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OHL 20 in 20 Season Preview: Windsor Spitfires

Hosting the Mastercard Memorial Cup in May 2017, the Windsor Spitfires are gearing up for an exciting season with a lineup built around three first round NHL draft selections and a strong supporting cast.

The Mastercard Memorial Cup returns to Ontario this season and the Windsor Spitfires will serve as hosts, giving them plenty to think about as the 2016-17 season draws nearer.

Spitfires general manager Warren Rychel has been busy over the summer, bringing in veteran forwards Julius Nattinen and Jeremiah Addison to bolster an already solid group of forwards led by Ottawa Senators first round pick Logan Brown.

A 6-foot-6 two-way centreman, Brown joins forces with Nattinen, an Anaheim Ducks prospect, to form one of the league’s best 1-2 punches down the middle.

“These guys are both solid, responsible two-way guys who can generate offence,” said Rychel. “Logan does big things for us in the faceoff circle and started shooting the puck more in the second half of last season which led to good results. Julius was a gold medal winner with Finland at the World Juniors last year and is coming off a really strong camp with the national team in Plymouth, Michigan last month.”

Addison brings 27 goals over from the Ottawa 67’s while Arizona Coyotes prospect Christian Fischer, who led the Spits in scoring last season with 40 goals, 50 assists and 90 points in 66 games, will get a long look with the big club out of training camp.

Fischer, who was drafted by the Coyotes prior to coming to the OHL, could potentially wind up in the American Hockey League, but his fate is in the hands of Arizona Coyotes GM John Chayka and his staff.

“Fischer is going to get a long look,” said Rychel. “We expect to get him back, and I know Arizona doesn’t want to rush him. In his one season in the OHL we saw big improvements. With another season and a Memorial Cup run under Rocky Thompson and the other coaches I think he could really build off that and continue his development.”

Draft eligible sophomore Gabriel Vilardi will miss the first month of the season with a knee injury he sustained at Canada’s National Under-18 Selection Camp this past summer. With him on the mend, veterans Aaron Luchuk, Hayden McCool and Mike Baird will be counted upon to chip in offensively and contribute physically in the wild Western Conference.

The Spitfires have a steady, well-assembled blue line to complement their accomplished forward corps.

First round NHL draft picks Mikhail Sergachev (Montreal) and Logan Stanley (Winnipeg) lead a group that includes two-way overage rearguard Jalen Chatfield, veteran captain Patrick Sanvido, the much improved Tyler Nother, 19 year-old Andrew Burns and rookie Connor Corcoran.

“Both Sergachev and Stanley are key pieces,” said Rychel. “We had the privilege of seeing both of those guys take big strides last season and put themselves into first round contention. That was huge for them and under our coaching staff I expect that they’ll take another big step forward.”

Sergachev’s 17 goals were the most by a Spitfires rookie defenceman since 1979 as he claimed the Max Kaminsky Trophy as OHL Defenceman of the Year.

“He’s worked hard on his shot,” Rychel said of the multi-dimensional Sergachev. “He’s been a guy who is willing to learn every day and that might be his biggest strength. He’s always listening and learning and that’s key for a young player’s development.”

The Spitfires enter the season expecting draft eligible 17-year-old Michael DiPietro to do big things in the crease. After winning the Dinty Moore Trophy with the league’s lowest rookie goals-against-average of 2.45, DiPietro represented Canada at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in the Czech Republic this past summer.

“He’s the real deal back there,” said Rychel approvingly. “I’ve been watching him since he was 10-years-old when he played Triple-A with my son. His compete level and his fitness level are both off the charts. He has the trust of his teammates and we feel good with him in the crease.”

19-year-old Mario Culina returns to support DiPietro between the pipes while the club recently inked 17-year-old free agent Lucas Patton to provide more organizational depth.

The Spits will have several players off at NHL training camps over the course of the coming weeks, but the club’s overage situation has yet to be finalized. Sanvido, Chatfield, Addison and Cristiano DiGiacinto are vying for three spots, which means one will be on the move sooner or later.

“It’s a tough situation,” Rychel said. “They’re four quality players, but something has to happen there. We’ll have to see what unfolds.”

The high-powered Spitfires enter the season considered West Division favourites by many, but they’ll be met with plenty of resistance down the stretch as Sarnia, Sault Ste. Marie and Saginaw look to challenge for supremacy.

“It’s an exciting time,” said Rychel of the months ahead. “We feel like we’ve put together a pretty solid group and we’ll see what happens as we go here. We’ll be hosting the Memorial Cup, but we don’t want to just host it, we want to win it all.”

2015-16 Record: 40-21-6-1 (2nd West Division)
Head Coach: Rocky Thompson (2nd season)
Key additions: Julius Nattinen, Jeremiah Addison, Mike Baird, Cole Purboo, Connor Corcoran, Chris Playfair, Tyler Angle, Lucas Patton
Notable graduates: Brendan Lemieux, Connor Chatham, Bradley Latour, Mads Eller
Leading scorer: Christian Fischer^ (66 GP, 40-50–90)
Leading scorer (defencemen): Mikhail Sergachev (67 GP, 17-40–57)
Leading scorer (rookie): Mikhail Sergachev (67 GP, 17-40–57)
Leading goaltender: Michael DiPietro (29 GP, 16-8-1-1, 2.45 GAA, .912 SV%, 2 SO)
Fast Fact: The city of Windsor is set to host the Mastercard Memorial Cup for a second time. The first occurrence happened in 1981 when a Cornwall Royals club led by Dale Hawerchuk and Doug Gilmour won it all.
#OHLOpeningWeek schedule: Thurs. Sept. 22nd vs. ER (7:05pm), Fri. Sept. 23rd at SSM (7:07pm)

* – among returning players
^ – possible graduate

Who will be the biggest impact player on the Windsor Spitfires this season?

ontariohockeyleague.com will feature one team each day in advance of the 2016-17 season which begins Wednesday September 21.

Read more OHL 20 in 20 previews:

East Division: Hamilton Bulldogs, Oshawa Generals, Peterborough Petes, Ottawa 67’s

Central Division: Sudbury Wolves, Mississauga Steelheads, North Bay Battalion

Midwest Division: Guelph Storm, Owen Sound Attack

West Division: Saginaw Spirit, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds

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