The Western Hockey League’s general managers aren’t waiting for the trade deadline to get down to doing business.
As of Tuesday afternoon, WHL teams had made 10 trades since the league’s Christmas moratorium ended, with some notable players changing hands.
On Monday, the Victoria Royals added 19-year-old defenceman Travis Brown, who is fourth among WHL blue-liners with 38 points in 43 games, from the Moose Jaw Warriors for prospect Noah Gregor, third-round bantam draft picks in 2014 and 2016 and another conditional pick.
A pair of lesser deals were pulled off on Tuesday, with the Prince Albert Raiders picking up 16-year-old blue-liner Brennan Riddle from the Calgary Hitmen and a third-round pick in the 2015 draft in exchange for a second-rounder in 2014 and a fourth-rounder in 2015. Meanwhile, the Regina Pats added 6-foot-4, 215-pound rearguard Isaac Schacher, 18, from the Victoria Royals for fifth-round bantam picks in 2015 and 2016.
All of the post-Christmas dealing doesn’t even include arguably the biggest WHL trade this season, which reached fruition for the Portland Winterhawks when they found out Canadian world junior team defenceman Mathew Dumba — acquired in a blockbuster with the Red Deer Rebels in December — has been sent back to junior by the National Hockey League’s Minnesota Wild.
That this year’s deadline comes on Friday at 1 p.m. CT, with a full slate of games coming up that night, could be one of the reasons GMs are getting down to brass tacks so quickly this year, but you can bet that there are still plenty of irons in the fire around the league. Here are a few of the teams to keep an eye on:
• Brandon Wheat Kings: There is any number of ways Wheat Kings head coach/GM Kelly McCrimmon could opt to go this week, with a team that is only two points back of the Swift Current Broncos for the East Division lead, but can’t afford to slide, sitting a meagre six points ahead of the ninth-place Rebels in the Eastern Conference.
The Wheat Kings have a core of young talent that could be on the verge of something special, and McCrimmon is a firm believer there is no better experience than playing playoff games. With that in mind it’s likely, if anything is coming at all, that the team is interested in players who can continue to help out in the next season or two without giving up pieces that would seriously damage this year’s playoff prospects.
• Calgary Hitmen: Without a doubt, the Hitmen are the class of the Eastern Conference so far, with a 28-8-2-3 record. They picked up Mike Winther, who has a lot of scoring potential he has yet to realize, from the Prince Albert Raiders on Dec. 28, but could still be in the market to add more depth.
•Kamloops Blazers: The only team out of the playoff race in the Western Conference, the Blazers would likely part with rugged overage D-man Sam Grist. Wawanesa’s Jordan Thomson has not returned to the team, and perhaps a new team is in his future.
• Kelowna Rockets: The WHL’s overall leaders may be the most complete team in the league, and have no clear holes, but could do some tinkering.
•Lethbridge Hurricanes: The Hurricanes have already moved a lot of players this season, including defenceman Ryan Pilon to Brandon, but more moves are still a possibility. Nick Walters came over in the Pilon trade and should be a hot commodity as a 19-year-old defensive defenceman who could play pro next season. The club also has 20-year-old former Wheat King Corbin Boes and 19-year-old Teagan Sacher in net, so they could make a move there.
• Moose Jaw Warriors: The Warriors have made their big move already with the Brown trade, but they still have some veteran forwards who could go, including 20-year-old Sam Fioretti.
• Portland Winterhawks: Given coach/GM Mike Johnston’s aggressive dealing in the past, the Winterhawks may not be done with the Dumba deal. The club has an explosive offence, but could look to shore up its own end.
•Saskatoon Blades: The Blades, too, have sent out plenty of talent, but they have a big defenceman in Graeme Craig who could draw interest for teams willing to take on an overager.
• Swift Current Broncos: The Broncos are the East Division leaders and have shown they are serious about making a run this season, but did they already make their big play on New Year’s Day by adding Nathan Burns from the Saskatoon Blades?
AROUND THE WHL: Kelowna RW Myles Bell was named the Canadian Hockey League player of the week Tuesday, adding to the WHL weekly honour he received a day earlier. Bell had five goals and five assists in four games last week … Former Wheat Kings D Alexander Urbom has been placed on waivers by the NHL’s Washington Capitals. Urbom has a goal and an assist and a +1 plus/minus rating in 20 games with the Capitals, since being claimed on waivers from the New Jersey Devils.