The OHL trade deadline featured a slew of big-name deals, with multiple NHL first-rounders switching addresses. In recent seasons, the Saginaw Spirit have not been buyers, but GM Dave Drinkill made a splash this year by acquiring forwards Owen Tippett (Florida) and Ryan McLeod (Edmonton) in separate transactions with the Mississauga Steelheads.
So why go big this year? One reason was the play of first-year defenseman Bode Wilde. “We knew he would be a star, but he really took this team on his back,” Drinkill said. “Players like that don’t come along very often, and we wanted to build around him with other elite talents.”
Wilde, a New York Islanders prospect drafted 41st overall in 2018, came to the Spirit from the U.S. National Team Development Program. He had previously been committed to the University of Michigan, but re-opened his options before last year’s draft in Dallas. Saginaw already featured former NTDPers Jake Goldowski and Blade Jenkins, another Islanders prospect, so the stage had been set for recruitment. “Me and Jake talked a little over the phone, and I saw Blade at the draft combine,” Wilde said. “We spent a lot of time together and got a chance to talk. The rest of the summer I got a chance to think about that, and I think I made the right choice.”
The upside on Wilde was obvious last year, though his risk/reward game saw the potential first-rounder slip to the second day of the draft. But Wilde has been a revelation for Saginaw and has rounded out his game – while also being one of the league’s top-scoring defensemen. “Bode has really worked on the defensive side of his game, whether it’s defending harder in his own end, closing gaps or keeping an active stick,” Drinkill said. “And good defense leads to good offense.”
The challenge was to make sure that Wilde’s natural abilities weren’t stifled as he grew in other areas. The 6-foot-3, 190-pounder has a bomb of a shot and tremendous mobility for a kid his size. Decision-making was something Wilde needed to shore up, and it looks like he’s on track. “He simplified his game,” Drinkill said. “He’s still dynamic, but he has simplified when he jumps up in the rush or makes a dynamic move.”
For Wilde, the opportunity to play a 68-game schedule was a motivating factor in his move to the OHL, where the opponents are also younger than in the college game. “With so many games, there are so many opportunities to learn and get better,” he said. “A big part of that schedule is becoming a pro, living like a pro and taking care of yourself. Top to bottom, on and off the ice, this is a good place for me to develop.”