After earning a trip to the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) Championship Series last season, the Windsor Spitfires see numerous graduates heading into 2022-23. This means roster changes and players needing to step up, including three who are ready to take their game to a new level.
With training camp starting next week, we’re going to dive into a few areas with the club, starting with breakout candidates. When Spitfires’ general manager Bill Bowler made the decision to add veteran depth to the 2021-22 roster, he knew the youngsters (and depth veterans) might need to sacrifice some ice time. It wasn’t always easy but they got on the same page and learned from the playoff run. Now, with more prominent names gone, three players have an opportunity to show what they’re capable of in a bigger role, and it’s a chance they can’t pass up.
Forward Ethan Miedema
The 2021 OHL Draft was nothing short of odd for the Spitfires. With no 2020-21 season because of COVID-19, the league conducted a draft lottery to determine the order. The team lucked out, grabbing the fourth overall pick. That’s where they selected 6-foot-4, 200-pound sniping winger Ethan Miedema.
Most rookies start at the bottom and work their way up. If they can adjust quicker, they get more ice. At times, Spitfires’ head coach Marc Savard put him on the top two lines to see how he could handle it. However, the OHL is a huge step up from Under-16 AAA, especially speed-wise, and keeping up was difficult. To maintain proper development, the coaches put him on the fourth line with occasional appearances in the top nine. Regardless of where he played, though, he showed flashes of incredible potential, finishing the season with 14 goals and 38 points in 65 games.
With multiple top-line forwards graduating this summer, Miedema is ready to show why he was the fourth overall pick. After a summer to work on his speed and strength, 2022-23 could be the season we’ve all waited for. He showed a lethal shot around the net and a passion for creating offence. If he takes that next step, he could easily see a permanent spot in the top six or even top three.
Last season, veteran Wyatt Johnston (Dallas Stars) had his breakout season with 124 points in 68 games after 30 in 58 as a rookie in 2019-20. Nobody expects that from Miedema, but the concept could be similar. With the skill set, size, and drive to make things happen, he’ll be given every opportunity to show why he was the fourth overall pick in 2021.
Forward Alex Christopoulos
When the Spitfires had injuries and COVID-19 issues in late November/early December, Bowler made a few depth moves to shore up the lineup. One of those was getting 18-year-old forward Alex Christopoulos from the North Bay Battalion, and it ended up becoming one of the best value deals of the season.
The Battalion’s third-round pick in 2019, Christpoulos had 16 points in 57 games in his rookie season. Moreso, the 5-foot-11, 195-pound Richmond Hill native showed the character and work ethic that teams crave.
When Bowler saw the chance to get him, he jumped on it and Christopoulos didn’t look back. Savard used him on all four lines, including the top line with Johnston and Will Cuylle (New York Rangers). No matter where he played, he found production and finished with 24 points in 68 games (had just two points in 22 games with the Battalion). He was a workhorse that never stopped skating, becoming an instant fan favourite.
Coming into 2022-23, Christopoulos will be one of the leaders on the team. He’ll use the knowledge and experience from the playoff run to take his game to a new level. Not every breakout candidate is going to be 17-or-18 years old and this might be a prime example. Now 19, this is his chance to show everyone everything he has.
Goaltender Kyle Downey
This has become one of the more up-and-down situations on the Spitfires. One of the club’s second-round picks in 2020, Kyle Downey was supposed to be their future goaltender. He was a highly-touted prospect with the Toronto Nationals Under 16 AAA and should have been the clear-cut starter in 2022-23. However, issues early last season changed everything.
The plan heading into 2021-22 was to start veteran Xavier Medina while Downey would back him up, eventually taking over. Instead, Medina struggled and got injured shortly into the season. This forced the Spitfires to start the rookie far more than they wanted. They also had to call up 2019 Under-18 pick Matt Tovell to back him up. The two were inconsistent and still very raw. It wasn’t what anyone needed.
While Medina returned in December, it didn’t help and the Spitfires traded for 19-year-old Mathias Onuska from the London Knights. Downey was promptly sent to LaSalle Jr. B for some much-needed development. That could have been the best move for his career.
Coming into 2022-23, Downey’s ready for his “here I am!” season. He’ll likely be given an opportunity to finally sink or swim while learning from either Onuska (likely) or Medina (coin toss), maybe in a platoon role. The youngster was ranked high for a reason and now is his chance to play his game without any issues.
After a successful playoff run in 2021-22, the Spitfires know they’re going to have plenty of question marks heading into this season. On the plus side, though, it’s a chance for many players to take control and show they can elevate their game to another level. These three players, in particular, are primed to be at the forefront of that conversation.