Has Alessio Bertaggia played his last game for the Brandon Wheat Kings?
It’s a question that Brandon Wheat Kings fans — and GM Kelly McCrimmon — will likely be pondering over the Christmas break, with the WHL trade deadline just three weeks away.
Currently overseas preparing to play for Switzerland in the world junior hockey championship, Bertaggia made it official that he won’t be back for next season when he signed a two-year contract this week with EV Zug to play in Switzerland’s top pro league, beginning in the 2013-14 season. The signing confirmed that the 19-year-old left-winger has only half a season left, offering some clarity on his value on the WHL trade front.
With the world junior championship running through to Jan. 5 in Ufa, Russia, Bertaggia will likely only be available for one more game — a Jan. 8 home date versus the Calgary Hitmen — before the WHL’s Jan. 10 trade deadline. Bertaggia leads the Wheat Kings in scoring, with 16 goals and 34 points in 29 games, this season and would probably fetch a solid return on the trade market, if McCrimmon chooses to make a move.
The idea of making Bertaggia — who is very popular with fans and teammates alike — and some of the other 19- and 20-year-olds available for trade is certainly something for McCrimmon to consider over the holiday break, with his team sitting in 10th place, but only two points out of playoff position in the WHL’s Eastern Conference with a 13-19-2-2 record.
Yes, the Wheat Kings could bounce back in the second half to make the playoffs, but their inconsistent play over the first 36 games hasn’t offered any evidence that they would fare well in a first-round matchup versus the likes of the defending WHL champion Edmonton Oil Kings, among others.
However, making the playoffs would provide valuable experience for the Wheat Kings’ plethora of rookies, which could pay big dividends in the future.
Trading away some of his top veteran talent would also be a tough blow to rookie head coach Dwayne Gylywoychuk, who still has plenty to prove and would love to grind out a playoff spot in his first season at the helm.
The Wheat Kings did show some promising signs heading into the holiday break, winning three of their final five games. Of course, that run came on the heels of a skid in which Brandon lost 11 of 12 games.
Which stretch is most indicative of this team? It’s the question McCrimmon will likely be weighing over the next few weeks, with the trade deadline looming.
NEWS AND NOTES: In addition to Bertaggia, Brandon will be without C Jayce Hawryluk and C/LW John Quenneville when they return from the Christmas break to face the Moose Jaw Warriors at Westman Place next Friday night. Hawryluk will play for Team West and Quenneville for Team Pacific at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Drummondville and Victoriaville, Que., from Dec. 29 to Jan. 4 ...Brandon D Ryan Pulock has moved up to seventh in the latest Red Line Report rankings for the 2013 NHL draft. The 18-year-old Wheat Kings captain is tied for fourth in scoring among WHL defencemen with 10 goals and 29 points in 30 games, with a +11 plus/minus rating. Wheat King D Eric Roy, 18, is ranked 81st by Red Line ... Former Wheat Kings C Bruno Mraz has officially made the Slovakian team that was finalized on Thursday for the world junior hockey championship. The 19-year-old Mraz had two goals and 18 points in 63 games for Brandon last season before signing a professional contract in the off-season back home in Slovakia. Mraz and the Slovaks will face the Canadian team next Friday, Dec. 28 on TSN at 3:30 a.m. (repeated at 11 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.) ... Former Wheat King G Tyler Plante of Brandon headed overseas this week after signing with Asiago in the Italian Elite League. The 25-year-old Plante, a former member of the Florida Panthers organization who is an NHL free agent, began the season in the ECHL, posting a 4.09 goals-against average and an .879 save percentage in five games for the Colorado Eagles ... The four Brandon University Bobcats teams don’t resume Canada West play until Jan. 11, however coach Gil Cheung’s BU men’s basketball team will be in action over the Christmas break when they compete in the Wesmen Classic in Winnipeg next week. Brandon opens the tournament against Dickinson (N.D.) State at the Duckworth Centre next Friday at 2 p.m. … C Ashleigh Brykaliuk of Brandon, D Halli Krzyzaniak of Neepawa and C Cassidy Carels of Bruxelles head overseas this weekend to play for Canada at the world under-18 women’s hockey championship in Finland. Canada opens against Hungary on Saturday, Dec. 29.
(Shew’s Views returns Jan. 4)