The start of the 2021-22 Windsor Spitfires’ season is just over a week away. After 18 frustrating months of COVID-19 and a serious lack of ice time, it’s hard to know how the players have developed. It’s a guessing game at the best of times, but the pandemic takes it to new heights. While it’s difficult, it’s also a golden opportunity to make some future predictions—the end-of-season awards.
Since their last game on March 8, 2020, the Spitfires have seen nearly half of their roster either sign elsewhere or graduate. This many new faces means there are plenty of chances for players to stand out and show what they’ve got. Whether they’re a veteran looking to establish a leadership role or a rookie that wants to prove they belong, it’s going to be a competitive season.
Who could be showing off their gold at the end of the season? Let’s look at the predictions.
Taking Home the Hardware
Top Overage Player – Forward Daniel D’Amico
When the pandemic shut down 2020-21, it meant six players automatically graduated. It also meant that three players were suddenly the team’s overagers (20-year-olds)—forward Daniel D’Amico and defencemen Grayson Ladd and Louka Henault. All three players had a strong role with the club prior to the pandemic, but they weren’t needed as the top guys. However, now they need to embrace their new roles and lead the club into the post-pandemic era.
While Henault and Ladd should have fantastic seasons, D’Amico’s potential is the highest of the trio. After 50 points in 2019-20, the 5-foot-10, 197-pound winger is a sparkplug, throwing his weight around and creating scoring chances wherever possible. He won’t likely lead the club in production, but he doesn’t need to. His style and leadership are what this younger club needs. It’s hard to believe the former sixth-rounder is already in his final season, but he’s about to make his best one yet.
Top Goal Scorer – Forward Will Cuylle
Redemption is a powerful motivator.
When former Spitfires’ general manager Warren Rychel acquired forward Will Cuylle from the Peterborough Petes prior to 2018-19, he envisioned a dynamic goal scorer. After all, Cuylle was the third-overall pick in the 2018 OHL draft. It hasn’t quite worked out like that, though.
While Cuylle had 26 goals in 2018-19, he didn’t improve at all in his sophomore season. However, his 6-foot-4, 210-pound frame and potential intrigued the New York Rangers and they took him in the second round in 2020. Now, once the 19-year-old returns to the Spitfires, he’ll have something to prove. His shot is NHL quality and he uses his frame with enthusiasm. If he can put it all together and use his sophomore season as motivation, he’ll be lethal around the net.
Top Point Producer – Forward Wyatt Johnston
This has the potential to be a fantastic story for the Spitfires.
Drafted sixth overall in 2019, forward Wyatt Johnston had his fair share of critics coming into his rookie season and struggled a bit to start 2019-20. However, after making Team Canada at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in November 2019, he found his game and finished the season with 30 points in 53 games.
He worked hard during the pandemic, making Team Canada at the World Under-18s. His play impressed the Dallas Stars who promptly drafted him in the first round last July. Now, he comes to the Spitfires with plenty of confidence and a drive to be one of the best in the league.
We predicted that Johnston would be a breakout candidate for the Spitfires in 2021-22 and, if all goes well, he has a shot to lead the club in scoring, too.
Best Defenceman – Louka Henault
Similar to D’Amico, the 20-year-old defenceman Henault suddenly finds himself in a strange position.
Before the pandemic, the Spitfires had three veteran defenceman who were leaders in the room—Connor Corcoran, Thomas Stevenson, and Joseph Rupoli. In a year and a half, all three have graduated and 18-year-old Ruben Rafkin left the club to sign with TPS Turku back home in Finland. This left Henault, along with Ladd, as the veterans on a very young defensive group.
In his last two seasons, the former fifth-round pick has three goals and 58 assists in 128 games with a reasonable plus-11 rating. While it’s possible that someone new could push their game to an unheard-of level, Henault is being given a golden chance to become the No. 1 defenceman the Spitfires need.
Rookie of the Year – Forward Ethan Miedema
With nearly a dozen players graduating or signing elsewhere since the pandemic started, the Spitfires are going to be a very inexperienced club in 2021-22. However, with nearly a dozen new faces, the youngsters are going to be itching to show their value. There are several names that could stand out for Rookie of the Year, but the one we’re going with is forward Ethan Miedema.
The fourth-overall selection in 2021 (thanks to the OHL Draft Lottery), the 6-foot-4, 201-pound centre is deadly with the puck and has already shown flashes of “what did we just watch?” His six preseason points are good for third-best in the OHL; he’s tied with eight others, including Spitfires’ 2020 first-rounder Ryan Abraham.
As with any rookie, there will likely be an adjustment period once the rosters are finalized, but he’s already showing a comfort level that we rarely see. Miedema has all the makings of a star and it starts with (what could be) a fantastic rookie season.
Player of the Year – Forward Wyatt Johnston
When you have confidence, ability, and oodles of potential, there’s not much that can stop you.
There were questions asked after the Spitfires took Johnston sixth overall in 2019, but he’s ready to prove everyone wrong. With two international events under his belt, plus experience with the Stars’ training camp this season, he’s eager to get going and dominate the OHL.
Since 2016-17, the Spitfires have had just one homegrown player (Tyler Angle) reach a point-per-game status over a full season. There’s no reason that Johnston can’t do that and more. He’s about to become a household name around the City of Windsor.
As we said earlier, predicting these awards is tough in a normal season, let alone after a year and a half off. That’s part of the fun, though. We’ll revisit them again in March and see how close (or way off) we were. In the meantime, we would love to hear your predictions, too! Send them our way and let’s have some fun as the OHL gets back to (somewhat) normal!
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.