Spirit rising to the top?


Randy Russon
By
January 10, 2020

Of the many contending teams in the Ontario Hockey League’s powerful Western Conference, the Saginaw Spirit just may have become the favourite.

For the second successive season, Saginaw general manager Dave Drinkill has given Spirit head coach Chris Lazary all the tools to work with to try to win a title.

In a blockbuster deal finalized at today’s OHL trade deadline, the Spirit acquired Carolina Hurricanes, first round National Hockey League draft pick Ryan Suzuki, along with the rights to forward Ryan Beck, the rights to forward Peter Fleming and a fifth round pick in 2020 from the Barrie Colts.

But Drinkill paid a big price in the hopes that Lazary and the Spirit can win the Western world playoff title this season after blowing a 3-1 lead in the conference finals a year ago and losing to the eventual OHL champion Guelph Storm.

To get Suzuki, Saginaw sent forward Ethan Cardwell, defenseman Connor Punnett, a second round pick in 2021, a third round pick in 2020, a third round pick in 2021, a fifth round pick in 2024, and two conditional draft picks to Barrie.

Calling it a thrill “to add an elite player and person in Ryan Suzuki” to the Saginaw lineup, Drinkill noted that the 2001 birth year forward “is a player we have watched grow immensely over the last two seasons.

“His vision and puck skills are up there with some of the best players in the league. We believe Ryan will make a substantial contribution to our club during the stretch run,” Drinkill added.

A 6-foot-1, 180-pound pivot, Suzuki was the overall pick by Barrie at the 2017 OHL priority selections draft. He was then taken in the first round, 28th, overall, by Carolina at the 2019 NHL draft.

An eye injury suffered in early November of this 2019-2020 season sidelined Suzuki for nearly two months. Now fully recovered, Suzuki had posted five goals, 18 assists, 23 points in 21 games for Barrie at the time of the trade.

Internationally, Suzuki has competed in both the under-17 World Hockey Challenge (2017) and the Hlinka Gretzky Cup (2019), winning a silver medal with Team Canada last summer.

To get Suzuki — who joins fellow standout forwards Cole Perfetti, Cole Coskey, Damien Giroux et al on a star-studded Spirit team — Saginaw did have to part ways with two promising young players in the aforementioned Cardwell and Punnett.

Cardwell, a forward with a 2002 birth date, had 12 goals, nine assists, 21 points in 37 games for Saginaw this season. He was taken by Saginaw in the second round at the 2018 OHL priority selections draft.

Punnett, a 6-foot-1, 185-pound, 2003 birth-year defender, was Saginaw’s first-round pick at the 2019 OHL priority selections draft.


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