Somewhere in Ontario or the northeastern United States, there’s a six-year-old kid playing Tyke or Mite hockey, or perhaps not even playing organized hockey at all yet, who today unwittingly had his Ontario League rights traded by the Windsor Spitfires.
In what can only be described as a dizzying flurry of trades before the three major junior trade deadlines expired Tuesday afternoon, the Spitfires acquired center Adam Laishram and their own, previously-traded second-round pick in 2017, as well as an eighth-rounder in 2017 from the Hamilton Bulldogs for what was originally the Niagara Ice Dogs’ second-rounder and the Kingston Frontenacs’ fourth-rounder in 2017 and the Spitfires second-round pick in 2026.
Yeah, you read that right, 2026. Which is 10 drafts from now. By that time, Laishram will be 29 and the aforementioned kid, who probably is having trouble grasping the concept of the offside rule at the moment, will be 16 years old.
Welcome to junior hockey, where the two weeks after Christmas are spent swapping teenagers and future players as teams determine whether or not they’re a playoff contender or in a rebuilding mode. And if trades and an exciting trade deadline are your thing, forget about the NHL. The juniors are where all the action is when it comes to deals.
From Christmas until today, there were 44 players and a mind-boggling 72 draft picks – including conditional picks - traded in the OHL, including one pick in 2026, one in 2025, four in 2024, two in 2023 and five in 2022. In the same period, Western League teams exchanged 56 players and 50 draft picks, none beyond 2020. From Christmas through the Quebec League deadline Jan. 6, 55 players changed uniforms and 63 draft picks were exchanged, none beyond 2020.
So for those of you keeping score at home, that means in the past two weeks, Canada’s three major junior teams have traded a total of 155 players and 185 draft picks in drafts spanning from 2017 through 2026. That’s a dizzying array of numbers.
Spitfires GM Warren Rychel, whose team is hosting the Memorial Cup tournament in the spring, traded five future picks, including second-rounders in 2023, ’24, ’25 and ’26, along with two roster players in exchange for Laishram and World Junior hero Jeremy Bracco and got four picks back in 2017 and 2018.
“We had to be creative,” Rychel said. “This is a one-in-a-30-year thing with us hosting the Memorial Cup. We want to go in through the front door, but we have to make sure great hosts, too. We have a 25 percent chance of winning, so why not try to improve with some trades? We’ve been up against it here for a couple of reasons.”
One of those reasons for that occurred more than four years ago when the Spitfires were handed one of the most severe punishments in junior hockey history for violating the player recruitment policy, losing first-round picks in 2013, ’14 and ’16 and second-rounders in 2015 and 2017. Those sanctions will end with the loss of this year’s pick, but it has forced the Spitfires to be resourceful in order to compete in the OHL’s Western Conference, which has been something of a group of death in the last decade. Speaking of the Western Conference, the London Knights and Erie Otters both loaded up as well, despite the fact that one of them will be guaranteed to be out of the playoffs before the league final.
By anyone’s estimation, there was a mind-boggling number of picks that changed hands, more than Rychel has ever seen before and more picks that are stretching to later and later. It probably drives the three leagues’ central registry departments to distraction keeping up with all the picks changing hands, but Rychel points out that it usually all evens out in the wash.
“It all works itself out because teams that are out of it will trade guys next year to teams that are going for it and they’ll get picks back,” Rychel said. “The number of picks is getting crazy, but it’s a cyclical thing.”
Allowing teams to trade so many picks gives teams the opportunity to improve their rosters without having to pull kids out of school. As it stands now, the parents of all players still in high school must approve any trade, just as 16-year-old Allan McShane did when he was dealt from the Oshawa Generals along with five draft picks in exchange for Anthony Cirelli. And trading picks might be a little crazy, but it’s far better than trading teenagers who are comfortable with their teams and in their communities.
“That’s our view, that’s exactly a byproduct of the discussions we’ve had about the trading of players and working to reduce that as much as possible,” said OHL commissioner David Branch. “It’s an area of sensitivity, but I’m not an advocate of no trades. In fact, to me that would be more concerning than allowing trades for a variety of reasons.”