The reality of the need to replace those players that have graduated or moved on is one that is simply true every year for literally every general manager in the Ontario Junior Hockey League.
Yet the challenge, willfully taken, by North York’s wheelers and dealers – i.e. GM Claude Desjardins and head coach John Dean – was not only to fill skates, but to find the right pieces to augment a strong corps.
So far, so good.
The first big add this off-season was Anthony Latina, a sniper that put up 26 goals and 48 points in only 35 games last season for a defensive-minded Mississauga Chargers team.
Latina, a 19-year-old Toronto native, was an even more perfect fit as he played a few years of minor hockey in the Rangers’ system and was therefore known to the North York front office.
“He’s a talented hockey player who brings great hands and an offensive threat,” Dean said, “but what I really love about him is that he is tenacious and that his compete level is extraordinarily high.
“He’s a very motivated kid, he plays on the edge every night and because of that he’s exactly what we’re looking for here at North York.”
Another need was for a veteran, two-way defenceman with some size and it appears as though the Rangers’ brain trust hit the jackpot in that respect with Alex Leader.
Leader, 20, spent last season with the high-flying Trenton Golden Hawks and put up 25 points in 55 games while being an extremely strong locker room influence.
“He’s big, he’s strong, he plays the power play and he’s a strong decision maker,” Dean said about the Aurora native.
“He’s very heady so I couldn’t be more excited to have his experience and maturity here; he really solidifies our back end.”
One of the more intriguing and unheralded pick-ups heading into this campaign is forward Gabriel Valenzuela, whom North York brought in from the Milton IceHawks organization.
The 18-year-old is not big in stature, but he is dynamic, slippery and uses his low centre of gravity to make the lives of opposing defencemen difficult.
“He’s very shifty,” said Rangers’ sophomore forward Zach Fung of Valenzuela, who averaged over 0.7 points-per-game despite only appearing in 31 career OJHL contests.
“He’s one of those slippery, small forwards that doesn’t get knocked around.”
“He’s going to be a surprise for everybody,” Dean added.
A final intriguing acquisition is 20-year-old right-winger Daniel D’Ercole, a solidly built Toronto native that figures to add toughness and leadership to North York’s checking lines.