Windsor Spitfires’ 2019-20 Breakout Candidates

With their 2019-20 training camp behind them, the Windsor Spitfires are getting ready for the season and the next step in their rebuild. That means key players will need to find a way to elevate their game.

Having a breakout season isn’t easy. It takes dedication, timing, and focus, all of which need to be in perfect harmony. Last season, multiple Spitfires were able to achieve career-highs.

Who might have a breakout 2019-20 season? Let’s take a look at some candidates.

Levelling Up

1. RW Kyle McDonald

2018-19 – 4 goals, 11 assists, 15 points in 39 games

The home opener can’t come soon enough for 6-foot-5, 207-pound winger Kyle McDonald. He came to the Spitfires as their 2018 second-round pick (acquired in the Logan Brown trade) and showed serious promise with 15 points in 39 games and a World Under-17 Challenge spot.

Unfortunately, during a game in North Bay after Christmas, a collision with the Battalion goaltender sent McDonald into the boards resulting in a separated shoulder. That was the end of his season.

Now, he enters the 2019-20 season with something to prove. With a full season ahead of him, there’s no time like the present to show he was worthy of a second-round selection.

McDonald had 25 goals in 40 games with the Ottawa Jr. Senators Midget AAA in 2017-18 so the ability is certainly there. It’s just a matter of getting that opportunity.

2. D Grayson Ladd

2018-19 – 2 goals, 16 assists, 18 points in 48 games

This is an important season for 18-year-old Grayson Ladd. The 6-foot-1, 172-pound defenceman started putting it all together in 2018-19 with a career-high 18 points in 48 games.

In late January, the former Kitchener Ranger got hit from behind during the same game that McDonald got hurt in. The hand injury kept him out for the rest of the campaign. Now, fully healed, it’s Ladd’s time to show what he’s got.

Grayson Ladd Kitchener Rangers
Grayson Ladd broke into the OHL with the Kitchener Rangers. (Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

While offence was never expected to be the focus of his game, with a full season ahead and a forward group that’s much-improved, those point totals could really trend up.

Last season, Ladd showed he’s the quiet, steady type; reliable in his own end, using his body when needed, and putting up some points without anyone really noticing.

If he can stay healthy, expect a big season from Ladd. All of the tools are in place for him to not only climb the Spitfires’ depth charts but make the OHL take notice.

3. G Kari Piiroinen

2018-19 – 4.23 goals-against-average, .875 save percentage in 27 games

A reset might be just what Kari Piiroinen needed. After being taken in the 2018 CHL Import Draft, the Finnish goaltender had a rollercoaster 2018-19 season for the Spitfires. After star goaltender Michael DiPietro was dealt to the Ottawa 67’s, Piiroinen shared time with veteran backup Colton Incze. Taking over for DiPietro wasn’t easy and it resulted in streaky play for the Finn.

Kari Piiroinen Windsor Spitfires
Goaltender Kari Piiroinen is poised for a big season with the Windsor Spitfires. (Dave Jewell/THW)

Piiroinen had outstanding games (42 saves on the road against the Sudbury Wolves), and some not so good ones (14 goals against during back-to-back January games). The talent is there; the basics had to be tweaked, though.

With Incze moving on, this is Piirionen’s chance to take a deep breath and grab the crease job. The Spitfires signed 2018 draftee Xavier Medina, creating nice competition in goal. However, this is Piiroinen’s season. He’ll be given every chance to show he’s up for the job and able to take the Spitfires to the next level.

4. Head Coach Trevor Letowski

While the players are learning how to take the next step in the development process, the coaches are in a very similar boat.

Spitfires’ head coach Trevor Letowski enters his fifth full season as an OHL bench boss – two with the Sarnia Sting and three with the Spitfires. He also had 18 games with the Sting in 2010-11. In all of that time, he has yet to make it out of the first round of the playoffs and has a 110-146-31 record. It’s not exactly earth-shattering.

Spitfires Trevor Letowski
Windsor Spitfires head coach Trevor Letowski (Dave Jewell/THW)

This is what makes 2019-20 such a big season for Letowski and his staff. With a young core ready to go, including forwards Jean-Luc Foudy, Will Cuylle, and Daniel D’Amico, plus new signings such as Nashville Predators’ prospect Egor Afanasyev, this is Letowski’s chance to break the streak.

There were times in 2018-19 where Letowski seemed firm in his ways. The veterans were relied upon and the youngsters played when needed. It wasn’t always a pretty sight.

This is redemption, though. He can’t miss this. All signs point to a successful season but now is the time to execute it.

There is plenty of promise on the roster and, with good fortune, some breakout seasons are on the horizon.