When the Canucks drafted Mike DiPietro in 2017, he was already a winner. He was coming off a stellar season with the Windsor Spitfires in which he won the Memorial Cup, posting a .932 save percentage during the tournament.
That wasn’t the only factor that led to the Canucks selecting him in the third round — he was already highly regarded by scouts and draft rankings — but it certainly didn’t hurt. If you believe that the best players can elevate their game when the pressure is on, DiPietro is the type of player you bank on.
Last season, the Spitfires felt the after-effects of their push for the Memorial Cup, lapsing into a rebuilding year. That meant less team success for DiPietro, but he still managed a big individual win, getting named OHL Goaltender of the Year for 2017-18.
Early in the 2018-19 season, DiPietro has added to his individual accolades: he has already set a Spitfires record for career wins and tied Thomas McCallum’s record for career shutouts in the OHL. One more this season and he’ll hold sole possession of the record.
Beyond his individual accomplishments, however, DiPietro has two massive opportunities to continue his winning ways on a team level: he was traded from the Spitfires to the Ottawa 67’s and he’s expected to be the starter for Team Canada at the 2019 World Junior Championships taking place in Vancouver and Victoria.
First, the trade. The Spitfires are still in a rebuilding phase with their organization and, while they still sit in playoff position, the writing was on the wall. They’re averaging just 3.2 goals per game, which is the third worst scoring rate in the OHL. The two teams with lower goals-per-game rates are in last place in the Eastern and Western Conferences.
DiPietro, however, has been playing out of his mind. He has a .920 save percentage, which is good for sixth in the OHL, but that doesn’t really capture just how well he’s been playing.
Prospect analytics site Prospect-Stats has taken the shot data from the OHL and calculated an expected save percentage for every goaltender, ie. what you would expect from an average OHL goaltender. The expected save percentage for DiPietro, based on the shots he’s faced this season, is .903.
DiPietro has the widest difference between his expected save percentage and actual save percentage in the OHL, indicating that he has excelled against tough shots night after night.
In other words, DiPietro has once again been the best goaltender in the OHL. There are some who believe he’s the best goaltender in all of Major Junior. That’s why it was an easy decision for the Ottawa 67’s to pursue him in a trade.
He’s heading to an Ottawa 67’s team that was already the odds-on favourite to win the OHL Championship and head to the Memorial Cup. The 67’s have won a league-leading 22 of their 29 games and average 4.24 goals per game, more than a goal per game ahead of the Spitfires.
The 67’s gave up a boatload of draft picks and the rights to Egor Afanasyev, a 17-year-old Russian winger currently dominating the USHL, but avoided losing any roster players, keeping their powerhouse team intact. That includes 20-year-old Tye Felhaber, who is undrafted, but scoring a goal-per-game pace in his over-age season, and, at the other end of the age spectrum, 17-year-old Marco Rossi, who has 27 points in 23 games but isn’t eligible to be drafted until 2020.
For DiPietro, the trade was bittersweet. He was born and raised in Windsor, so the Spitfires were his hometown team. Even with the prospects of playing for a powerhouse and pursuing a second Memorial Cup, it was tough to say goodbye to Windsor.
“It’s definitely a tough pill to swallow, but I know it’s best for myself and for the Windsor organization,” said DiPietro after the trade. “Windsor’s always had a special place in my heart and always will be.”
“Never once did I want to leave,” he added. “There was never a part of me that said, you know, ‘Screw it, I want to go somewhere else.’ I’m always a Spitfire, like I said, through good times and bad. Through the bad time and through the tough times, they make you a better person, better player, and, eventually, a better pro.”
The 67’s won’t have DiPietro for very long before he joins another team with eyes on a championship: Team Canada. Canada’s World Junior selection camp will run from December 11th to 14th, pre-tournament games will start on December 23rd, and the tournament itself will kick off on Boxing Day with Canada facing Denmark at Rogers Arena.
DiPietro is expected to be the starter and has been groomed for this role over the past few years. He was a late cut for last year’s team, but was added to the roster at the World Hockey Championships to get in some practice time with Hockey Canada coaches and absorb some experience and wisdom from the veterans around him.
He’ll battle for playing time at the World Junior tournament with Ian Scott, who has been outstanding in the WHL this season, with a league-leading .942 save percentage. There’s definitely a chance that Scott steals the starting job from DiPietro, but the competition will hopefully fuel each of them to be better.
If all goes well, by the end of the season DiPietro will be sporting some new hardware just in time to turn pro in the AHL. The ideal scenario would see Thatcher Demko making the leap to the NHL full-time next season, leaving a vacancy with the Utica Comets, so that DiPietro can take over the starting job.
While there’s plenty of uncertainty surrounding that plan, it’s clear that DiPietro is on an excellent path.