After a chaotic year that saw the OHL get shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s a little relief on the way for Windsor Spitfires’ general manager Bill Bowler. The league held its first-ever draft lottery on Wednesday evening and, after some tense moments, the club found itself with a spot in the top five.
In mid-April, the OHL formally cancelled the season due to rising COVID-19 cases throughout Ontario. While it was necessary to keep everyone safe, it created an uncertain situation with the 2021 OHL Priority Selection. Normally it’s based on the standings but, without a season, that’s impossible. Instead, the league designed the first-ever OHL Draft Lottery.
How does this shape up for the Spitfires? Let’s take a look.
Spitfires Land 4th Overall Pick
The lottery was done using a computerized random number generator which gives all 20 teams a shot at the first overall pick. The entire draft will also be done in reverse order. This means whoever had the first overall pick would get the last pick in the second round, the first pick in the third round, and so on.
Random draft lotteries can be stressful but, sometimes they work out for the better. When everything was finalized, Bowler and the Spitfires came out near the top, winning the fourth-overall pick. Bowler told CTV Windsor that the night exceeded all expectations.
“The lottery worked out in our favour,” he said.
“We weren’t expecting a top-10 pick, let alone a top five.”
It’s been 25 years since the Spitfires had the fourth pick. In 1996, they took scrappy winger Kip Brennan. Two years before that, they took scoring winger Glenn Crawford in the same spot.
To add to the night, Bowler got some great news before his team was even called. The Barrie Colts were given the last pick in the first round, which put them with the top pick in the second round. However, the Spitfires own that pick thanks to the December 2017 trade involving captain Aaron Luchuk. Having two picks in the top-20 is Bowler’s jackpot.
The big winners of the draft were the Sudbury Wolves, who will select first overall. They will be followed by the Oshawa Generals at No. 2 and the Guelph Storm to round out the top three. It should be mentioned that the Niagara IceDogs lost their first-round pick due to 2019 recruiting sanctions, but were given the 15th spot (now forfeited) to determine their picks in Rounds 2-15.
Capitalizing on Picks
Having two picks in the top-20 is a huge win for the Spitfires but now Bowler has to capitalize on the selections.
When the OHL cancelled the 2020-21 season, it meant the graduation of several key players including forwards Egor Afanasyev (Nashville Predators), Tyler Angle (Columbus Blue Jackets), Connor Corcoran (Vegas Golden Knights), and 6-foot-9, 235-pound 30-goal scorer Curtis Douglas. In total, six players are gone, leaving a much younger (and different) lineup.
While the team will be led by veteran forwards Will Cuylle (New York Rangers) and Jean-Luc Foudy (Colorado Avalanche), the rebuild has likely begun. The fourth and 20th picks will join sophomores Wyatt Johnston, Pasquale Zito, and Xavier Medina along with rookies Ryan Abraham, Nicholas De Angelis, and Daniil Sobolev as a big part of the future core. The group might experience some growing pains but that’s expected in this situation.
In 2015, former GM Warren Rychel had two picks in the top-23 and hit a home run with forward Gabriel Vilardi (first round) and goaltender Michael DiPietro (second round). They became instrumental in the Spitfires’ 2017 Memorial Cup win. While nobody is expecting a Memorial Cup within two seasons, it shows the potential talent level if you play your cards right.
Bowler has been given a golden opportunity to set this club up for long-term success. Let’s see what he can do with it. The 2021 OHL Priority Selection is set for Friday, June 4 at 7:00 P.M. (Rounds 1-3) and Saturday, June 5 at 9:00 A.M (Rounds 4-15). Everything will be conducted online, as usual.