Luck has not always been an ally for the Saginaw Spirit.
Maybe that changed Wednesday.
With a loaded roster primed for a run at an Ontario Hockey League championship, COVID shut down the 2020 playoffs. With many of the stars returning in 2020-21, the Spirit again prepared for a run at the OHL championship.
And again, COVID intervened and canceled the season. With many of the top players moving on, the Spirit headed into the 2021-22 season with a revamped, younger roster, one that struggled to the second-worst record in the OHL.
Those fortunes took a positive turn Wednesday. The OHL held a lottery for the draft order of the first four picks, with the bottom four teams in the league – Saginaw, Niagara, Sudbury and Erie – having equal 25-percent chances for the top pick.
The random computer generator liked Saginaw, giving the Spirit the first pick in the OHL Draft Friday, April 29. Saginaw will actually announce the pick Thursday in advance of the draft.
“It’s exciting for the franchise,” Spirit general manager Dave Drinkill said. “Everything’s up to us. We have our pick. We get the pick that we want.”
It’s Saginaw’s first No. 1 pick since 2003 when it made Patrick McNeill the top pick in the draft.
“There are some very talented guys, and we have an idea of the top guys we want,” Drinkill said. “We’ve done the interviews. We were going to like whoever we were going to take, whether that’s 1 through 4. We’re going to get an impactful player.”
Adding a little excitement to the draft is Hockey Canada’s decision to grant forward Michael Misa “exceptional player” status, making the 15-year-old eligible for a draft that is for junior hockey players born in 2006. Misa was born in 2007.
Misa becomes the sixth player in OHL history to earn “exceptional player” status, joining John Tavares, Connor McDavid, Aaron Ekblad, Sean Day and Shane Wright. Tavares, McDavid and Ekblad were No. 1 picks.
Misa was named the OHL Cup MVP after breaking McDavid’s record with 20 points in seven games.
“He’s an exceptional player for a reason,” Drinkill said. “He’s a high-end kid for his age group. We’re going to analyze everything and take everything in. Whoever we take at No. 1 is going to be an impact player. There are a lot of great players in the draft.”
That also includes some of Misa’s teammates on the Mississauga Senators, including forward Malcolm Spence and William Moore.
The Spirit also have a “bonus” pick in the first round, with a second first-round pick at No. 19.
The pick comes after the Spirit took top prospect Adam Fantilli with the 18th pick in the 2020 draft. Fantilli chose instead to play in the United States Hockey League and has committed to play for the University of Michigan next season.
MORE: Spirit take chance on Adam Fantilli
Saginaw exercised the OHL’s “defected player” rule that allows a team to receive a first-round pick one spot later than the pick used on the “defected player.”
“We took a chance with Fantilli because he was the top player in the draft, and he was worth the risk,” Drinkill said. “We knew what the odds were, but we also knew that if he didn’t come, we would get that first-round pick back. We had a great visit with him. Great family. In the end, it wasn’t about Saginaw. He just had different plans for his career.
“We feel at 19, we’re going to get a real good player there too. There are a lot of good players in the draft where different staffs will have players rated differently. It’s very possible we might have a player rated No. 8 or No. 9 who will be there for us at 19.”
Round 1-3 are Friday, starting at 7 p.m., with Rounds 4-15 starting at 9 a.m. Saturday.
“It’s tough to go through a reload, playing the young guys,” Drinkill said. “But we’re excited about the players and the talent we have on our team now, and we’re excited about the players we’re going to add through the draft.
“It’s a fun day for sure. We always joke that for our scouts, it’s our Christmas morning. There are highs and lows … guys you want get taken before you and then there are guys you didn’t expect to be there who are available.
“Maybe the best part is calling the players and the families. You can hear the excitement. It’s a pretty special feeling.”
2022 OHL First Round Order:
(Rounds 1-3 Friday, April 29; Rounds 4-15 Saturday, April 30)
- Saginaw Spirit
- Erie Otters
- Sudbury Wolves
- Niagara IceDogs
- Sarnia Sting
- Peterborough Petes
- Ottawa 67′s
- Oshawa Generals
- Kitchener Rangers
- Barrie Colts
- Owen Sound Attack
- Guelph Storm
- Mississauga Steelheads
- Oshawa Generals*
- London Knights
- Soo Greyhounds
- Kingston Frontenacs
- Flint Firebirds
- Saginaw Spirit
- North Bay Battalion
- Ottawa 67′s
- Windsor Spitfires
- Hamilton Bulldogs