Less than 24 hours after stating that he’d be willing to stay the course at the WHL trade deadline, Brent Sutter swung a doozy of a deal with the Regina Pats Tuesday morning.
The Rebels GM/head coach sent defenceman Josh Mahura and forward Jeff de Wit, both 18, plus a third-round bantam draft pick in 2019, to the Pats in return for forward Lane Zablocki, 18, and 16-year-old rearguard Dawson Barteaux and three draft picks.
The incoming draft picks are right up there — a first-rounder this year and another in either in 2018 or ’19, plus a conditional third-round selection in 2020.
Sutter said the transaction — officially announced roughly two hours prior to the 3 p.m. trade deadline — was not initiated until Monday evening, but did take several hours to complete.
“It started last night after supper,” said Sutter. “When I left the rink yesterday we were staying pat.
“John (Pats GM/head coach Paddock) called and we had some discussions and one thing just led to another and got to where we worked on it through the night. We worked on it again this morning, I met with my staff and went through it all and it materialized.”
While he was playing behind some high-end skaters with the championship contending Pats, Zablocki, a six-foot, 184-pound right winger, will instantly slot in as a top-six forward with the Rebels.
In 33 games this year he has recorded nine goals and 25 points. He’s also racked up 48 minutes in penalties and was a plus-18 performer with the Pats.
Sutter likes the well-rounded game the Wetaskiwin native brings to his club.
“He doesn’t have just offence, he’s a gamer,” said the Rebels boss. “He comes to play every night, he’s going to play hard and compete and battle and he’s going to be a responsible and reliable player.”
Zablocki, who flew out of Regina Tuesday and was slated to be in the Rebels lineup for an evening game against visiting Prince George, was a standout for the Pats during their 12-game playoff run last spring — which included seven games versus the Rebels — with seven goals and nine points.
“He has offensive skill and he’s a hard player to play against,” said Sutter. “He was outstanding against us last year in the playoffs and the two times we played them this season he was a thorn both nights.
“Obviously, Regina has lots of depth so they were able to move someone like that. It was tough to move the players we moved, but things had to be put in place that really made sense for us not just for today, but for down the road.
“It was hard to move two players who you might say are homegrown guys, guys that we drafted in the first and second rounds. But this is the way it works when you come out of a Memorial Cup (hosting) year and you’re a .500 hockey team at this point in time.
“We’ve had inconsistency both in our individual and team games and I certainly hope this can be a trade that works out for both teams.”
Barteaux is another key piece for the Rebels. A first-round bantam draft pick of the Pats in 2015, the native of Foxwarren, Man., has two assists in 12 games as a WHL rookie this season and should be a mainstay on the Red Deer blueline for several years.
“To get two first-round picks and a player who’s a 16-year-old former first-round pick that our scouting staff really likes . . . it sets our defence up for the next quite a few years,” said Sutter.
That being said . . .
“It’s not easy to trade Jeff and Josh. For me, personally, it’s tough because I got close to the players and I know the families very well,” said Sutter.
“That’s really hard, but the fact is they’re going to a very, very good team and they’ll have a really good team again next year. They can be a big part of it. They have to go there and play well.”
De Wit, a Red Deer native, was selected by the Rebels in the first round — 14th overall — of the 2013 WHL bantam draft. While it’s hardly his fault he was a first-rounder, de Wit never lived up to the billing and this season has produced just four goals and nine points in 36 games.
A change of scenery may be just the tonic he needs to reach his potential.
“I’ve been around the game a long time and you sense when a player is just stuck in mud. He’s spinning his tires and he can’t get any traction,” said Sutter.
“I certainly think there’s an offensive upside to Jeff and yet it’s developed a little later than we would have hoped for. But I think if he goes there (Regina) and is playing with some top-end, skilled guys and he continues to push forward, it will come out of him.”
De Wit has been with the Rebels for more than the three years he’s been a WHL player. He was a stick boy for the club during his early minor hockey years.
“With me knowing the family like I do, it’s a tough thing to do, but you have to set your personal feelings aside and say OK, ‘what is best for Jeff at this point of his junior career with the way things have materialized’,” said Sutter.
“With him going to an elite team, a great organization with a great coaching staff . . . I’m hoping he can take his game to the next level. I want him and Josh to do well.”
Although de Wit was an attractive part of the deal for the Pats, Mahura was clearly the key piece from Paddock’s point of view. The talented defenceman — taken in the second round of the 2013 bantam draft — missed nearly all of last season due to a serious knee injury yet was selected by the Anaheim Ducks in the third round of June’s NHL entry draft.
He continued with his strong offensive play this season — he had nine goals and 33 points in 39 games — but his defensive game suffered. Regardless, he’s an automatic top-four blueliner with Regina and will almost certainly be a top-two guy next season.
* * * * * * * * *
Nearly lost in the trade deadline excitement Tuesday was the Rebels’ signing of 16-year-old forward Chris Douglas of Richmond, B.C.
The six-foot-one, 165-pound winger was listed by the Rebels and visited Red Deer in November to practise with the team. Sutter was convinced then that Douglas could be an effective major junior player sooner than later.
“You could just sense that this kid is going to be a very good player,” said Sutter. “For a 16-year-old, he’s very intelligent, he’s got skill, he’s big, he’s strong and his hockey sense is top-notch.
“At the time, I felt he could come in and play regularly with us.”
Douglas and his parents weren’t in a rush to sign a standard WHL education contract, deciding instead to look at their other option — playing junior A next season as a means of keeping his U.S. college scholarship eligibility.
“I really wanted them to do their research and check out every avenue,” said Sutter. “They came back and said (playing in) Red Deer was the route they wanted to go.”
Douglas, who had 13 goals and 37 points in 26 games with the Greater Vancouver Canadians this season, good for eighth place in B.C. Major Midget League scoring, will join the Rebels in time for the club’s three-game road trip starting Friday in Prince Albert.
“I really feel, with the type of player he is, that he needs to play at the highest level because he’ll be a very capable 16-year-old in our league,” said Sutter.
“He’s going to fit right into our lineup, he fits perfectly on our right side. We’re extremely excited that he’s chosen Red Deer and it’s going to be a great fit for both sides.”
To make room for Douglas, Sutter released 17-year-old forward Quinn Martin. The New Mexico native failed to record a point in 20 games with the Rebels this season.