Espanola Paper Kings of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League played a season long role in the development of hulking defenseman Conor Walton of the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League.
Walton, a 6-foot-4, 208 pound defender with a 2006 birthdate, skated in 51 NOJHL games and put up 30 points for Espanola in 2022-2023 after being a fourth round pick by the Sudbury Wolves at the 2022 OHL priority selections draft.
Then, on the eve of the 2023-2024 OHL regular season, Sudbury dealt Walton to Windsor in a blockbuster trade. In the deal, the Wolves obtained well seasoned, 2004 birth year defenseman Nick DeAngelis and fringe defender Trevor O’Dell from the Spitfires in exchange for Walton and four future draft picks that included two seconds, a third and a sixth.
In making the deal to get the veteran defenseman that he coveted in DeAngelis, Wolves general manager Rob Papineau acknowledged at the time that he did not want to include Walton in the trade but the Spitfires insisted on the big blue liner being a part of the package.
“Conor is a great young man and he has a bright future in this game,” Papineau said. “We wanted to acquire an older, veteran defenceman with strong regular season and playoff experience like DeAngelis has and to do so, you need to be willing to sacrifice part of your future.”
To be sure, Walton has fit in well this season as one of three young defensemen with 2006 birth dates on a rebuilding Spitfires team.
“(Walton) is big body who can skate,” Windsor general manager Billy Bowler relayed to Hockey News North. “He plays with an edge and has a bite. He continues to develop and has a tremendous upside.”
Walton is among the top five defensemen on the Spitfires and plays regular minutes. He is noticeable as a physical player who delivers clean hits.
As far as moving up from the NOJHL to the OHL in the span of a season, Walton’s head coach from his time in Espanola relayed good words about the up and coming young defenseman.
“We are super proud of Conor to have made it in the OHL with Windsor,” Espanola coach Jason Rapcewicz told Hockey News North. “It was a pleasure to work with him and help him develop his game to be a consistent defender in the OHL. I believe he is leading the Spitfires in hits, too.”