Raftis satisfied with deadline results

PETER RUICCI/The Sault Star Soo Greyhounds general manager Kyle Raftis

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They didn’t buy big.

They didn’t sell big.

The Soo Greyhounds made only two trades – neither involving elite players — in the days prior to Thursday’s 12 noon, Ontario Hockey League trade deadline.

Based on the way his team has been playing, a shortage of premium future draft choices and a market-place not particularly strong for sellers, Hounds general manager Kyle Raftis said that’s about what he expected.

“If we were going to move out older players, we needed to get good, young impactful players and/or high draft choices in return. (The offers) just didn’t seem to make sense,” Raftis said of his decision not to sell off present-day assets for future ones.

As for adding talented veterans in order to boost his club’s championship hopes this season, the GM spoke of how teams wanted his top young talent.

While Raftis wouldn’t mention the player or players by name, it’s believed trade partners were requesting Hounds rookie defenceman Ryan O’Rourke, a budding star the team covets moving forward.

Potential acquisitions “would have cost us players we didn’t want to move,” the GM added. “We like our young players. We didn’t want to move out guys we think are going to be impactful in the future, and a lot are impactful on this team right now.”

The Greyhounds are minus second-round draft choices in 2019, 2020 and 2022.

That also made putting packages together in order to acquire elite veterans difficult.

However, Raftis said he’s happy the team was able to add both 19-year-old (1999 birth year) winger Jaden Peca and 17-year-old (2001) centre Jaromir Pytlik before the deadline at a relatively small cost.

Peca was acquired from the Barrie Colts for a sixth-round draft choice in 2020. Peca is expected to return in the fall for an overage season.

Ptylik, a native of Dacice, Czech Republic, was chosen No. 118 overall in the 2018 Canadian Hockey League Import Draft.

He had been playing professionally this season for HC Vitkovice in his native country.

“We added two players we think will have an impact this season at limited cost,” said Raftis, whose team also dealt 19-year-old (1999) rearguard Anthony DeMeo to Sudbury on Monday for 17-year-old (2001) defenceman Drew Wawrow, a third-round pick in 2021 and a fifth in 2020.

As they prepare to play host to the Windsor Spitfires on Friday (7:07 p.m. at GFL Memorial Gardens), the Hounds have 55 points and a record of 25-10-4-1.

That’s good for third place overall in the 20-team loop.

With Pytlik expected to make his OHL debut, Raftis spoke of how impressed he’s been by the play of his young club – especially during the periods when top veterans have been missing.

Starting goalie Matt Villalta missed six games after suffering a cut to the back of his right leg in early November.

The Hounds were also without Villalta for another two games when the veteran goalie attended Team Canada’s selection camp in December.

However, what may have convinced the general manager to keep this team together is the way in which the Greyhounds played in the absence of star forwards Morgan Frost and Barrett Hayton

The duo missed seven OHL games while with Team Canada at the selection camp and, later, at the World Junior Hockey Championship.

During that time, the team finished with a 5-2-0-0 record, winning three times in overtime.

“I’ve been impressed with the way the young guys have come along,” said Raftis. “We looked at how this group has come together and didn’t want to mess with the nucleus. We also didn’t want to trade young players because we believe there is still a lot of internal growth we’ll see from these players moving forward this season.”

All that said, when asked, Raftis refused to call his team a Western Conference championship contender.

“We really like our team,” he said. “The coaching staff is really happy and our older players are really excited.”

Asked again about his thoughts on the team’s status in the conference, Raftis spoke of how “we’ve never put a label on our team since I’ve been here.”

Raftis, who replaced Kyle Dubas in 2014, also added this: “We’re not here grabbing headlines.”

But, considering how the team has performed to date, most observers do consider the Greyhounds legitimate Western Conference contenders.

As for conference rivals London, Saginaw and Guelph, all of whom added important pieces before the deadline, Raftis said: “Just because you add talent, that doesn’t guarantee you a championship.”

Raftis was also questioned as to whether he felt pressure to recoup the club’s vacant second-round draft slots.

He answered no.

The GM talked about how draft choices “aren’t guaranteed” and about how the Hounds strive to turn later-round choices, through smart scouting, drafting and player development, into solid OHLers.

When the team selects and signs a lower-round choice, “we have expectations,” Raftis said. “We have a development plan that we’re proud of.”

Notes: Head coach John Dean spoke of how the passing of Thursday’s deadline and Wednesday’s 12 noon overage trade deadline produced some relief among his players.

“Some kids were on edge especially,” Dean added. “It’s nice for them to know this is where they’ll call home for the next few months.”

The Soo coach also called the visiting Spitfires a “difficult team to play against. They’re well-coached and they work hard.”

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