With two weeks to go before the Sudbury Wolves launch the 2019-2020 OHL campaign with a rare season-opening three game road trip, the team is in a very good place.
"We're very happy getting started now with what's happened in the past couple of days," noted Wolves VP Hockey Operations and General Manager Rob Papineau. "We feel good about this group."
That bit of extra comfort came courtesy of a pair of moves on Wednesday that solified both the team depth on the blueline, as well as between the pipes.
For starters, the Wolves acquired 19 year-old goaltender Christian Purboo from the North Bay Battalion, surrendering a total of four draft picks (4th in 2020 - Owen Sound; 3rd in 2021 - Oshawa; 4th in 2022 - Sudbury; 5th in 2021 - Sudbury), the final one of which was a conditional pick.
A 6'3" native of Oakville, Purboo suited up in 23 games with North Bay last year, posting a goals against average of 3.90 and an .897 save percentage. He was originally selected in the 11th round of the 2016 OHL draft, and split his 2017-2018 season between the Battalion and the Oakville Blades of the OJHL.
While there had been at least some indication that the Wolves were willing to allow 18 year-old rookie Mitchell Weeks the first few weeks of this new year to see if he could handle the #1 assignment, a scarcity of options if Plan "B" was required forced Papineau and company to make this move pre-emptively.
"We really like our young goalies, both Mitchell and Johnnie (Jonathan Lemaire)," said Papineau, just a day prior to confirming that Lemaire (16 years old) was being re-assigned to the Blind River Beavers of the NOJHL.
"But we also recognize that in this league, you have to have depth in that position. When you look around the league right now and look at the guys who have played and might be a little bit older, there really wasn't a very long list."
Still in the mix, of course, is 2019 first round CHL Import Draft selection Frederik Nissen, the Danish netminder chosen by the Montreal Canadiens in the fifth round of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.
Scheduled to attend the Canadiens training camp this month, Nissen is expected to make a decision on where he will play this year, in consultation with both Montreal brass and his agent, at some point before the end of September.
Sudbury, as a destination of choice, is not yet completely out of the running, according to Papineau.
"Conversations will always go on with all our our prospects, whether they're born in Canada, the United States or overseas," he said. "It's part of the process of junior hockey. He (Nissen) is not going to here to start the season and we will continue to work with his agents and Montreal and hopefully, at some point in the future, there is an opportunity."
That opportunity became apparent for the Wolves second Import selection when the club confirmed that Finnish defenceman Kalle Loponen has committed to the team and will arrive in Sudbury later this month, following his participation at the Toronto Maple Leafs training camp.
An 18 year-old 7th round pick of the Leafs this past June, Loponen rounds out a Sudbury blueline brigade that now includes five returning rearguards (Liam Ross, Peter Stratis, Isaak Phillips, Jack Thompson, Emmett Serensits), rookies Nathan Ribau (4th rd - 2018) and Andre Anania (4th rd - 2019), as well as 19 year old Timmins native Phil Caron (32 games of CHL experience).
Up front, the Wolves are sitting with nine returning forwards (Quinton Byfield, Blake Murray, Macauley Carson, David Levin, Shane Bulitka, Nolan Hutcheson, Owen Robinson, Owen Gilhula, Blake McConville), as well as their top three picks from 2019 (Landon McCallum - 1st rd; Chase Stillman - 2nd rd; Ethan Larmand - 2nd rd), recent commit Kosta Manikis (5th rd - 2017), local sparkplug Giordano Biondi (14th rd - 2018) and training camp surprise Ryan Smith (11th rd - 2018).
The team will head out of town to face the Niagara Ice Dogs (Sept 19th), Erie Otters (Sept 20th) and Mississauga Steelheads (Sept 22nd), before returning home to host the North Bay Battalion on September 27th.