Windsor Spitfires’ 2021 OHL Priority Selection Preview

After nearly 15 months of chaos and uncertainty, we could all use a little normalcy in our lives. The Ontario Hockey League (OHL) will do their part to contribute this weekend as they host the 2021 Priority Selection. With 2020-21 now a distant memory, it’s a chance for teams to start fresh, and that’s something the Windsor Spitfires need to take advantage of.

The 2020-21 OHL season became a rollercoaster of hope and tease, finally getting cancelled for good in April due to COVID-19 restrictions and cases. However, as frustrating as it was, it also meant the league and its teams could refocus their time and energy on the 2021-22 season. For Spitfires’ general manager Bill Bowler, it’s an opportunity to rebuild a roster that may look vastly different once it hits the ice come September.

Let’s dive into this year’s draft!

Spitfires Select Fourth on Friday

Shortly after the cancellation of the 2020-21 season, the OHL focused on the future, releasing details of the 2021 Priority Selection. The draft is normally in early April, but nothing was known about the season at that point. Instead, it’ll be held on Friday, June 4 and Saturday, June 5, all online (as usual). On Friday night, the first three rounds will take place starting at 7 p.m. The remainder of the draft (rounds four through 15) will get underway on Saturday morning at 9 a.m.

Determining the draft order has changed, too. Instead of using the previous season’s standings, they held a draft lottery in early May to determine the order of the first round. The order would then be reversed in the following rounds. If you had the first overall pick in the draft, you’d have the last pick in the second round, the first pick in the third round, and so on.

When everything was finalized, the Spitfires ended up with the fourth overall pick. It’s the highest they’ve chosen since selecting Gabriel Vilardi second overall in 2015. They also ended up with the first pick in the second round, which belonged to the Barre Colts, because of the Aaron Luchuk deal in December 2017. That pick will be 20th overall due to 2019 sanctions on the Niagara IceDogs.

Gabe Vilardi, Windsor Spitfires, OHL, NHL Draft
Gabriel Vilardi during his time with the Windsor Spitfires. (Terry Wilson / OHL Images)

While Bowler doesn’t have a pick in the third round, he has two in the fourth round — the Spitfires’ original and the Flint Firebirds’ — giving them the 73rd and 76th picks overall. In total, the club has 16 picks in the 15-round draft.

Talents to Target

This draft could play a key role in the Spitfires’ future. With numerous graduations since COVID-19 started, Bowler needs to rebuild his roster. He added youth last year through drafting and trades, and now he continues the process. While scouting for this draft has been tough, there are several names to keep an eye on.

Windsor Spitfires' GM Bill Bowler
Windsor Spitfires’ general manager Bill Bowler. (Dave Jewell/THW)

On Thursday afternoon, the Sudbury Wolves selected New Jersey Avalanche forward Quentin Musty with the first-overall pick. Now it becomes a guessing game. Given the Spitfires are losing significant offence (over 100 goals), logic says they take a forward. That’s where Colby Barlow (Toronto Marlboros), Nicholas Sima (Toronto Jr. Canadiens), and Nick Lardis (Oakville Rangers) come into play.

Barlow (6-foot-1, 195 pounds) and Sima (6-foot-2, 180 pounds) are power forwards who bring size and strong offence. They would be an immediate help for the Spitfires. Lardis (5-foot-8, 140 pounds) is an elite skater with high-end offence. He’s not physical, but his skating is ideal for the modern game.

If Bowler prefers defence, two options include Noah Cochrane (6-foot, 180 pounds, Barrie Colts AAA) and Tristan Bertucci (6-foot-1, 175 pounds, Marlboros). They’re among the best defenceman in this class, providing at both ends of the rink, and could contribute immediately.

Two local players to watch are forwards Charlie Paquette (6-foot, 175 pounds, Windsor Jr. Spitfires AAA) and Declan Waddick (5-foot-9, 160 pounds, Waterloo Wolves AAA, originally from Lighthouse Cove in Essex County). Paquette brings a strong 200-foot game with offence and physicality while Waddick is a sneaky, pure goal scorer. Both have a notable work ethic and could be worthy options with the 20th pick.

It’s been a rough year, but some normalcy is arriving. The draft gets underway at 7 p.m. on Friday. You can follow both days on the OHL’s website and social media channels.