The start of September has traditionally meant OHL teams preparing for the regular season. This year is far from traditional, though, as the COVID-19 pandemic put everything upside down. When junior hockey returns, though, the Windsor Spitfires could have an impressive leadership group.
At the start of August, the OHL announced its return to play plans. Part of that includes a possible start to the 2020-21 season in early December. It’s ambitious but it provides a light at the end of a long, dark road. That also means the potential for one of the most productive Spitfires’ leadership groups in years.
With captain Luke Boka and alternate Cole Purboo graduating, let’s take look at who could take over as part of the new leadership group.
Spitfires’ Future Leaders
Forward Curtis Douglas
We’ll start with someone who could really benefit from having a letter – the 6-foot-9, 235-pound center Curtis Douglas.
Acquired by the Spitfires in December 2017 in the Aaron Luchuk trade, Douglas brings a unique combination of production and intimidation. You’re not going to see many 6-foot-9 players score 30 goals while being able to protect teammates with equal ability.
While the former Dallas Stars’ prospect has areas to work on, such as skating and consistent physical play, there’s far too much potential to ignore. Giving him an alternate captain’s “A” and letting him show his true talents might be just what he needs to push for the next level.
Forward Tyler Angle
Last season, 5-foot-10, 168-pound center Tyler Angle showed Spitfires’ fans exactly what he was capable of. He rocketed past a previous career-high (44 points – 2018-19) with 67 points in 62 games, including some highlight reel production. Now, the Columbus Blue Jackets’ 2019 seventh-round pick is ready to finish what he started.
Despite his diminutive size, Angle, 19, goes into the tough areas, creating opportunities and even throwing his weight around. He’s shown he’s not afraid to help teammates if needed, either.
Angle is a fixture in the community and, if he stays healthy, could get into the Spitfires’ top-10 all-times games played (currently 228). Should he get one final season in the OHL, he has to be a lock for at least an “A.”
Forward Egor Afanasyev
When the Spitfires’ acquired winger Egor Afanasyev’s rights from the Ottawa 67’s in the Michael DiPietro trade in December 2018, they had high hopes.
Afanasyev came to the club in the summer of 2019 and immediately became a fan favourite. From his production and persistence to his leadership both on-and-off the ice, he made the trade easier to swallow.
While the Nashville Predators’ prospect is only 19, he could head to the AHL in 2020-21. Normally, that might be a foregone conclusion. However, with COVID tossing everything up in the air, there’s a chance he returns to the Spitfires. Should that happen, giving him an “A” wouldn’t be a shock.
Forward Chris Playfair
From 2018 to 2020, veteran winger Chris Playfair proudly wore the “A” alongside Boka. However, Boka has graduated (now in ECHL) and it might be time for Playfair to follow the same path.
Playfair, 20, enters his final season in the OHL – if he gets a roster spot. While his defensive, team-first approach is unquestioned, his offence hasn’t taken that next step. After 20 points in an injury-riddled 49 games (2018-19), he dropped to 11 points in 56 games last season. The Spitfires have just three overage spots available and they need far more production than that.
In the slight chance that both Angle and Douglas move on, Playfair could earn a spot and keep his “A.” However, it seems like a pretty safe bet that he’ll find another route.
Defenceman Connor Corcoran
Vegas Golden Knights’ prospect Connor Corcoran, 20, is the second “A” from 2019-20 who could return. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound defenceman exploded for 54 points in 62 games last season, firmly establishing himself as one of the best in the league.
With talent comes options, though. The Golden Knights’ new AHL team in Henderson could come calling, making Corcoran’s return up in the air. While a promotion would be deserved, it would also be a huge blow to the Spitfires’ defence.
If Corcoran returns, he could be a front-runner to take over from Boka as the club’s captain. At the very least, he’s a lock for an “A.”
Defenceman Grayson Ladd
The Spitfires acquired the 6-foot-1, 175-pound Grayson Ladd from the Kitchener Rangers in the Logan Brown trade in 2018. While he’s not a flashy defenceman, he quietly put up 18 points in 53 games in 2019-20.
Ladd’s not going to scream and shout on the ice, but he keeps his game simple, always is thinking a step ahead, and leads by example. He has an outside shot of getting the “A” in 2020-21.
Defenceman Joseph Rupoli
Last season, the Spitfires acquired veteran defenceman Joseph Rupoli in November after Thomas Stevenson went down with a concussion. The 6-foot-4, 210-pounder brought a simple but tough style of hockey. He was there to provide depth and protection and he delivered.
Rupoli, 20, enters his final season in the league and he has a chance for a final run if Corcoran makes the AHL. If that happens, he would make a solid “A.”
Prediction for Leaders
While the pandemic has thrown life upside down, the possibility of OHL hockey in December gives us something to look forward to.
If the Spitfires get everyone back for 2020-21, they have some great options for their leadership group. While they have plenty of options as a whole, it would make the most sense to have Corcoran as the captain while Douglas, Angle, and Afanasyev get the “A”s. All four could provide the production and leadership to take this organization into contender status.