As the summer ramps up, preparations are well underway for the 2021-22 Ontario Hockey League (OHL) season. A big part of that was the 2021 OHL Priority Selection back in June. Drafting is never easy (especially now), but since 2000, the Windsor Spitfires have found a way to draft talents in every round. While some players became appreciated depth, others made a serious name for themselves.
Former general managers Mike Kelly (2000-05) and Warren Rychel (2006-19) each had great drafts and ones they’d rather forget. However, despite the regrettable ones, since 2000, they’ve been able to find real talents in each of the 15 rounds. While some players became NHL stars, others were incredibly valuable to the club and found a great life outside of the NHL. The team has become proof that championships are built through character and depth.
Since 2000, who were the top Spitfires’ picks in each round? Let’s dive in!
Round 15 – Defenceman Saverio Posa (2008)
When you’re drafted with the fourth-last pick, expectations of making the club are slim-to-none. That didn’t stop defenceman Saverio Posa from creating his own story, though.
Selected 298th in the 2008 OHL Draft, Posa wanted to show that heart can go a long way. After returning to Little Caesars U18 for 2008-09, he did everything he could and cracked the Spitfires’ roster in September 2009. Making that roster after they just won the Memorial Cup was impressive. Having the career he did, though, was even better!
Posa became a fixture in the Spitfires’ lineup, improving his game every season. While he started as a keep-it-simple depth defenceman, he turned into the player who could do it all. Whether the team needed a goal, a shut-down period, or leadership off the ice, he was their guy. Unfortunately, his increased value became an asset others wanted. Despite being named captain to start 2012-13, he was traded to the Guelph Storm at the deadline.
He finished with over 207 regular season games for the Spitfires and is still talked about to this day. It’s safe to say he’s the best 15th-round pick the team has seen since 2000.
Round 14 – Defenceman Ben O’Connor (2004)
Being selected in the 14th round hasn’t been great for Spitfires’ prospects. Of the few that have played, games have been hard to come by. However, one became a fan favourite, despite not playing a full season.
Defenceman Ben O’Connor, a native of Durham, England, only saw action in 39 games for the Spitfires. In that short time, though, he became everyone’s little brother. The 6-foot-1, 198-pounder had six points, but something about his game was intriguing. He stood up for himself when needed, played a simple game, and was loved by everyone.
Unfortunately, he was traded to the Mississauga IceDogs in 2006-07 where he played briefly before heading back overseas. He’s carved out a great career in the EIHL (England), though, with over 450 games played.
O’Connor wasn’t on the Spitfires for a long time, but he sure made a name for himself!
Round 13 – Goaltender Andrew Engelage (2005)
Every so often, a late-round pick not only earns a spot on the club, but refuses to let go. That’s the story of former 13th-round pick, goaltender Andrew Engelage. After being selected in 2005, he spent a season in Junior B before taking the Spitfires’ crease and running with it. He joined on and was expected to back up veteran Anthony Guadagnolo. Instead, he owned the crease, forcing the club to trade his mentor. The rest became history.
Engelage dominated from 2006-2009 with 78 wins, seven shutouts, and the 2009 Mastercard Memorial Cup. He cemented his legacy as one of the top goaltenders in Spitfires’ history. From there, he spent time in the minor pros before heading to Europe until 2017-18.
Nobody really expected a 13th-round pick to make the club, let alone dominate for so long. He became a fan favourite, though, and a player everyone was thankful for.
Round 12 – Goaltender Ryan Dickie (2001)
Historically, the 12th round has been pretty forgettable. While the Spitfires have had numerous picks in this spot over the years, only a few have touched OHL ice. One of those was goaltender Ryan Dickie. Let’s be fair — he didn’t play much at all. In fact, he saw just six games for the team from 2002-2004 before being traded to the IceDogs. However, he made the Spitfires, played over 200 minutes and won a game, which is better than most others can say in this spot.
It begs the question, though — who was the last Spitfires’ 12th-round pick to make any real impact? This goes back to 1991 and 6-foot-4, 225-pound defenceman Craig Binns. He played 57 games from 1991-1993 before being shipped off to the Belleville Bulls. This bodes well for the Spitfires’ 2020 and 2021 12th-round picks — Michael Mesic and Cole MacArthur, respectively — as they now have a chance to make team history.
Round 11 – Defenceman Iain McPhee (2001)
Earlier in the century, the Spitfires found a few solid depth guys in the 11th round, including defenceman Iain McPhee. Selected right before Dickie, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound McPhee played that blue-collar style that the Windsor Arena faithful loved — he put up 15-20 points, dropped the mitts, and led in the room. There was no flash-and-dash, but he didn’t need that. McPhee played in over 200 games over four seasons, and was the type the Spitfires and their fans were thankful to find in the later rounds.
Round 10 – Defenceman Thomas Stevenson (2015)
Perseverance is a good asset to have, both in life and in hockey. When the Spitfires drafted defenceman Thomas Stevenson in 2015, nobody was really sure what his potential was. He could do a bit of everything but was it enough?
After two years of development with the Cumberland Grads U18 and Ottawa Jr. Senators, Stevenson made the Spitfires in 2017-18. The hard work paid off and he ran with the opportunity. While he was never flashy in any one area, he racked up 32 points in 178 games and was one of the more reliable defensive players in his graduation year (2019-20). The club has had a few 10th-round picks make a small impact, but nobody has touched Stevenson for his overall contribution. He’s proof that you don’t need to be a superstar to make an impact.
Round 9 – Forward Cole Purboo (2015)
In the same draft as Stevenson, the Spitfires took power forward Cole Purboo in the ninth round. While he was a long-shot to make the club, he proved that hard work will get you places. Shortly after the draft, Purboo dominated their Rookie Camp, forcing everyone to take notice. The Spitfires sent him to the Toronto Patriots (Jr. A) for 2015-16 and, while he only put up 11 points in 54 games, there was something in his game that was intriguing.
Purboo went to the Spitfires’ 2016-17 training camp and refused to be cut. From his powerful 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame, to his determination and passion for the game, he earned a spot on the roster. The rest became history.
He dressed in 263 games, including over 240 straight at one point (before an injury), racking up 81 goals and 165 points. Standing in front of the net, creating havoc, and banging home the garbage goals became his bread-and-butter. He was also a leader, not only standing up for teammates when necessary, but earning the “A” from 2018-20.
Since graduation, he’s moved on to university hockey and is expected to lace up the skates for the University of Toronto Varsity Blues. Purboo was a class act both on and off the ice and the Spitfires were lucky to have him for four solid seasons.
Round 8 – Forward Cal O’Reilly (2002)
Every hockey team needs that elite playmaker. Little did the Spitfires know that they’d find one in the eighth round.
In 2002, the club took a chance on center Cal O’Reilly out of the Huron Perth Lakers U15. After spending 2002-03 in Jr. B, he made the Spitfires for 2003-04 and ran with it. He immediately showed his worth with a 21-point rookie campaign and followed that up with 172 points in 136 games from 2004-06. Whether they needed a big goal or a slick set-up, the team knew who to call on.
The Nashville Predators’ fifth-round pick in 2005 headed to the Milwaukee Admirals after the 2005-06 OHL season ended and that was the end of his junior career. He has since found time between the NHL and AHL, suiting up for the Leigh Valley Phantoms in 2020-21.
While the Spitfires drafted fan favourite Ty Bilcke in the eighth round in 2010 (known for his physical game), it’s tough to pass on O’Reilly in this case. He became an unexpected surprise and one of the better playmakers in team history.
Round 7 – Forward Mickey Renaud (2004)
When you say the name “Windsor Spitfires,” one of the first people that comes to mind is forward Mickey Renaud. There are few players that defined the club better than him. In 2004, Kelly drafted him out of the Sun County Panthers U16 and, after a season in Jr. B, he made the Spitfires in 2005-06.
Renaud had that presence and personality that brought the team together. There was something about his game and character. Former Spitfires coach Tom Webster was a scout with the Calgary Flames and, knowing Renaud since his pee-wee days, jumped at the chance to draft him in 2007. Soon after, the Spitfires gave him the captaincy for 2007-08. Whether it was a big goal, protection, or overall leadership, Renaud was the total package and this was his team. However, the unthinkable happened near the end of the season.
In February 2008, Renaud, 19, collapsed at home while he was getting ready for a team event at the Windsor Arena. Despite all efforts to save him, he passed away in the emergency room. The news sent shockwaves through the team, the city, and the hockey world. It was later determined that he had an undetected heart condition called Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy. It causes the heart walls to thicken, making it harder to pump blood.
In the weeks and months following his death, the Spitfires recognized Renaud in multiple ways including retiring his number 18, introducing the Mickey Renaud Memorial Scholarship, and preserving his locker in the concourse of the new WFCU Centre.
Renaud defined Spitfires’ hockey — tough, dedicated, and a leader both on-and-off the ice. He was a class act and will never be forgotten. He may not only be the best seventh-round pick since 2000, but one of the best picks in team history.
Round 6 – Forward Tyler Angle (2016)
Whether you’re 6-foot-5 or 5-foot-9, hard work will get you places. Just ask Spitfires’ forward Tyler Angle. Drafted in the sixth round in 2016, he came onto the club as a 5-foot-9, 150-pound centre who just wanted a chance. He put up 32 points in 34 games in his draft season, but wasn’t expected to produce much in the OHL. However, he proved a lot of critics wrong.
After a brief stint in Jr. B to start 2016-17, he joined the Spitfires and worked his tail off. The result was improving every season, increasing his point totals nearly exponentially. Angle started his career off as a good depth forward with a knack for killing penalties and finished 2019-20 with 29 goals and 67 points in 62 games. A seventh-round pick by the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2019, he has something to prove and seems happy to do so.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 hit and we weren’t able to see what Angle could do in his graduation season (2019-20). However, with 24 points in 23 games for the Cleveland Monsters (AHL), he’s on the right track.
From goaltender Jack Campbell to forward Daniel D’Amico (still on the roster), the Spitfires have had some entertaining players come through the organization after being taken in the sixth round. Right now, though, it’s hard to argue against Angle in this spot.
Round 5 – Forward Luke Boka (2015)
When the Spitfires’ drafted Luke Boka in 2015, they were pumped to get a hard-hitting, two-way forward. Little did anyone expect what would come, though. Boka came to the 2015-16 training camp just looking to make a name for himself. The Spitfires were so impressed with his work ethic and dedication that he earned a spot. His rookie season was a learning experience, but his game took off after that.
The result was 60 goals and 140 points in an organization all-time best 313 games over five seasons. From OHL Coaches Poll awards to a Memorial Cup championship and being named captain in 2018, he was Mr. Reliable. Some joked that he blocked so many shots that he took “Spitfires’ blue-and-red” quite literally.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 ended his career before he could make one last playoff run. However, Boka is one of those players you simply don’t forget. He’s all heart-and-soul and became an outstanding fifth-round pick.
Round 4 – Forward Aaron Luchuk (2013)
During the early portion of Boka’s career, he had an impressive mentor to learn from. It was someone who would do anything for the club and let his actions speak volumes — forward Aaron Luchuk.
A fourth-round pick in 2013, Luchuk spent a season in Jr. B before joining the Spitfires full time in 2014-15. The team expected him to produce, but be responsible in his own end, too. He exceeded that by a long shot. From 2014-2018, the Kingston-native increased his goal and point totals in every season, becoming a well-rounded leader. He could kill penalties, chip in with big goals (ahem, 2017 Memorial Cup), and was a fixture in the community. The club named him captain in 2017-18 and, with Boka as an “A,” they were incredible together.
Unfortunately, he didn’t finish his career with the Spitfires as they traded him to the Barrie Colts in December 2017 as part of the post-championship rebuild. It was a tough farewell; the City of Windsor truly appreciated everything he brought to the club. The Spitfires have seen numerous talented players come through the system after being fourth-round picks but Luchuk’s resume stands out as the best.
Round 3 – Forward Cam Janssen (2000)
As we enter the top few rounds, decisions become harder to make. In the early 2000s, the Spitfires had a couple of third-round picks make a big impact on the club. When the dust settled, though, it’s hard to go against Eureka, MO-native Cam Janssen. When the team drafted him, they envisioned a guy who would become a fan favourite for all the right reasons. While he spent 2000-01 with the St. Louis Sting (NAHL), he joined the Spitfires for their 2001-02 training camp and didn’t look back.
Whether the club needed a big hit, a big goal, or protection, Janssen was the guy. Nobody expected 20 goals and 50 points from him, but 15-20 points a season was reasonable. He quickly made a name for himself around the league and earned plenty of respect (644 penalty minutes with the Spitfires). Off the ice, he was the guy everyone wanted to meet and he loved the fans just as much.
Like Luchuk, though, Janssen didn’t finish his career with the club. The Spitfires traded him to the Storm at the 2004 deadline and he helped them get to the Memorial Cup. Following that, he went on to play over 330 NHL games before heading to the UK for a season with the Nottingham Panthers (EIHL). He has since retired and is doing media and podcasting in the St. Louis area.
The Spitfires have had plenty of talented fan favourites come through their organization, but few matched the overall character of Janssen. It’s tough to go against him for the best third-round pick since 2000.
Round 2 – Goaltender Michael DiPietro (2015)
This was the hardest decision of any round. How do you top a player who set a club record for defenceman points, won two Memorial Cups, and was named captain in 2010-11? With a local goaltender who’s accomplishments may never be topped.
While Spitfires’ icon Ryan Ellis is among the best in team history, goaltender Michael DiPietro could be impossible to beat. The Amherstburg native was drafted in hopes that he would slowly simmer and eventually take over the crease. However, he had other plans and immediately started building his resume.
In 2015-16, the club brought multiple veterans in to help him along, but each one fell by the wayside as DiPietro locked in and refused to move. From 2015-2018, the Vancouver Canucks’ prospect broke the Spitfires’ record for career wins (86), shutouts (16), and goals-against average (2.35 in 2016-17), won the 2017 Memorial Cup and numerous other awards, and was even given the “Key to the Town of Amherstburg.” The kid they call “Mikey” was nearly untouchable on the ice and was as popular as they come in the community.
Like Luchuk and Janssen, all good things come to an end and the Spitfires were forced to trade him for their post-championship rebuild. The December 2018 deal with the Ottawa 67’s was one of the toughest in team history, but fans appreciated what they had witnessed over the last three seasons.
DiPietro changed the way the Spitfires look at goaltenders. Not only was he a force on the ice, he was beloved in the community and embraced the fans like they were his family. As good as Ellis was, you’re not going to top DiPietro in this list. He’s the best second-rounder since 2000 and one of the best picks of all time.
Round 1 – Forward Taylor Hall (2007)
A first-round pick is supposed to become the face of your franchise. In 2007, the Spitfires continued their rebuild by selecting forward Taylor Hall second overall and it didn’t take long for him to show the OHL what he was all about.
For most veterans, a 45-goal, 84-point season is pushing a career high. Hall hit those marks in his rookie season in just 63 games. How do you top it? With 196 more points in 120 games from 2008-2010, another 71 points in 39 playoff games, and 17 points in 10 Memorial Cup games. With speed, creativity, and a passion to stay at the top, there was little he could do wrong on the ice.
Hall dominated in every facet of the junior game, helping the club win the Memorial Cup in 2009 and 2010, and was rewarded with the first-overall pick by the Edmonton Oilers in 2010. He was in an offensive class of his own and is the Spitfires’ best first-round pick since 2000.
Draft Depth Key to Future
Since 2000, Kelly and Rychel, along with current general manager Bill Bowler, have done their best to find gems in every round of the draft. You always want a handful of players to make your roster from any given draft, but sometimes the top picks fall while the later picks flourish. In the end, the ability to find talent in every round is something the Spitfires don’t take for granted and should benefit the club well into the future.
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.