Wolves in full rebuild mode

Randy Russon
January 11, 2018

Rob Papineau could have tried to repair the structure that he inherited a year ago by patching a few holes. Instead, the Sudbury Wolves vice president and general manager opted for a full rebuild.

With the Wolves languishing in last place in the Eastern Conference and in danger of missing the Ontario Hockey League playoffs for the third time in four years, Papineau has gone to a full-out youth movement.

In a dizzy span of 72 hours prior to the January 10 trade deadline, Papineau made no less than six transactions after putting up a for sale sign on the Wolves front door.

In fearless fashion, the second-year Wolves hockey boss parlayed five veterans — two overagers with 1997 birth dates and three others who were born in 1998 — for a pair of much-younger plums, while also pocketing a few extra draft picks.

To be sure, Papineau did what needed to be done by exercising a plan designed to make the Wolves younger with an eye to the future while in the present allowing for more ice time to a collection of first and second year players.

Give Papineau credit for going to a Plan B as when the 2017-2018 season started, the Wolves were seen as a definite playoff team and part of Plan A was to be among the top five or six teams in the Eastern Conference. But one major injury after another has had the Wolves limping and licking their wounds while slipping away from playoff contention.

Ergo, facing reality and reacting like a seasoned GM rather than the relative rookie that he is, Papineau shipped out overage goalie Mario Culina to the Kitchener Rangers, overage forward Troy Lajeunesse to the Erie Otters, 19-year old forward (and captain) Michael Pezzetta to the Sarnia Sting, 19-year old forward Dmitry Sokolov to the Barrie Colts and 19-year old defenseman Reagan O’Grady to the Mississauga Steelheads.

In return, the Wolves received high-scoring, 18-year old (1999 birth date) rookie forward Alexey Lipanov from Barrie for Sokolov and a slew of draft picks for the others, some of which were used to pry prize 17-year old (2000 birth date) defenseman Peter Stratis from the Ottawa 67s.

The Wolves now have two other teams first-round picks from the 2016 OHL draft in Stratis and forward Kirill Nizhnikov, who Papineau obtained in a previous trade with Barrie last month for multiple draft picks.

And while Papineau has seemingly positioned the Wolves for better days ahead, Sudbury still has a shot — albeit a long one — at making the playoffs this season in an Eastern Conference that is once again decidedly weaker than the Western Conference.

Still, anything that happens this season beyond precious development for younger players would merely add up to an unexpected bonus as icing on the cake.

Looking ahead — which Papineau has already started with his moves for the future — the Wolves can return the teeth of the current roster for 2018-2019 beginning with a likely overage pair of twin terror, team first forwards in Sault Ste. Marie products Darian Pilon and Drake Pilon.

And down the list from the proposed Pilons are a somewhat attractive, albeit work in progress Wolves pack that includes 1999 birth year forwards Macauley Carson and David Levin, 1999 birth year goalie Jake McGrath, 2000 birth year forward Dawson Baker, 2000 birth year defenseman Emmett Serensits, 2001 birth year forward Blake Murray and 2001 birth year defenseman Liam Ross, among others.

Papineau, from his end, had plenty of response when asked about the multiple moves that he orchestrated.

“First off, what we ended up doing actually began with the number of injuries we sustained that really changed our plans for this season,” Papineau began. “It’s not an excuse but if you count the amount of injuries and include games missed by players away at world hockey competition, we have already lost more than 140 man games in just over half a season.”

That said, Papineau is firm in the belief that he did what was best for the present and the future of the Wolves program.

“The reality is we are in a better position now going forward than we were before the trades,” Papineau told Hockey News North. “It was the best thing for our program. Our younger players now have a unique opportunity to set the identity of our hockey team for the rest of this season into next.

“Not only will there be more ice time available for our younger players to try to take advantage of, there will be quality ice time as in regular minutes and the opportunity to play in key situational and special team instances,” he added.

Still, despite confident that the moves made were in the best interests of shaping the Wolves into an OHL contender, Papineau said trading the players who he did was not easy.

“From a hockey perspective, the trades were the right decision, from a people perspective, they were tough decisions,” Papineau relayed. “Kids are human beings first and hockey players second and when you are a part of a team that spends so much time together, you become like family.

“But at the end of the day, as a hockey program going forward, we really feel better about our position now and for the future,” Papineau concluded.

Meanwhile, from within OHL circles, as teams such as the Soo Greyhounds, Kitchener Rangers, Sarnia Sting, Hamilton Bulldogs, Kingston Frontenacs and the aforementioned Barrie Colts set themselves up for a run at this year’s championship, a general manager from a middle-of-the-road squad messaged Hockey News North to say that “some of the best moves made at the trade deadline might have been made by the Sudbury Wolves.”

Go figure.

What you think about “Wolves in full rebuild mode”

  1. Randy I wonder if you and Ben Leeson of The Sudbury Star are drinking the Kool Aid. Where is Jack Falldeen when you need him!!!!!! ?????
    I have been a Wolves Fan since 1972 (First year in the O.H.A.) and I m tired of the B.S. from the Coach’s and the Managers.

  2. Who wants Jack Falldien? Ripping teenaged players in the paper and getting his tires slashed at the arena.
    If Dario had bought the team a few months earlier in 2016 – instead of the middle of summer – he could have brought in his own people and they would have been one year into the rebuild. Two seasons have been wasted patching a team together hoping to make the playoffs. It’s been going on for 15 years or more.
    When you don’t have depth, when you give away a bushel of picks for players who can’t make the rosters of other teams, yeah, then injuries will cripple you.
    I hope Rob explains in detail what it is that he’s actually trying to create with this program, just to let people know there’s some semblance of a process in place. That would be a revelation in Sudbury.
    In the meantime, Cory and Jordan are going to have to develop the players they have just to show prospects, parents and agents that Sudbury isn’t the place where your professional hockey dreams go to die.
    I’d like to see any actual Soo-Sudbury rivalry again with two competitive teams playing exciting, spirited hockey. Haven’t seen that since the days of Muzz MacPherson tossing his fedora onto the ice.

  3. So the Wolves are rebuilding – again. And so, it seems, is the North Bay Battalion. We’ve certainly not had the finest of seasons of late. How well we remember those sad years of the soon-to-be-gone Centennials and woeful Wolves, when we visiting fans spent much of a game in the ‘Wolves Den’, commiserating with the local fans about the sorry state of our respective teams.
    But there was still a rivalry. A healthy and generally fun rivalry, going way back to the early days of Junior hockey in our two fair cities. We thought of it as the
    ‘Highway 17 Commuter Rivalry’. And it could be very hotly contested at times.
    But, alas, that rivalry seems to have petered out since the Battalion replaced the Cents in Major Junior. The main rivalry for North Bay now is with the Barrie Colts. Might that be the ‘Bert T. Factor’? I tend to think so. (Yes, we know Bert ended his career in Sudbury, but those were his declining years, and not where he surfaced after leaving the Bay.)
    Anyway, what we would love to see, would be for both the Battalion and the Wolves to achieve great success with their rebuilding efforts and become legitimate contenders, thus regenerating the old original rivalry between these two Northern cities.
    Too much to hope for? Time will tell. Anyway…..my verbal meandering is done.

    A very Happy New Year, and ‘Cheers’ to you and all your readers, Randy!

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