Windsor Spitfires will only improve on their strong start to the OHL season
The Windsor Spitfires have clearly shown during their 7-3 start to the 2016-2017 Ontario Hockey League season that they are not only the host team for the 2017 MasterCard Memorial Cup, but the team has to be considered a strong contender to participate in the tournament next May as OHL champions.
And while two of their losses – to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, Oshawa Generals and London Knights – showed that the club still has some considerable work to be done it should also be noted that general manager Warren Rychel has not even started yet to tinker with his roster. And by tinker, I mean adding significant star and veteran talent.
The team’s draft pick cupboard is already not exactly full and it will be even more barren by the team Rychel starts shipping them out – along with some of the club’s younger players – in order to go for it all next May in the Memorial Cup. But those picks will be readily recouped in a season or two when Rychel undoubtedly ships out his star players when the team is in full blown rebuild mode.
While Rychel and head coach Rocky Thompson have to be overall pleased with their team’s performance thus far this season, don’t think for one minute that they are content with it. While there is room for improvement – a top four defenceman and a top six right-winger won’t hurt the cause – there is no shortage of positives for this team.
For starters, with Michael DiPietro and Mario Culina both performing well in net from the outset, that area of the club has to be considered a definite strength. Should one or both go down with an injury or suddenly their play suddenly become suspect, Rychel will undoubtedly bring in a veteran netminder.
Despite not having Michael Sergachev return yet from the Montreal Canadiens – and he will – the Spitfires have performed more than capably defensively. Rookie Connor Corcoran and free agent signing Austin McEneny have been solid additions.
Offensively, with the line of Jeremiah Addison, Logan Brown and Gabriel Vilardi have been explosive point-producers from the very first time they were put together this season and the only way that will stop is if Thompson sees the need to break them up in order to provide more depth upfront. Second year forwards Luke Boka and Cole Carter have already surpassed their offensive output from last season and look to have break-out seasons in 2016-2017.
In addition to Corcoran, rookies Tyler Angle, Chris Playfair and Cole Purboo have quickly established themselves as bonafide OHLers and as they were not first round selections of the club, OHL rules prohibit their being traded away during their rookie seasons. While they could be part of trades (future considerations) made to bring in more veteran players this season, they would still finish out their rookie campaigns in Windsor before moving onto other teams next off-season.
And don’t be surprised if right-winger Christian Fischer, the Spits top goal-scorer last season with 40, is returned to Windsor from the American Hockey League farm team of the Arizona Coyotes before the start of December. And if the Coyotes sign Clayton Keller, one of their 2016 first round picks, odds are he will be in Windsor after the World Junior Hockey Championships.
Both the team’s penalty-killing and powerplay units have been at or near the top of the OHL league leaders all season and that is a sure-fire way to keep a team in championship contention,
So Spitfire fans, if you think your favourite OHL club is doing well now, just wait until general manager Warren Rychel starts working his magic and turns his great team into a powerhouse with a few trades here and there.