In a great trade, both teams find a way to capitalize, whether it’s in the present or down the road. In late August 2019, the Windsor Spitfires and Hamilton Bulldogs hooked up on an Ontario Hockey League (OHL) deal involving budding defenceman Nathan Staios. Not only did it help each club but it set them up for an event that will forever be a part of their history.
In April 2017, just two months before hosting the 2017 Mastercard Memorial Cup, then-Spitfires’ general manager Warren Rychel was looking at how to build his club for the future at the annual OHL Priority Selection. With his first pick, he took the Hamilton-native Staios, who was poised to become his team’s power-play quarterback of the future. While he stood just 5-foot-9, 165-pounds, the projections on him were exactly what Rychel wanted; a no-nonsense defenceman who could put up points and hit with equal ability. However, before he could truly hit his stride, everything was turned upside down.
The Spitfires’ 2019 offseason was nothing short of chaotic, right from the start. Just before the OHL Draft in April, the club was nearly sold to a dentist in the Toronto area, which caused a ripple effect including management restructuring and Rychel stepping down in July. He was replaced by long-time club executive, and all-time points leader, Bill Bowler.
One of Bowler’s first moves came as a bit of a shock to everyone. Staios, who had 41 points in 118 games to date, had requested a trade to the Bulldogs due to a family situation. His father, Steve, was the Bulldogs’ GM and it made perfect sense.
The clubs worked together and the trade unfolded like this:
- Defenceman Nathan Staios
- London Knights’ second-round pick in 2020
- Barrie Colts’ second round-pick in 2021
- Oshawa Generals’ second-round pick in 2022
- Hamilton Bulldogs’ third-round pick in 2023 (conditional)
- Hamilton Bulldog’s fifth-round pick in 2024 (conditional)
The two conditional picks were included if Staios played an overage (20-year-old) season with the Bulldogs in 2021-22, which he did.
What the Bulldogs Got
Given Staios’ smaller stature, it took a while for him to get used to the physical rigors of the league. In his first two seasons with the Spitfires, he often lost strength battles in the crease and behind the net. However, as time went on, he built strength and confidence, showing he could play against the biggest the league could throw at him.
With the Spitfires, he had 41 points in 118 games. However, In his first season (2019-20) with the Bulldogs, he matched that 41 points but in just 60 games, showing his offence was just getting warmed up. Unfortunately, COVID-19 stopped the season just short of the playoffs and he wasn’t able to truly show what he was capable of.
After spending 2020-21 in Sweden and the American Hockey League (AHL), Staios returned to the Bulldogs for a final season in 2021-22. The club was primed for a run at the OHL Championship and gave him an alternate captain’s “A.” He didn’t disappoint, scoring 66 points in 59 games on route to winning OHL Defenceman of the Year and Canadian Hockey League (CHL) Defenceman of the Year.
Staios helped the club get to the 2022 OHL Championship (J. Ross Robertson Trophy) where they faced the Spitfires. In a gruelling seven-game series, the Bulldogs took the win on home ice, earning a trip to the 2022 Memorial Cup. They made it to the tournament final, eventually losing to the host Saint John Sea Dogs.
Everyone knew Staios had potential and, following the Memorial Cup, he was promptly signed to a three-year entry-level contract by the Florida Panthers (undrafted). The Bulldogs gave up a lot for this young, raw defenceman but they would likely do it again every time.
What the Spitfires Got
While the Bulldogs made out very well, the Spitfires got some pieces that became key to both their present and future.
London Knights’ Second-Round Pick 2020
You can never have enough goaltending and Bowler knew that. At the 2020 OHL Draft, just weeks after the COVID-19 stoppage had begun, the Spitfires had an opportunity to take a highly-touted netminder and didn’t miss. He promptly selected Toronto-native Kyle Downey, hopefully setting themselves up nicely once veteran Xavier Medina, 19, graduated.
The stoppage didn’t help anyone, though. When play resumed in Sept. 2021, Downey took a while to get adjusted to the OHL. He had good nights, and some awful ones, and was even thrown into the fire when Medina went down with an injury. When the Spitfires saw it turning into a mess, they did their best to protect him by acquiring 19-year-old Mathias Onuska from the Knights (Jan 2022).
The deal sent Downey down to the LaSalle Vipers Jr. B where he had a goals-against-average of 2.60 and a .916 save percentage in 12 games. It was the best move for all parties.
Now, the question is whether or not Downey’s ready for the OHL. The Spitfires will likely have one of Onuska or Medina back for a final season but the youngster needs a chance to play. The 2022-23 season will be pivotal for him.
Barrie Colts Second-Round Pick 2021
A year after taking Downey, Bowler continued to concentrate on the defensive side of the game with this pick.
With no 2020-21 season due to COVID-19, the OHL conducted a lottery for the 2021 Draft order. In the end, the Spitfires wound up with the fourth overall pick (forward Ethan Miedema), which meant, thanks to a reverse snake method, they would then pick near the end of the second round. However, because of a previous deal, Bowler had the Barrie Colts’ second-round pick, which was the top pick in the round.
Bowler made no hesitation and took 6-foot-6, 195-pound defenceman Bronson Ride. The Oakville native had 31 points in 28 games in 2019-20 for the Oakville Rangers U15 club and the Spitfires really liked his unique combination of size and skill.
Being a young player on a contending team is tough as you don’t get much ice time. However, Ride took it all in stride and made the most of his chances with seven points in 37 games. He showed speed, some creativity, and a willingness to use his size and wingspan.
While he was a healthy scratch for most of the playoffs, that’s only because the team had six defencemen who were all clicking and he was simply the low guy on the depth chart. With multiple defencemen leaving, though, 2022-23 will be Ride’s time to shine. This is a pick that Spitfires fans will enjoy for seasons to come. The ride is just getting started!
Oshawa Generals’ Second-Round Pick 2022
Every so often, a team acquires a pick in a deal and it ends up being shipped out right after. That was the case with the Generals’ second-rounder in 2022. However, this deal really worked out well for everyone involved.
In June 2020, Bowler included this pick in another deal with the Bulldogs, bringing in veteran defenceman Michael Renwick. The 5-foot-11, 175-pounder broke out in 2021-22 scoring 29 points in 67 games and adding another 14 in 29 playoff games. He became a leader in the room and would be a huge asset in 2022-23 if he returns for a final season.
With the pick, the Bulldogs went out at the 2022 OHL trade deadline and brought home popular hometown defenceman Arber Xhekaj from the Kitchener Rangers in a package deal. In his final OHL season, the 6-foot-4, 215-pounder was a fantastic combination of toughness and production, scoring 17 points in 33 games, plus 16 points in 18 playoff games. While he had bouts of undisciplined play, his potential is sky high as he was drafted (and signed) by the Montreal Canadiens this summer.
Finally, the Rangers kept the pick and took defenceman Cole Longacre 31st overall. We’ll have to see how that plays out over the next few seasons.
Verdict: Winner Winner, Both Get Dinner
While there are two more picks involved heading to the Spitfires – the Bulldogs’ third-rounder in 2023 and the Bulldogs’ fifth-rounder in 2024 – it’s safe to say this has already been a great deal for both clubs. When one deal brings both teams to the league championship, against each other, you can’t ask for much more.
The Bulldogs got a player who was close to the team’s hearts, produced, and helped them get to the 2022 Memorial Cup Final. The Spitfires scored a major piece to their 2022 OHL Championship Final appearance, plus two pieces that will help over the next couple of seasons, and two more pieces that could prove vital down the road. Neither organization can really disagree with the outcome.
When Rychel drafted Staios, he envisioned a future stud on the blue line who would help them win a title. It didn’t work out, but, in the end, both teams came away winners. As a hockey fan, that is a pretty ideal situation.
A nearly life-long resident of Windsor, ON, I graduated from St. Clair College (Journalism) and University of Windsor (Communications) and have attended Windsor Spitfires’ (and OHL) games for 30-years. My areas include multimedia journalism and photography.