The Windsor Spitfires are set to take flight.
Headlined by four NHL-bound prospects up front, the Spitfires look to follow up a successful showing in 2019-20 that saw the club positioned third in the OHL’s West Division and poised to make its fifth-straight playoff appearance prior to play pausing.
Earning honourable mention in the preseason edition of the Kia CHL Top-10 Rankings, the story of the Spitfires begins with 18-year-old Russian-born left-wing Egor Afanasyev, a 2019 second-round selection of the Nashville Predators who topped the charts last season with 67 points counting 31 goals and 36 assists across 62 appearances.
A gifted scorer, the sizable Afanasyev has power forward potential, making him dangerous along the wall and in front of the net, attributes that made him an intriguing addition to the Russian rendition at the 2021 World Junior Championship.
Beyond Afanasyev, also up front is Columbus Blue Jackets up-and-comer Tyler Angle, a seventh-round selection from the 2019 NHL Draft who evened Afanasyev’s 67 points last season. A diminutive pivot, Angle has improved over each of his three seasons in Windsor, witnessing a 23-point improvement in 2019-20 after he amassed 29 goals and 38 assists.
Offering no shortage of offense, the Spitfires also saw two more forwards selected in the 2020 NHL Draft, led by left-wing Will Cuylle, who heard his name called in the second round by the New York Rangers, as well as fellow left-wing Jean-Luc Foudy, who was chosen in the next round by the Colorado Avalanche. Both participants in the 2020 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, Cuylle and Foudy represent the next offensive wave in Windsor.
Originally chosen at No. 3 in the 2018 OHL Priority Selection, Cuylle plays a similar style to Afanasyev in that of a budding power forward, with the offensive tools to back it up. However, it is the rest of Cuylle’s game that makes him appealing to the scouting community.
“He can own the corner, battle for position at the net, and play to the strengths of his size and using it in a smart way,” Director of NHL Central Scouting Dan Marr told Jim Parker of the Windsor Star. “He’s got all the tools. As his game matures, I think he’ll have a strong 2020-21 season.”
As for Foudy, the younger brother of London Knights left-wing and Blue Jackets prospect Liam Foudy, the talented playmaker possesses many of the same stylistic tendencies of his sibling.
“Everyone talks about his skating,” Spitfires head coach Trevor Letowski told Mike Morreale of NHL.com. “In junior, he’s a breakout machine, he’s got like a magnet on his stick, like the crafty players in the NHL. He can just kind of steal pucks out of traffic and come out with it. As soon as he can figure out when he can distribute it and then skate to places to get the puck back is when he’s really going to be dangerous.”
Meanwhile, success at the draft table is sure to continue in Windsor this season with another top forward slated for NHL selection in 17-year-old centre Wyatt Johnston, the sixth-overall pick from the 2019 OHL Priority Selection.
Earning a ‘B’ rating in Central Scouting’s preliminary assessment – indicating a likely top-three round selection – that recognition comes after Johnston put together a modest first season in which he collected 12 goals and 18 assists for 30 points through 53 appearances and worked his way into the Spitfires’ top-six forward group by the latter half of the year.
“I’m trying to focus on my training and put myself in the best position,” Johnston told Parker. “At the start, it was tough going in as rookie, but I got more comfortable and more opportunities. I got good minutes for a 16-year-old. Right now, I think the team’s looking pretty good.”
Elsewhere, Spitfires blue-liner Daniil Sobolev, a Russian addition chosen with the club’s top pick in the 2020 CHL Import Draft, also earned a ‘B’ rating.
“Sobolev will be an immediate fan favourite with his two-way play,” added Spitfires general manager Bill Bowler. “He is an NHL prospect and, with that type of ability, is an addition that bolsters our roster immediately.”
In Windsor, Sobolev will join a blue line that also counts 19-year-old rearguard and Vegas Golden Knights up-and-comer Connor Corcoran, a gifted puck mover who finished fourth in team scoring last season with 19 goals and 35 assists for 54 points, placing him ninth overall among defencemen league-wide.
Rounding out the group, between the pipes the Spitfires will see the emergence of 18-year-old netminder Xavier Medina who split the top job duties last season. Shifting into the starter’s role for 2020-21, Medina does so coming off a winning rookie season in which he posted a 17-11-4-0 record in 37 outings.
Well balanced on the back end and with plenty of offensive punch up front, the Spitfires promise to bring plenty of firepower when the OHL returns to the ice.