At the end of every draft, teams believe that they’ve made the best decisions for their club over the long haul. The Windsor Spitfires are no different. Through the 2010s, they’ve made some tough early-draft choices. Were they all correct, though?
With 2020 on the horizon, we’re taking a look back at moves the Spitfires have made through the 2010s. Earlier, we talked about their All-Decade Team, as well as the best-and-worst draft picks from the decade.
Now, we go through each of their top picks and figure out whether it was the smart move or would someone else have been better. What do you think about these moves?
2010 – Chose: Defenceman Grant Webermin – 20th Overall
Grant Webermin had everything going for him; raw talent, oodles of potential, and a good head on his shoulders. Then-general manager Warren Rychel brought him in with hopes he would be the next great offensive defenceman once star Ryan Ellis graduated. It didn’t happen.
As we mentioned in the Best-and-Worst picks article, Webermin struggled with both injuries and overall production. He was too small to be a grinder and his offence failed to develop. As a result, he was unable to live up to his first-round billing and the team moved on.
The Spitfires traded him to the Saginaw Spirit where he played for a season prior to retiring from hockey. Webermin was a good guy, but the pick wasn’t a shining moment for Rychel.
VERDICT: Re-pick – Defenceman Adam Pelech
Rychel needed a defenceman after the club’s 2010 Memorial Cup win due to heavy graduation. Just two picks later, the Erie Otters took 6-foot-2, 210-pound defenceman Adam Pelech.
He played in 228 games in the OHL with 127 points and 223 penalty minutes. Pelech was a leader in the room and would have been a prime addition to the Spitfires.
2011 – Chose: Forward Jordan Maletta – 13th Overall
Needing an offensive threat to start their next rebuild, Rychel used the 13th pick in the draft to select 6-foot-2, 200-pound winger Jordan Maletta out of St. Catharines. He had it all – size, offensive ability, and good character.
While he battled injuries in his first season, Maletta got into 57 games for the Spitfires, tallying 20 points. It wasn’t a bad start but not a great one, either. They hoped for a rebound in his second season but 12 points in 36 games just weren’t the answer.
Rychel got an offer he couldn’t refuse and traded the young forward to the Niagara IceDogs prior to the 2013 trade deadline. Maletta really found his game, playing in over 200 contests and becoming an alternate captain for them before his OHL career ended.
While he had a solid career, you can’t help but wonder if he was the right pick for the Spitfires.
VERDICT: Re-Pick – Forward Cole Cassels
Shortly after the Spitfires picked Maletta, the Oshawa Generals went the same offensive route choosing sniper Cole Cassels.
He took the true producer’s path through the OHL, increasing production in every season on route to 208 points in 243 games with the Generals. While Maletta was a good kid, grabbing Cassels instead may have been a better choice for Rychel.
2012 – Chose: Forward Josh Ho-Sang – 5th Overall
What a strange situation this was. Highly-touted forward Josh Ho-Sang was expected to be a top-three pick in the 2012 OHL Priority Selection. Questions about his attitude dropped him to the Spitfires at five, though, and they scooped him up.
From the start, he made his impact on the ice with 44 points in 63 games. He was a wizard with the puck, stickhandling through everyone, even to the point where his teammates just watched.
However, his on-ice actions were overshadowed by his reputation off the ice. It became too much for the Spitfires and they felt it was best to part ways, trading Ho-Sang to the IceDogs. Then-head coach Bob Boughner told the Windsor Star at the time that they had no choice.
“It was mandatory that we had to trade him,” he said.
“For many, many, numerous internal reasons, the people that truly know what went on behind the scenes would understand why we had to trade him.” (from ‘Spits coach Boughner: “I think we probably overestimated our team”‘, Windsor Star – 3/24/15)
Ho-Sang excelled with the IceDogs before moving onto the New York Islanders’ system. He’s progressing offensively, playing mostly in the AHL, but his off-ice approach still remains questionable.
Would the Spitfires do things differently next time?
VERDICT: Re-draft – Forward Robby Fabbri
Drafted immediately after Ho-Sang, Robby Fabbri became the cornerstone of the Guelph Storm for three seasons. He started off as an offensive threat and became a household name, averaging over a point-per-game (P/G) through 141 OHL games. Now, he’s working his craft with the Detroit Red Wings.
While the Spitfires got a pretty solid haul for Ho-Sang, why risk it all again? If they re-do the pick, Rychel takes Fabbri and walks away smiling.
2013 – Chose: Forward Ryan Moore (2nd Round)
In 2012, the Spitfires were hit with massive sanctions for recruitment violations. It became national news and the league took serious action, stripping the club of multiple high picks and cash. While the penalties were lessened, the team still lost two first-round picks, multiple second-rounders, and cash.
As a result, Rychel had to wait until the 35th overall pick to select 5-foot-8, 150-pound sniper Ryan Moore out of Detroit Belle Tire. He was a P/G sniper who wasn’t afraid of standing up for himself; how could you go wrong?
Moore started out a bit slower with just 10 points in 65 games. It wasn’t an easy adjustment and he was getting fourth-line minutes. His second season didn’t fare much better. After 20 points in 33 games, Rychel traded him and he wound up on the Plymouth Whalers (later, Flint Firebirds).
That was the move Moore needed as he responded with 25-goals and 39-goals in his next two seasons. He finished his OHL career earning a 2017-18 league title with the Hamilton Bulldogs (26 points in 21 playoff games).
VERDICT: Keep Moore
While he struggled at times with the Spitfires, it wasn’t all on him. It’s tough to do much when you’re glued to the fourth line. If Rychel hadn’t traded him, and the coaches gave him the proper tools for development, he would have been incredible for the team. This is a pick you make every time.
2014 – Chose: Defenceman Logan Stanley – 12th Overall
When you have a chance at a 6-foot-6, 210-pound defenceman who can hit with authority and chip in some offence, you take it and run. That’s what Rychel did with the 12th overall pick in 2014.
Logan Stanley was the type every team craved. While his offence took a bit of time to get going (four points in 59 games as a rookie), he used his size at every chance he had. He wound up in 159 games for the Spitfires with 38 points and 225 penalty minutes. While his skating wasn’t overly graceful, it didn’t have to be and everyone knew it.
Following the Spitfires’ 2017 Memorial Cup win, Rychel traded him to the Kitchener Rangers for their playoff run. It worked out for both clubs.
VERDICT: Keep Stanley
While Stanley had his critics, you make that pick every time. The Spitfires’ faithful love their big, physical players and he became a fan favourite. There were some talented players chosen after him but this was a pick nobody should regret.
2015 – Chose: Forward Gabriel Vilardi – 2nd Overall
With just 24 wins, the 2014-15 season was one to forget for the Spitfires. The only positive to come from it was higher picks in each round. With the second overall pick, Rychel selected the 6-foot-2, 180-pound Gabriel Vilardi out of Kingston.
Vilardi immediately impressed with 17 goals and 38 points in his rookie season. He was a quiet kid off the ice and let his play speak for itself. A back injury in the summer of 2016 kept him out to start the 2016-17 season but he still managed 61 points in 49 games. Unfortunately, that injury kept him out to start the 2017-18 season, too.
With the team rebuilding, Rychel traded Vilardi to his hometown Kingston Frontenacs at the 2018 trade deadline where he got healthy enough to play in 32 games (58 points).
You had to feel for Vilardi; he was a good kid who loved the game and couldn’t shake the injury. Fortunately, the Los Angeles Kings’ prospect has seen some action in their system this season.
VERDICT: Keep Vilardi
While there were several good talents chosen after Vilardi, and he was injured a fair bit, this is a pick you make every time. He was the offensive wizard the Spitfires needed and his contributions were key during the 2017 Memorial Cup. There’s not a second guess here.
2016 – Chose: Defenceman Connor Corcoran (2nd Round)
Similar to the Ryan Moore draft, defenceman Connor Corcoran was selected in the second round of the 2016 draft because of the final sanctions against the Spitfires. Yes, it went on for this long!
Corcoran came from the Barrie Colts minor hockey system and has lived up to his billing. He started off slowly but has grown offensively in each season, now leading the defence with 30 points in 32 games (three points from a career-high) in 2019-20.
His defence has improved exponentially, too, going from a minus-45 rating to a plus-12 this season. Add in the alternate captain’s “A” and the Vegas Golden Knights’ prospect is doing well for himself.
VERDICT: Keep Corcoran
We named Corcoran to the Spitfires’ All-Decade team earlier this month and there’s little question that drafting him was a smart move by Rychel. He saw the potential and fans are thankful for that.
This is another pick that you do every time.
2017 – Chose: Defenceman Nathan Staios – 17th Overall
Remember Rychel’s search for the next Ellis? Nathan Staios was the 2017-version.
The Spitfires drafted Staios 17th overall in 2017 after he had 16 points in 16 games in the Vaughan Kings’ system. At 5-foot-9, 168-pounds, he wasn’t physically imposing but always played bigger and had a big shot from the point. Unfortunately, he was also moved pretty easily and, despite his strength, that really worked against him.
Staios had 29 points for the Spitfires in 2018-19 before being traded home to play for the Hamilton Bulldogs this season. His dad, Steve, is the general manager up there and it became a family decision. Nate has quietly put up 24 points in 33 games; an impressive total.
VERDICT: Keep Staios
This might be the toughest decision in the lot.
Staios has the ability to put up 40-50 points a season, which every team could use. He’s a gritty guy along the boards and isn’t afraid to get dirty. What hurt the Spitfires was a lack of similar defencemen after Staios, the closest being 6-foot-3, 215-pound Michael Vukojevic. He went 33rd overall to the Kitchener Rangers.
With the Spitfires needing a defenceman, Staios would likely be selected again without any real issues.
2018 – Chose: Forward Jean-Luc Foudy – 10th Overall
This pick was pretty simple – Rychel wanted offence and he got it. With the 10th pick in 2018, the Spitfires drafted young playmaker Jean-Luc Foudy out of Toronto.
In 2018-19, he had 41 assists and 49 points in 63 games, showing his playmaking side. This season, he has already surpassed his goal totals (11 now) and is on pace for close to 60 points.
Foudy brings speed, creativity, and entertainment to every game. While there were a few players chosen after him that have put up more points, this isn’t a tough choice.
VERDICT: Keep Foudy
Rychel hit the jackpot here. Foudy puts up the points, is creative all over the ice, and has serious potential to become a star in the OHL. You don’t pass that up.
2019 – Chose: Forward Wyatt Johnston – 6th Overall
In his final draft before stepping down as Spitfires’ GM, Rychel selected Toronto Marlboros’ forward Wyatt Johnston sixth overall. After 48 goals in 73 games, how could you not?
Johnston has shown flashes of serious potential, especially since joining the second line with Nashville Predators’ prospect Egor Afanasyev. The two have joined up for four goals in the last six games and you can see the confidence growing.
That said, Johnston is still very young and just getting his feet wet. As a result…
VERDICT: Jury is out
Last season, Foudy and fellow-first-rounder Will Cuylle had ample time on the top two lines. Johnston hasn’t been given that same luxury yet. Which means his production is taking longer to grow.
The team loves him, though, and Rychel raved about his character all summer. The jury is out on this one as Johnston needs time to sink or swim.
For fans, drafts are entertaining and a nice glimpse into the future. For the teams, though, it’s a much harder process. They have needs and wants; sometimes they fill them and other times not so much. Looking back, there are certainly some high picks the Spitfires would like to re-do. Fortunately, there are also a lot that they’re likely very content with. Bring on the next decade of highly-touted prospects.
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.