When the Windsor Spitfires started the OHL season, the consensus was that they'd be good but most people didn't think they had it in them to threepeat as OHL Champions.
Now we're at the midway point of the season. A clear upper tier has emerged in the OHL West and Windsor is a part of it right along with the Saginaw Spirit, Owen Sound Attack and Kitchener Rangers.
Windsor's fortunes have turned on the recent surges in play by key offseason additions Tom Kuhnhackl, Alexander Khokhlachev and Jack Campbell. Campbell started rough, many were questioning where the gold medal thief had gone. Kuhnhackl and Khokhlachev went through the natural growing pains that many European players go through when first coming to North America. They've settled in now and are starting to dominate offensively.
A huge part of Windsor's surge up the standings has been the reinvigoration of the powerplay. Windsor boasts two of the League's better weapons from the point in Ryan Ellis and Nick Ebert. Ellis has spent four years racking up huge point totals as a premiere powerplay quarterback in the OHL but this year he's playing an additional role as mentor to the rookie Ebert. As both of them started racking up the points through November and December, so too did the Spitfires surge up through the standings.
The thought has long been that the Spitfires would sell off assets at the deadline to load up for the next few seasons. With the recent rise through the standings, the Spitfires have been making the rounds in the OHL rumour mill as buyers rather than sellers lately.
The Spitfires have long been connected to Barrie defenseman Dalton Prout. Prout is from nearby LaSalle, Ontario and would ably fill in for a lot of the defensive firepower that the Spits lost with Marc Cundari and Harry Young moving on due to graduation. The Barrie Captain is a physical, big body defender with serious playoff experience. In addition to Prout, the rumour mill has Barrie's top centre, Taylor Carnevale, possibly joining him on the road to Windsor.
If the Spits and Colts were to consummate this deal, it's hard to see the Spits not selling off a significant part of their future to accomplish it.
Marcus Foligno also remains a prominent name on the trade market. With his recent showcase with Team Canada, one has to think the Sudbury brass is simply drooling as they contemplate how high their asking price for the Captain and power forward can possibly go. Foligno is the crown jewel of the trade market, he's going to bring in a significant price for whoever ends up landing him.
Windsor has two aims if they do choose to be buyers. First, they'd like to leapfrog the Saginaw Spirit and claim the top spot in their division and home ice for the majority of the playoffs. Second, if they fail to leap frog the Spirit, they could at least secure the third seed and avoid playing the high flying Spirit in the second round of the playoffs.
Windsor's moves, of course, won't happen in a vacuum. In fact, the teams around them have already made moves. Saginaw added John McFarland and Ben Chiarot from Sudbury earlier this month while the Owen Sound Attack got a Christmas present in the form of the return of Roman Berdnikov from Russia. Then of course, there's the Rangers who are in the mix for both Foligno and Carnevale.