much harder. This was the case in Dec. 2018 for then-Windsor Spitfires’ GM Warren Rychel and his star goaltender Michael DiPietro. It’s a deal that still affects the club today.
In the second part of our “revisiting” series (first, Will Cuylle and the Peterborough Petes), we’re going take a look at one of the boldest trades that Rychel ever pulled off. He was known for his “wow” factor moves, whether it was bringing in a high-end prospect for picks, making a blockbuster deal to put the team over the top, or even trading his own son to a contender. However, after their 2017 Mastercard Memorial Cup championship, the roster had to be prepared for the future. If that meant trading away key pieces to contenders, so be it. Unfortunately, that included a goaltender that re-wrote the Spitfires’ history books with a permanent smile on his face. It goes down as one of the biggest trades in club history.
With the 2019 World Juniors set to start in late Dec. 2018, and the OHL Trade Deadline coming up a week after the tournament concluded, Rychel knew that making a move in early December was the best for everyone. DiPietro (who was on Team Canada) had been the club’s rock since 2015-16 and only a few teams could have truly offered up what the Spitfires needed and deserved. On Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018, the team hooked up with the Ottawa 67’s for the bombshell deal.
Here’s how it went down:
- Goaltender Michael DiPietro
- Spitfires’ fourth-round pick in 2020
- Kingston Frontenacs’ second-round pick in 2024
- Rights to forward Egor Afanasyev
- 67’s second-round pick in 2019
- 67’s second-round pick in 2022
- 67’s second-round pick in 2023
- London Knights’ second-round pick in 2021
- Conditional 67’s second-and-third-round picks in 2021 and 67’s third-round pick in 2022 if Afanasyev did not report.
What the 67’s Got
Goaltender Michael DiPietro:
Drafted by the Spitfires in the second round in 2015, DiPietro not only showed he was a capable player from the start but he grabbed the starter’s role and refused to let go.
From OHL First All-Rookie Team to Memorial Cup Champion, Memorial Cup Most Outstanding Player to OHL Goaltender of the Year, there wasn’t much he didn’t accomplish. He set the Spitfires’ record for most shutouts in a season (seven in 2017-18), most career shutouts (16), best goals-against average (GAA) (2.52), best save percentage (SV%) (.914), and most career wins (86). In his three seasons with the club, he never had a GAA over 2.80 or a SV% under .910.
The Vancouver Canucks liked what they saw and made him their third-round pick in 2017. The future looked incredible for the 5-foot-10, 200-pound Amherstburg native. He was loved by Windsor-and-Essex County and the team and the feeling was mutual. Simply put, the 67’s got an all-around franchise talent and human.
Related: Michael DiPietro King of Windsor’s Crease
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DiPietro continued his stellar ways with the 67’s, going 12-4 in the regular season with a 2.51 GAA and .897 SV% in 17 games. In the playoffs, he went 13-0 with a 2.35 GAA and .914 SV%. However, in Game 2 of the 2018-19 OHL Championship against the Guelph Storm, he suffered an injury that forced him out of the series. While the 67’s were up 2-0 in the series, the Storm pounced on backup Cedrick Andree for four-straight wins, taking the title.
It was far from the ending that DiPietro or the 67’s wanted, but the injury was out of anyone’s control. They still had a fantastic run, which was the point of the trade.
Spitfires’ Fourth-Round Pick in 2020
The 67’s kept this pick and selected 6-foot, 150-pound defenceman Matthew Mayich out of the Hamilton Huskies Minor Midget AAA. He’s now in his second season with the club, recording six points in 26 games this season.
Kingston Frontenacs Second-Round Pick in 2024
This pick will be determined in the Spring of 2024.
What the Spitfires Got
Rychel used this trade to restock the draft cupboards while still aiming to be competitive. Here’s how the Spitfires’ return shook down:
Rights to Forward Egor Afanasyev
This was one of the big pieces to the trade, though it took a while for everything to play out. Rychel wanted at least one major player returning in the deal and he had his sights set on 6-foot-4, 210-pound winger Egor Afanasyev. The Russian-born producer came to North America in 2016 and played for the Little Caesars U16 program in Michigan. While he was drafted by the 67’s in the sixth round in 2017, he wanted to wait and, instead, played for the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the United States Hockey League (USHL). That’s when he got an offer from Michigan State University, which he accepted. However, when the Spitfires came calling, he couldn’t turn it down.
In June 2019, Afanasyev de-committed and Rychel brought on the big winger. The Nashville Predators’ 2019 second-rounder was an immediate fit. After 27 goals in 58 games for the Lumberjacks in 2018-19, he had 31 goals in 62 games for the Spitfires in 2019-20. Everything about his game was golden; he could shoot, create plays, throw his body a bit, and was a class act off the ice. However, the club never got to see his full potential play out as the COVID-19 stoppage halted everything.
During the stoppage in 2020-21, Afanasyev went to Russia and played for three different clubs at three different levels, spending most of the time with CSKA Moskova of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). When the OHL returned in 2021-22, he came back to North America but went to the American Hockey League (AHL) instead to play for the Predators’ affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals.
It was a bittersweet situation for the Spitfires. They got their player but he only lasted a season with the club. At least it was a productive one.
67’s Second-Round Pick 2019
The Spitfires kept this pick and used it to select 6-foot, 175-pound winger Pasquale Zito out of the Mississauga Rebels Under-16 AAA. While the club was going through a bit of an ownership debacle at the time, Zito was ecstatic about having a chance to play in the OHL. He was known for being a gritty, offensive player who could provide leadership… and came as advertised.
In 95 games for the Spitfires, the Detroit Red Wings’ 2021 sixth-rounder had 55 points and 68 penalty minutes. He could score with any line and was happy to defend teammates at a moment’s notice. The team even named him an alternate captain in 2021-22. However, injuries late in the season kept him out for much of the second half and playoffs.
On June 30, 2022, the two parties decided it was best to go their separate ways and current GM Bill Bowler sent Zito to the Niagara IceDogs. In return, the Spitfires got:
- Oshawa Generals’ second-round pick in 2023
- Generals’ second-round pick in 2024
- IceDogs’ fourth-round pick in 2024
- IceDogs’ sixth-round pick in 2024
- Mississauga Steelheads’ fourth-round pick in 2024 (conditional)
- IceDogs’ fifth-round pick in 2025 (conditional)
The two conditional picks will be included if Zito plays an overage (20-year-old) season in 2023-24. He was traded to the North Bay Battalion earlier in Dec. 2022, so that will be up to them.
While the Spitfires were hoping to get more out of Zito, they made the most out of what they had. He embodied what it meant to be a Spitfire and became a fan favourite in every way. Now, Bowler and his staff can continue this deal in the future with several picks yet to be made.
67’s Second-Round Pick 2022
This one was shipped off to the Owen Sound Attack at last January’s trade deadline as part of a package deal for 20-year-old defenceman Andrew Perrott. However, it worked out very well for the Spitfires.
The 6-foot, 215-pound Perrott was a soft-spoken but firm veteran that let his actions do the talking. Whether it was defending teammates, throwing the body, or putting up 26 points in 39 games, he really could do it all. He added another 14 points in 25 playoff games including the Game 6 overtime winner against the Flint Firebirds that sent the Spitfires to Game 7 at home (which they won).
Ideally, an organization wants a second-round pick to be someone who sticks with them long-term, but this played out very well for Bowler. While he gave up multiple picks for Perrott, he got a big piece for their 2021-22 OHL Championship run against the Hamilton Bulldogs.
London Knights’ Second-Round Pick 2021
This pick took a long journey but it still benefitted the Spitfires. After Rychel got the pick, he immediately sent it to the Petes as part of a conditional pick in the Cuylle trade. It was then sent to the IceDogs as part of a package for veteran defenceman Jacob Paquette.
The Icedogs used it to select goaltender Joey Costanzo. However, this is where it gets interesting. In Sept. 2022, the Spitfires acquired Costanzo from the IceDogs for two picks. He’s now their backup goaltender, and likely starter of the future, currently sharing the crease with veteran Mathias Onuska.
It’s unlikely that Bowler or Rychel envisioned this turnabout but, despite the weird road, it worked out well for the club.
67’s Second-Round Pick 2023
Bowler still owns this pick, but it’s too early to say whether he’ll keep it or trade it before the draft.
Both of the conditional picks were based on whether or not Afanasyev would sign with the Spitfires. When he signed in 2019, the picks stayed with the 67’s.
Verdict: 67’s by a Skate Blade
In this deal, each club had their own goals. The 67’s wanted to win the OHL Championship while the Spitfires were looking to build for the future.
DiPietro was instrumental in helping the 67’s dominate the Eastern Conference during the regular season and get to the OHL Championship against the Storm. It’s very unfortunate that he went down with an injury and we couldn’t see that potential play out to its fullest.
For the Spitfires, it turned out well in both the short and long term. Afanasyev was outstanding but his potential was never realized due to the COVID-19 stoppage. The picks were huge because, not only did they turn into future picks Bowler can use, but they helped the club acquire talent in 2021-22 to get them to the OHL Championship.
In the end, only one piece of this deal was directly involved in getting a club to the OHL Championship and that’s DiPietro. He was their X-factor and, without him, who knows if they even make the finals. For that reason, they take this deal by the narrowest of margins.