As 2020 gets ready to burst in like the Kool-Aid Man, it’s fun to take a look back at the decade that was the 2010s. The Windsor Spitfires had their fair share of hits-and-misses, some of which were at the drafting table. A few picks really paid off, while others you’d rather just forget about.
Drafting is a very difficult job, especially in junior hockey. Sometimes you find that diamond in the rough that truly helps your franchise, while other times see a top pick fizzle out. It can be a truly rewarding experience or one you’d rather move on from.
Earlier this month, we talked about the club’s All-Decade team. Now, let’s take a look at three of the Spitfires’ best draft picks in the decade, along with three situations they would probably want to re-do.
Hockey is a guessing game at times. While later picks are more likely to struggle, you need your top rounds to really find their way. Throughout the decade, there were a handful of higher picks that the Spitfires were eager to see but just didn’t work out.
3. Kyle Auger – Defenceman – Second Round 2015
Replacing one of the best players in team history is a tall task. After star defenceman Ryan Ellis graduated in 2011, former general manager Warren Rychel drafted multiple offensive blueliners, hoping one would come close to Ellis’ production. In 2015, that was 5-foot-10, 175-pound Kyle Auger.
With back-to-back point-per-game (P/G) seasons in the Thunder Bay Kings’ system, you can’t blame Rychel for getting excited. He took Auger in the second round in 2015 and gave him a chance to show his stuff.
While Auger had the speed and creativity the team was looking for, something was missing and he never got going. He had just nine points in 25 games for LaSalle Jr. B, then another three points in 28 games for the Spitfires following a call-up. Prior to the 2017 Memorial Cup, Rychel made a tough choice and moved him to the Barrie Colts in the summer of 2016 in a package deal involving Finnish forward Julius Nattinen.
Auger never played a game for the Colts and bounced around a couple of more teams before landing up north in the Superior International Junior Hockey League (Jr. A). While you hate seeing something like this happen, at least he’s doing well in northern Ontario.
2. Grant Webermin – Defenceman – First Round 2010
When you’re a first-round pick, the hope is that you become the cornerstone of a franchise for a few seasons. In 2010, the Spitfires drafted the 6-foot, 175-pound Grant Webermin out of Honeybaked U16. He was the first player that Rychel hoped would fit the Ellis mould. Instead, it went the opposite way.
Webermin struggled in his rookie season (2010-11) with just seven points in 55 games. He was injured at times, but his game simply didn’t translate. In 2011-12, the team hoped he would rebound. However, he recorded just six points in 32 games before being traded to the Saginaw Spirit at the deadline.
It was a very unfortunate situation for everyone involved. Webermin played 54 games with the Spirit before retiring from hockey. The desire and potential were there, but sometimes there’s only so much that can be done.
1. The 2014 Draft
This is unconventional but justified. In any draft, you’d hope that at least three or four players make a significant impact on your team. That was far from the case with the 2014 draft.
Rychel’s first pick, 6-foot-6, 205-pound defenceman Logan Stanley, was a beast in the OHL. He came as advertised as a grinding leader who could do a bit of everything. After that, though, it was all downhill.
Rychel took a huge swing in the second round, drafting Shattuck St. Mary’s stud Clayton Keller, along with North York Minor Midget sniper Daniil Vertiy.
Keller had his eyes on the US programs and Boston University. Try as he might, Rychel couldn’t convince the elite prospect to join the Spitfires. Keller is now with the Arizona Coyotes. Vertiy, on the other hand, came to the OHL but had just 11 points in 65 games before being traded to the North Bay Battalion.
The rest of the draft saw just two players — defencemen Nick Gauvin and Blake Coffey — get a sniff at the team. Gauvin was often hurt and stayed in Jr. B while Coffey played Jr. B before heading the college route.
Out of the 13 players drafted, only Stanley had a real impact on the Spitfires. That has to be considered a significant failure for the team.
Putting it into perspective, the two players drafted after Keller (final pick in the second round) included former Erie Otters’ sniper Kyle Maksimovich and former Spitfires’ tough guy Sean Allen. Imagine having one of those two on the club for four seasons?
The Hat-Trick Picks
While some picks miss the mark, others hit the bullseye. A few picks over the decade were perfect shots by Rychel, worthy of applause.
3. Christian Fischer – Forward – 11th round 2013
Rychel was famous for taking a gamble on players at any point in the draft. If he thought he had a chance to bring them to the WFCU Centre, he’d make a pitch.
In 2013, Rychel took a giant swing by taking highly touted prospect Christian Fischer in the 11th round. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound forward was expected to go to the US National Team Development Program (USNTDP) but the team chose him anyway. It was a smart move!
While Fischer spent two seasons with the USNTP, he made his way to the Spitfires for the 2015-16 season. In 66 games, he racked up an impressive 40 goals and 90 points. It became a one-and-done season in the OHL as he moved to the Coyotes’ system in 2016-17.
Regardless, it was a bold move by Rychel and one of the better picks of the decade.
2. Cole Purboo – Forward – Ninth round 2015
Every so often, teams find that one player that forces his way onto a club. That was Cole Purboo in 2016-17.
Chosen in the ninth round in 2015, Purboo impressed the brass at a prospects camp a few weeks later. He went back to the Toronto region for development before being given a chance to make the Spitfires in 2016-17.
Despite just 11 points in the OJHL in 2015-16, he made the OHL through pure resilience. At 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, he’s a bull along the boards and good luck moving him from in front of the net. His skating wasn’t great, and still needs work, but he pushed his way to 74 goals in 234 career games.
Say what you will about later picks but Purboo is proof that hard work and determination will get you places. He was a steal in the ninth round for Rychel.
1. Michael DiPietro – Goaltender – Second round 2015
Yes, second-round picks should generally turn out, but there’s nobody who thought this would happen.
In April 2015, Rychel knew he had one chance to hit a home run. He took his swing and the ball still hasn’t landed. During the second round of the draft, he made the move, selecting local goaltender Michael DiPietro.
While very raw, DiPietro was the Amherstburg-native that everyone loved. He came to the rink eager to show his stuff, but still thankful just to have the chance. It couldn’t have paid off better. From dominating his first OHL game to Spitfires’ team records (wins and shutouts), 2017 Memorial Cup to 2019 World Juniors, he really did it all in the league.
Despite being traded to the Ottawa 67’s in Dec. 2018, when you think of the Spitfires in the 2010s, DiPietro comes to mind almost immediately. He’ll always be Rychel’s prized pick.
A team always wants to hit on as many picks as they can. Sometimes they get lucky and find that sneaky guy who proves everyone wrong. At other times, they take gambles with the higher picks and fall flat. In either case, it’s been a decade worth watching for Spitfires’ drafts. With new general manager Bill Bowler at the helm, the 2020s could be just as entertaining.