(Joey Kenward is the play-byplay "voice" of the Memorial Cup champion WHL Vancouver Giants.)
***BIG NAMES & SURPRISES HI-LITE DRIVE TO TRADE DEADLINE***
When you compare previous WHL trade deadlines to the one that just passed us by January 10, things were relatively quiet on the wheeling and dealing front. Since the beginning of the month, 22 deals were made, involving 42 players either currently playing in the league or who are prospects of WHL teams. To nobody’s surprise, San Jose Sharks 1st round pick in 2006 Ty Wishart was dealt from the struggling Prince George Cougars. What was a surprise was the fact he was moved to the Moose Jaw Warriors. The Cougars, who were looking to swing a package deal that would feature at least a 1st round WHL bantam draft pick, got what they wanted from the Warriors. Moose Jaw winds up getting their 2nd big-name defencemen through a trade this season. Last November, Florida Panthers 1st round pick from last summer Keaton Ellerby was moved to the Jaw from the Kamloops Blazers.
Speaking of the Blazers, they dealt away the heart of their leadership inside their locker room a week before the deadline. 20 year-old sniper Brock Nixon, maybe the most skilled 20-year-old in the Canadian Hockey League who’s never been drafted into the NHL, was dealt to the Central Division-leading Calgary Hitmen. The Blazers also moved their two most experienced d-men in captain Ryan Bender and assistant captain Victor Bartley to the Regina Pats. The big name going the other way to Kamloops was blue-liner Nick Ross. Having spent the last couple of seasons in the Saskatchewan capital, Ross was the last player taken in the 1st round of the ‘07 Entry Draft by the Phoenix Coyotes.
On the actual deadline itself, there were only eight moves. The two biggest names moved on the day were a pair of 19 year-old defencemen. Jesse Dudas was shipped out of Prince George to the Swift Current Broncos. Dudas, a middle-round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets two years ago, has never played a full-season in his WHL career. However when he’s healthy, he can be a game-breaker for whoever he’s playing for. Meantime the Spokane Chiefs acquired Trevor Glass from the Medicine Hat Tigers for two future bantam draft picks. Glass, one of the more experienced d-men in the league, was on the Tigers squad that went to the Memorial Cup final last year.
While there was no blockbuster on the actual deadline day, it may have been very close. There was plenty of speculation the Chilliwack Bruins were shopping the WHL’s top scorer and Nashville Predators prospect Mark Santorelli. The second-year Bruins club, who barring a major meltdown in the last two months of the season, will be a playoff team. Santorelli, who could be signed by the Preds prior to the start of his 20 year-old season next year, may or may not be back as an overager in Chilliwack come next fall.
***ANOTHER G.M. RELIEVED OF HIS DUTIES***
Since the 2000-01 WHL season, the Prince Albert Raiders have only won more than one playoff round, and that came in 2005 when they made it to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. They’re going to have to have a mammoth finish down the stretch just to get a sniff of playoff hockey and for those reasons as much as any, it signaled the end of Donn Clark’s tenure as G.M. of the northern Saskatchewan club. The Raiders, one of a handful of clubs in the league who are headed up by a board of directors, have told Head Coach Bruno Campese he’ll take over both roles for the remainder of the year. This is Campese’s first season as the bench boss in P.A. after Clark hired him in the off-season. The only other General Manager change to have taken place in the WHL this season came in November when Dean Clark (no relation) was let go by the Kamloops Blazers.
***EDMONTON SET TO SHOWCASE TOP PROSPECTS***
The home of the NHL’s Oilers and WHL’s Oil Kings will play host to the annual CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game January 23. Scouts and executives from all 30 NHL clubs will have a chance to watch the top draft eligible prospects from the WHL, OHL, and QMJHL demonstrate their talents at Rexall Place. 14 players from the WHL will be going, including defenceman Luke Schenn of the Kelowna Rockets and forward Zach Boychuk of the Lethbridge Hurricanes. Both players recently won a gold medal for Canada at the World Junior Championships. Here are the WHLers who are scheduled to take part:
James Wright-Vancouver Giants
Geordie Wudrik-Swift Current Broncos
Jordan Eberle-Regina Pats
Colten Teubert-Regina Pats
Luca Sbisa-Lethbridge Hurricanes
Jyri Niemi-Saskatoon Blades
Chet Pickard-Tri City Americans
Kyle Beach-Everett Silvertips
Mitch Wahl-Spokane Chiefs
Zack Boychuk-Lethbridge Hurricanes
Tyler Ennis-Medicine Hat Tigers
Colby Robak-Brandon Wheat Kings
Tyler Myers-Kelowna Rockets
Luke Schenn-Kelowna Rockets