With his team floundering well out of playoff position, Brandon Wheat Kings general manager Kelly McCrimmon bit the bullet and did what he had to do at Thursday’s WHL trade deadline.
McCrimmon managed to overhaul his roster and stockpile a package of players, prospects and picks in a busy deadline day that featured a trio of trades by the Wheat Kings. It will be a few years down the road before we know just how well McCrimmon did in reshaping his roster, but on paper at least, the moves set the Wheat Kings up well for the future.
In all, the Wheat Kings traded their top two players up front in 19-year-old Swiss sniper Alessio Bertaggia and 20-year-old power forward Michael Ferland, as well as a promising young defenceman in feisty 17-year-old Ayrton Nikkel. (Overage defenceman Ryley Miller was also released by Brandon earlier this week and will finish the season with the Dauphin Kings of the MJHL, rookie blue-liner Riley Van Horne was assigned to the AJHL and forward Quintin Lisoway of Neepawa was recalled from Steinbach of the MJHL for the rest of the season).
In return for Thursday’s deadline deals, the Wheat Kings received a trio of picks in the 2013 WHL bantam draft — a first-rounder, third-rounder and fifth-rounder in what is believed to be a very good year for bantam prospects — as well as a pair of prospects in 16-year-old forwards Taylor Sanheim of Elkhorn and Rhett Gardner of Moose Jaw, Sask., and a pair of current WHLers in 18-year-old defenceman Nick Walters — a 2012 fourth-round NHL draft pick of the St. Louis Blues — and 19-year-old Czech right-winger Marek Kalus.
When you break down the deals, it’s clear the Wheat Kings are not a better team today without Bertaggia and Ferland, but this deal could pay huge dividends for years to come. The fact is Bertaggia and Ferland have just half a season left in their WHL careers, with Bertaggia having signed a pro deal to play in Switzerland next season and Ferland — under contract to the Calgary Flames — finishing up his overage year.
Dealing Nikkel, a player popular with fans and teammates alike for his physical style of game, is the only real question mark here, as the Wheat Kings give up a 17-year-old defenceman for an 18-year-old in Walters. While Walters makes Brandon’s blue-line better right now, this deal likely comes down to whether the 16-year-old Sanheim’s scoring exploits in Midget AAA can carry over to the WHL level.
Gardner also offers plenty of promise, a former second-round WHL bantam draft pick who recently played with Wheat Kings centre Jayce Hawryluk on Team West at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. Toss in third- and fifth-round draft picks, as well as the underachieving Kalus — he has four assists in only 11 games this year due to injury, but was a 20-goal scorer last season — and McCrimmon did well in return for Bertaggia.
Brandon’s final deal of the day right at the deadline brought a first-round bantam draft pick from the Memorial Cup host Saskatoon Blades in exchange for Ferland. The prize may be a little less than some observers hoped he would bring, but it does give the Wheat Kings two first-round picks in what is regarded as a very deep draft.
The trades will require some patience from Wheat King fans this year, with the club dead last in the Eastern Conference with a 14-25-2-2 record after dropping five straight games to fall nine points out of playoff position. Barring an unforseen second-half turnaround, Brandon’s streak of making the playoffs for 12 straight seasons is likely to end.
But with some real good young talent on the roster to build around — including a whopping 10 players aged 16 or 17 — and some blue-chip prospects waiting in the wings on Brandon’s 50-player protected list, McCrimmon’s moves bode well for the future of the hockey club.
ODDS AND ENDS: Brandon’s Cassie Hawrysh hits the track for the seventh World Cup women’s skeleton tour event this morning in Königssee, Germany. Hawrysh, a 28-year-old World Cup rookie, is currently ranked seventh in the world and has posted a pair of fourth-place finishes in her six races so far this season. Meanwhile, Russell’s Jon Montgomery — the 2010 Olympic gold medallist — races in the men’s skeleton event on Saturday. Montgomery, 33, is ranked 13th in the world and has a pair of ninth-place finishes to highlight his season so far ... It will be good to see the Brandon University Bobcats raise their four men’s basketball national championship banners in the new Healthy Living Centre prior to Saturday’s game at 7 p.m. So what about BU’s other championship pennants, including CIS curling and World University Games banners? "We are focusing on basketball for now and then decisions on the other banners and what we’re going to do regarding them, will be (made) in the coming months when we have the entire complex available," BU athletic director Russ Paddock said ... How about Wheat Kings prospect Tyler Coulter? The 16-year-old forward — who was called up to make his WHL debut two weeks ago — has amassed 10 points (five goals, five assists) in his past two games for the Brandon Midget AAAs.