It’s the day that is circled on every OHL team’s calendar since the start of the season. For the Windsor Spitfires, it’s also a day that will go a long way to determining how the next few seasons play out. This Saturday, the OHL Draft takes place online and it will give a glimpse into the future.
Spitfires general manager Warren Rychel and his team of hard-working scouts have compiled their lists, set their priorities and are ready to give this club the boost it needs heading into next season and beyond.
Let’s take a look at how this 15-round draft will affect the next few seasons, how Rychel’s draft history comes into play and who might be targeted in the first round on Saturday.
Adding to the Bright Future
This season, Rychel and the Spitfires own the sixth-overall pick. It’s not something they can, or will, take lightly. Picking that high gives them an outstanding chance at finding an elite player who will add to an already budding core.
Last season, Rychel started the unenviable task of rebuilding the roster following the Spitfires’ 2017 Mastercard Memorial Cup championship. Dealing a handful of veterans for younger talents and picks meant speed bumps along the way. It’s also meant that the next few seasons look very promising.
During the 2018 OHL Draft, Rychel had the 10th-overall pick and brought in 5-foot-11 forward Jean-Luc Foudy from the Toronto Titans. The younger brother of Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Liam, Foudy showed creativity with 41 assists and 49 points in 63 games in his rookie season.
He’s joined by fellow rookie sniper Will Cuylle, who Rychel brought in from the Peterborough Petes in late August. Cuylle was the third-overall pick in 2018 but refused to report to the Petes.
Foudy and Cuylle are two of the main parts of the young core Rychel
In 2018-19, the Spitfires scored just 216 goals, which was third-fewest in the league. Whoever comes in will be high-octane as the Spitfires try to improve their goal totals from this season.
In total, the Spitfires have 12 picks in 15 rounds, just missing picks in the third, seventh and 12th rounds. It’s expected that two or three players will make the 2019-20 roster, while more put on a Spitfires jersey in 2020-21 and beyond.
Potential First Round Targets
Having the sixth pick is a big responsibility that Rychel isn’t going to take lightly.
The league’s first two picks are confirmed. With the first-overall pick, the Kingston Frontenacs will select 14-year-old Shane Wright from the Don Mills Flyers. The sensational forward earned Exceptional Status to enter the OHL a season early. The second pick goes to the Flint Firebirds and they are taking Wright’s teammate, 15-year-old forward Brennan Othmann.
After that, it’s a bit of a toss-up. Depending on how the next three picks pan out, Rychel could go after an elite forward or a top-tier defenceman. There are numerous names being tossed around but we’ll give a handful to keep an eye out for.
1. Brandt Clarke – D – 6-foot-1, 175 pounds – Don Mills Flyers
The 6-foot-1, 175 pound 15-year-old oozes talent at both ends of the ice. Clarke is a smooth skater who takes care of his own end with ease while also controlling the game offensively. He was a teammate of Othmann and Wright, scoring 11 points in seven games during the OHL Cup.
2. Connor Lockhart – F – 5-foot-9, 161 pounds – Kanata Lasers Midget
At 5-foot-9 and 161 pounds, Lockhart isn’t the biggest guy out there, but he more than makes up for it in production. The Kanata Lasers Midget product had 30 goals and 79 points in 41 games and would add an immediate impact to any club.
3. Mason McTavish – F – 6-foot-1, 196 pounds – Pembroke Lumber Kings Midget
The son of former Peterborough Petes’ standout Dale McTavish, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Mason has been a pure sniper at every level. In 2018-19, he had 47 goals in 41 games for Pembroke Lumber Kings Midget. This is after 49 goals in 30 games for Ottawa Valley Titans Bantam a season prior. Rychel needs offence and McTavish’s pure goal-scoring ability may be too much to pass up.
4. Francesco Pinelli – C – 6-feet, 176 pounds – Toronto Red Wings
The Stoney Creek-native had a huge OHL Cup for the Toronto Red Wings with seven goals and 14 points in seven games. He was a big part of his team making it to the final game. At 6-feet and 176 pounds, he’s poised to make an immediate impact on any OHL club.
5. Brett Harrison – C – 6-feet, 160 pounds – London Jr. Knights
A product of the London Jr. Knights system, Harrison lit it up this season with 42 goals in 33 games for the Minor Midget AAAs. He added another 10 goals and 26 points in 13 playoff games. His size (6-feet, 160 pounds) and strength would be a welcomed addition to the Spitfires.
6. Roman Schmidt – D – 6-foot-5, 210 pounds – Don Mills Flyers
At 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds, Schmidt is tough to miss out there. While he doesn’t possess the pure offensive abilities of the others, his all-around game might be too enticing to pass up. Schmidt is a tough-as-nails defender with a maturity about his game, as well as an impressive offensive upside. He has a commitment to Boston University but, if a team can convince him to forego that, it could very well be worth the risk.
This is not a complete list but it gives you an idea of who the Spitfires could be keeping an eye on come draft day.
Rychel’s Draft History
Since Rychel took over as general manager in 2005-06, he hasn’t been one to shy away from making waves at the draft.
In the early portions of his tenure, Rychel has brought in names such as Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique and Ryan Ellis. That trio helped the Spitfires win the 2009 and 2010 Memorial Cups.
Rychel also dealt for the second-round pick in 2015 that brought in star goaltender Michael DiPietro.
Fast-forward to the last two seasons and Rychel has put an emphasis on speed and scoring. In 2017 and 2018, he chose defenceman Nathan Staios (son of former Edmonton Oiler Steve Staios) and Foudy, two speedy players who bring offence to the table. While Staios is slowly finding his offensive game, Foudy has adjusted quickly on the wing.
Picks in the top 10 have also been successful for Rychel. Here is a list of players who Rychel has selected with a top-10 pick in the draft.
- 2008 – Taylor Hall – second overall – F – 183 OHL games played, 123 goals, 280 points, 138 penalty minutes
- 2012 – Josh Ho-Sang – fifth overall – F – 256 GP, 82 G, 292 PTS, 156 PIM
- 2015 – Gabriel Vilardi – second overall – F – 143 GP, 68 G, 157 PTS, 40 PIM
- 2018 – Jean-Luc Foudy – 10th overall – F – 63 GP, 8 G, 49 PTS, 16 PIM
While there’s little doubt Rychel would like to redo some drafts, such as 2011 and 2014 where only one player combined (2014 12th-overall pick Logan Stanley) played more than 100 games for the Spitfires, his overall track record has made up for it.
Ending the Drought
Rychel is locked in and ready to right the ship that has failed to make the second round of the OHL playoffs for seven-straight seasons. That stat does not sit well with players, management or fans alike. It’s the longest drought in the team’s history.
With the streak building, not only is the sixth-overall pick important, but so are the rest of them. Being able to hit on three picks this season, then having another two or three make the roster down the road, is essential.
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.