Drafting in any sport can be a real toss-up. Teams rely on scouting, contacts, and personal instincts to make the best decision possible. Since 2000, the Windsor Spitfires have had plenty of ups-and-downs during their OHL Drafts. While some drafts have been mic-drop worthy, others are best left in the distant past. The question is – which ones belong in which category?
Former Spitfire general managers Mike Kelly (1999-06) and Warren Rychel (2006-19) were never ones to shy away from making headlines. While Kelly was quieter than Rychel on the outside, both created a team with gusto. They drafted for both the present and future while ensuring the club had players that truly embodied what Spitfires’ hockey was all about. Those all-around players who provided great offense, stellar defense, in-your-face hockey, and well-rounded leadership. While they made some great moves in the draft, they also fell short on occasion.
Traditionally, the OHL Draft is in early April, but with COVID-19 still lingering, it’s been postponed indefinitely. Instead, today we’ll look at the three best and worst drafts by the Spitfires in the 2000s. We’ve only listed the players who dressed for the club, as well. Take a look!
Bottom 3 – Falling Flat
3. The 2010 OHL Draft – Is a Re-Do Possible?
First Round – defenceman Grant Webermin
Second Round – forward Michael Clarke
Fourth Round – forward Brady Vail
Seventh Round – defenceman John Bowen
Eighth Round – forward Ty Bilcke
In his first handful of seasons with the Spitfires, Rychel was almost invincible behind the wheel. He made moves and draft picks that set the team up for long-term success. That’s what made the 2010 Draft so unexpected.
Rychel entered the draft looking to take the success from the 2009 Memorial Cup win and, not only continue it through 2010 (which they did) but into 2011 and beyond. The next wave of talent, if you will. It simply didn’t go the way he expected.
The Spitfires’ first-round pick, defenceman Grant Webermin, was expected to become a stud in the league. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get his offense going and Rychel had no choice but to trade him to the Saginaw Spirit in 2011. This wasn’t the start anyone wanted or needed.
Their second-round pick, forward Michael Clarke, scored 55 points in 110 games for the club before being traded to the Peterborough Petes in a deal involving defenceman Slater Koekkoek. Giving up the offensive potential was a disappointment.
In the fourth round, they picked up forward Brady Vail. He became the best player in the draft for them, scoring 200 points in 264 points and becoming a dressing room leader.
When talking about this draft, we can’t forget the “Killer B’s” – forwards John Bowen and Ty Bilcke. The duo each stood around 6-foot-2, 220-pounds and weren’t exactly known for their offense. However, the crowd loved them and they were class acts in the community.
If Webermin had panned out, and they kept Clarke, this draft would have looked much better. Fortunately, Vail provided plenty of offense while Bilcke and Bowen were solid mid-round picks. However, the massive swing-and-a-miss by Rychel with his top two picks can’t be overlooked. That’s why it’s the third-worst draft in the 2000s.
2. The 2014 OHL Draft – We Saw Nothing!
First Round – defenceman Logan Stanley
Second Round – forward Daniil Vertiy
The Spitfires’ 2014 draft started off extremely well when Rychel selected 6-foot-6, 210-pound defenceman Logan Stanley tenth overall. While it took him a while to get adjusted to the league, he became a force, putting up a few points while punishing the opposition. The Winnipeg Jets’ 2016 first-rounder was a key factor in the Spitfires’ 2017 Memorial Cup win, as well.
However, after the Stanley pick, the talent completely dropped off.
In the second round, Rychel took forward Daniil Vertiy, hoping he would provide some solid offense. That didn’t work out as he scored just 11 points in 65 games before being traded to the North Bay Battalion. After the Vertiy pick, the Spitfires swung for the fences and took highly-touted prospect Clayton Keller. Try as they might, the club couldn’t convince him to leave the US Development Program and he eventually went to Boston University.
Rychel made another 10 picks in the draft and, aside from defencemen Nick Gauvin and Blake Coffey getting good looks at training camps, nobody dressed for the Spitfires.
With just one player out of 13 picks making an impact on the organization, this draft was simply ugly. It goes down as the second-worst in the 2000s.
1. The 2011 OHL Draft – This Didn’t Happen… Right?
First Round – forward Jordan Maletta
Second Round – goaltender Jordan DeKort
Second Round – forward Hunter Smith
Fifth Round – forward Sam Studnicka
Rounding out the bottom three, just squeaking in at number one, is a draft that is downright facepalm-worthy – the 2011 draft.
Just like the 2010 draft, this one was expected to build on the success of Rychel’s first group that won the 2009 Memorial Cup (and later, 2010 Memorial Cup). Unfortunately, it was an epic failure.
Rychel’s first-round pick, forward Jordan Maletta, was the best part of anything on this day. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound center was projected to be a great power forward. When healthy, he lived up to that. However, injuries mounted and a fresh start was required. The Spitfires traded him to the Niagara IceDogs during his second season where he flourished, becoming a 30-goal scorer and locker room leader.
That was the only “positive” from this draft, though.
In the second round, Rychel took goaltender Jordan DeKort and local power forward Hunter Smith. DeKort couldn’t get going and the Spitfires traded him to the Barrie Colts in 2013. Smith could have been a fan favorite but, for some odd reason, the club traded him to the Oshawa Generals after just 15 games. They got 20-year-old Emerson Clark in return.
Smith went on to score 90 points in 151 games with the Generals from 2012-14 (and earned an “A”) while Clark dropped the gloves and… that’s about it. To this day, it’s a serious head-scratcher.
Finally, fifth-round pick Sam Studnicka scored 11 points in 73 games for the Spitfires before they traded him to the Ottawa 67’s for a fresh start. He found his offense there before heading to University.
From top-to-bottom, a draft full of potential completely fell on its face. Sometimes, it’s easier to forget it even happened. It’ll go down as the worst draft in the 2000s.
Top 3 – Dropping the Mic
3. 2000 OHL Draft – Depth City
First Round – forward Matt Maccarone
Second Round – forward John-Scott Dickson
Third Round – forward Cam Janssen
Third Round – forward Rob Hennigar
Fourth Round – forward Ahren Nittle
Fourth Round – defenceman Paul Giallonardo
Fifth Round- forward Darryl Lloyd
11th Round – forward Phil Gibson
13th Round – forward Sal Peralta
17th round – goaltender Matt Anthony
In any given draft, you’re hoping that four (or so) players make a multi-season impact on your club. The 2000 OHL draft blew expectations out of the water.
The draft didn’t start off on a great foot, though. With the 11th pick, Kelly drafted 6-foot-6, 220-pound forward Matt Maccarone. He had the size, the offensive potential, and a bit of a mean streak; what more could you want? The giant became a fan favorite but his production fell flat with just 11 points and 34 penalty minutes in 74 games. It had promise but eventually failed and they traded him to the Generals.
The rest of the draft was a bullseye, though.
In the second round, Kelly took forward John-Scott Dickson who became the club’s iron-man. Over four seasons, he dressed in 306 games, scoring 214 points. He was a productive leader who was as reliable as they come.
Next up was third-rounder Cam Janssen, a 5-foot-11, 205-pound winger out of Eureka, MO. Picture a pit bull on caffeine; hitting everything he could, dropping the gloves without hesitation (over 600 career PIM), and chipping in 15-20 points per season. He was a class act and one of the good guys off the ice, becoming a fan favorite in the OHL, NHL, and later EIHL. They don’t make players like him anymore.
After that, the talents kept coming – forwards Rob Hennigar, Ahren Nittle, Darryl Lloyd, Phil Gibson, and Sal Peralta, plus defenceman Paul Giallonardo and goaltender Matt Anthony all became significant parts of the club, each playing in multiple seasons. In fact, Lloyd, Giallonardo, and Hennigar all have an impressive 200 games on their resume.
From longevity to production and protection, this was an outstanding draft and it has earned the title of third-best in the 2000s.
2. 2006 OHL Draft – The Start of Something Special
First Round – forward Greg Nemisz
Second Round – forward Adam Henrique
Second Round – forward T.J. Battani
Second Round – defenceman Mark Cundari
Fourth Round – forward Eric Wellwood
Fifth Round – goaltender Matt Hackett
11th Round – forward Adam Wallace
When Rychel, Bob Boughner, and Peter Dobrich bought the club in 2006, they had one goal in mind – rebuild into a contender. That started with the 2006 draft and it became the stuff of legends.
Rychel’s first pick was 6-foot-3, 190-pound forward Greg Nemisz. They expected him to become an offensive threat and he delivered with 248 points in 246 career games. While the first-rounder came as advertised, it was the rest of the draft that set it apart.
In the second round, Rychel took forwards T.J. Battani and Adam Henrique. Battani was traded before the season ended but Henrique became an integral part of the club’s back-to-back championships. Now an NHL star, he scored 228 points in 238 career OHL games, earning the “A” in 2009-10 and becoming a leader in the community.
From there, Rychel went after forward Eric Wellwood who, like Henrique, played in over 200 games with the team. The Oldcastle-native was a two-way speedster and his knowledge and maturity led him back to the OHL where he’s now the head coach of the Flint Firebirds.
Rounding out the draft, the Spitfires took goaltender Matt Hackett, who was later traded to the Plymouth Whalers, along with forward Adam Wallace. Hackett’s trade set up another deal with the Generals that became one of the best trades on Rychel’s resume. Wallace was another fan favorite who didn’t put up many points but took no prisoners in his rough-and-tumble style.
This 2006 draft was Rychel’s first while GM of the Spitfires and he owned it. The level of talent throughout was something special and, when combined with their 2007 draft (that included Taylor Hall and Ryan Ellis), it made for one dynamic roster. It comes in as the second-best draft in the 2000s.
1. 2015 OHL Draft – The Record-Breaking Draft
First Round – forward Gabriel Vilardi
Second Round – goaltender Michael DiPietro
Second Round – defenceman Kyle Auger
Fourth Round – forward Cole Carter
Fifth Round – forward Luke Boka
Ninth Round – forward Cole Purboo
10th Round – defenceman Thomas Stevenson
An ideal draft brings you a combination of scoring, team play, durability, and, hopefully, a championship. That’s what made the 2015 OHL Draft so incredible.
Rychel’s first-round pick was Kingston-native Gabriel Vilardi. While he wasn’t overly vocal, he let his 157 points in 143 games do the talking. Add in another seven points in four 2017 Memorial Cup games and his legacy was golden. Unfortunately, the club traded him to his hometown Frontenacs during their post-title rebuild. Now, he’s with the Los Angeles’ Kings’ (2017 first-rounder).
The Spitfires’ second, fifth, and ninth-round picks paid off in spades with goaltender Michael DiPietro, forward Luke Boka, and forward Cole Purboo, respectively.
DiPietro was a local kid who, while pegged as the future, won the starter’s role almost immediately. Over three seasons, he dominated, breaking the Spitfires’ record for career wins, career shutouts, career goals-against-average. Plus, he was a rock in the community. There was nothing “Mikey” couldn’t do. Sadly, as part of the post-Memorial Cup rebuild, they traded him to the Ottawa 67’s in December 2018. It remains one of the toughest deals in team history.
Boka and Purboo were the definitions of longevity and team players. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Purboo had three-straight 20-goal seasons, played over 260 games, and was named alternate captain from 2018-20. Boka was more of a defensive forward with numerous OHL Coaches Poll awards, a team record 313 games played and earning the captain’s “C” from 2018-20.
Add in Cole Carter and Kyle Auger, young talents traded for Memorial Cup assets, plus Thomas Stevenson, who became a fixture on defense in 2017-18, and the draft will go down in history.
From start-to-finish, the draft saw stars created, records broken, and fans entertained. It goes down as the best Spitfires’ draft of the 2000s.
Rychel and Kelly Made Their Mark
For all the ups-and-downs, both Rychel and Kelly made a significant impact on the Spitfires during these drafts. There were some ugly misses, which didn’t help anyone, but the highs of Memorial Cups and fan entertainment more than made up for it.
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.