Will Saginaw switch spark McFarland?

A new start in Saginaw might just be the spark to help John McFarland reboot his junior career.

The Florida Panthers prospect was traded by the Sudbury Wolves on Thursday night to the Western Conference-leading Saginaw Spirit.

“John sounded pretty pumped,” said Spirit head coach and GM Todd Watson. “I’ve had good discussions with him so far and I’m really excited about the potential this (trade) could bring.”

McFarland, who is coming off a high ankle sprain, was scheduled to meet with the team doctor before Saginaw’s game against the visiting Kingston Frontenacs on Friday night. The injury has caused the second-round pick of the Florida Panthers to only play in 12 games this season in Sudbury, where he had six goals and four assists.

“We’re expecting him to play tonight,” said Watson. “That’s the plan.”

The Wolves drafted McFarland first overall in the 2008 OHL priority selection, a year after the Toronto native had his petition to jump to the OHL as an “exceptional” 15-year-old was denied by a league panel. His first season with the Wolves was arguably his best, where he scored 21 goals and added 31 assists in 58 games. McFarland’s sophomore year was disappointing – 20 goals, 30 assists in 64 games – for someone who had come into the league with such early hype. As a result his draft stock took a hit and the Richmond Hill, Ont., native ended up being picked in the second round (33rd overall) by the Panthers in June.

Still, Watson is betting on McFarland’s potential and hopes the promise of a long playoff run with the 19-6-3-1 Spirit will re-ignite the offence. The GM admitted that he’s been interested in landing the 18-year-old for some time.

“We had talked a few times during the year, but nothing got really going until this week,” said Watson. “We targeted him ... He was a player we really wanted.”

Watson said he’d talk to McFarland about whether he’s more comfortable playing at centre or wing. If everything goes as planned on Friday, McFarland will start on a line with point producers, centre Vincent Trocheck (12 goals, 20 assists) and left winger Brandon Saad (20 goals, 13 assists).

“He’ll play some in the middle and some on the wing,” said Watson on Thursday afternoon. “We’re going to work with him, but we’re not going to commit to anything right now.”

The deal – a five-player blockbuster – also saw the Spirit land veteran defenceman Ben Chiarot, 19, from the Wolves in exchange for Michael Sgarbossa, 18, and Alex Racino, 17, and defenceman Frank Schumacher, 17. He said giving up the trio to Sudbury was difficult, especially youngsters Racino and Schumacher.

“I’ve had more interest in (Racino) and have been questioned more by NHL scouts than any other player on our team before we traded him,” said Watson, who also lauded Schumacher’s potential. “They ask about him first.”

But with the league-leading Mississauga Majors (25-3-0-1) of the Eastern Conference hosting the Memorial Cup this year, the prospect of the top team from the Western Conference making the four-team tournament is heightened if the Majors advance to the OHL final.

“I think the (Western Conference) is open and that’s definitely a consideration,” said Watson of his team’s push. “I think all teams in the West are saying that and hoping for that (the Memorial Cup berth), everybody on our side.”

Watson declined to discuss the rumoured trade with Barrie for overage defenceman Dalton Prout and forward Taylor Carnavale, but according to Yahoo! sources that deal fell apart – prompting the trade with Sudbury for McFarland and Chiarot. Still, Watson admits Saginaw might not be done dealing just yet.

“We talk to a lot of teams,” said Watson. “We don’t think we’re done yet, but I don’t know which direction we’ll go. We’ve got some guys targeted, but we’re just keeping everything open (in terms of options).”

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