Windsor Spitfires Focus on Future as OHL Announces 2021 Draft

While the COVID-19 pandemic still controls much of our lives, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel for the OHL. Just one week after canceling the 2020-21 season, the league has announced details of their 2021 Priority Selection. For the Windsor Spitfires, it’s a glimpse into their not-so-distant future.

The last year has been complete chaos for the league. In March 2020, they abruptly shut down the 2019-20 season due to the pandemic. It was the only option to ensure everyone’s safety. That was followed by multiple delays to start 2020-21, which resulted in the inevitable cancellation last week. However, that definitive end means teams can now focus on the upcoming season and that starts with the 2021 Priority Selection. It’s a chance for Spitfires’ general manager Bill Bowler to get creative and get this team back to its glory days.

What are the details of the upcoming draft? Let’s take a look!

OHL Announces 2021 Priority Selection Details

During last week’s cancellation, the OHL hinted that draft details would be released shortly. That came to fruition on Wednesday afternoon as the league made the formal announcement. However, the draft won’t be the same as previous seasons and that will create some buzz around the league.

The draft is normally based on standings but, with no play in 2020-21, they had to get creative. On Wednesday, May 5 at 7:00 P.M., the league will host its first-ever Draft Lottery. The draft will be the usual 15 rounds but the order will be determined by a computerized random number generator. It’s overseen by Robert Bayne of Filion Wakely Thorup Angeletti LLP out of London.

OHL Commissioner David Branch
OHL Commissioner David Branch at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. (OHL Images)

Every team will have an equal chance at the first-overall pick and the order will reverse in each round. This means the team that selects first overall will get the last pick in the second round, the first pick again in the third round, and so on. It’s worth noting that any draft pick trades that already happened will still count and the Niagara IceDogs still forfeit their first-round pick due to 2019 sanctions.

You’ll be able to watch the lottery unfold live on the league’s YouTube channel, as well as their social media channels.

The Priority Selection will be conducted online as usual. However, instead of the normal full Saturday marathon, it will be split into two days.

On Friday, June 4, they will hold the first three rounds starting at 7:00 P.M. Then, on Saturday, June 5, the final 12 rounds will get underway starting at 9:00 A.M. Just like the lottery, you can follow the draft on the OHL’s YouTube page and social media channels.

Spitfires Looking at Rebuild

Coming into the OHL Priority Selection, the Spitfires have 17 picks in the 15 rounds, including two picks in each of rounds 4, 6, and 15. They don’t own a pick in the third round. What will Bowler focus on?

With the 2020-21 season cancelled, that means the graduation of several talented veterans including Columbus Blue Jackets’ prospect forward Tyler Angle, Vegas Golden Knights’ prospect defenceman Connor Corcoran, Nashville Predators’ prospect forward Egor Afanasyev, and 6-foot-9, 235-pound 30-goal forward Curtis Douglas.

That leaves just seven returning forwards plus 2020 first-rounder Ryan Abraham. Besides a definitive need for scoring (losing over 100 goals this summer), they will be lacking in size. Only Kyle McDonald and New York Rangers’ prospect Will Cuylle are over 6-foot, 200-pounds and, while their size is necessary, they’ll be relied upon for scoring more than physical play. The Spitfires desperately need scoring and size and Bowler has no room for error.

Will Cuylle Windsor Spitfires
Windsor Spitfires’ forward Will Cuylle (13) will be counted on to be an offensive leader in 2021-22. (Dave Jewell/THW)

The defence is a similar story. They lost 19-year-old Ruben Rafkin (home to Finland) in March 2020, plus Corcoran and Joseph Rupoli this summer to graduation. The trio brought a great combination of leadership, scoring, and physicality. The Spitfires will have four veterans returning in Louka Henault, Grayson Ladd, Dylan Robinson, and newcomer Michael Renwick, along with 2020 second-rounder Nick DeAngelis, but they need help at both ends of the rink. Getting a true offensive threat, plus a physical crease-clearer with some size will be crucial for Bowler.

Fortunately, with veteran Xavier Media solidified as the starter, plus a battle between rookies Kyle Downey and Matt Tovell, their goaltending is pretty stable for a season or two.

There are numerous gaps to fill but Bowler has three drafts (Priority, Under-18, and CHL Import) to work his magic. This will be a summer of patience.

One Step at a Time

Until last week, nobody had any idea what the OHL was going to do in 2020-21 or beyond. The waiting game became tougher and tougher by the week and patience was growing thin. However, with two major announcements over the last week, there is a bit of light and something to look forward to. Bowler and the Spitfires can join the rest of the league in preparing for the next step as we all move towards the return to a (somewhat) normal life.

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