Red Deer’s Craig picking up the scoring slack for Blades

Red Deer native Graeme Craig, with all of four goals to his credit over his first four seasons in the WHL, was an offensive force for the Saskatoon Blades last weekend. The six-foot-four, 215-pound defensive defenceman was a virtual sniper in a 5-3 win over the visiting Edmonton Oil Kings Saturday, settling down somewhat the next night while adding an assist in a 5-4 shootout loss to the host Regina Pats.

Red Deer native Graeme Craig, with all of four goals to his credit over his first four seasons in the WHL, was an offensive force for the Saskatoon Blades last weekend.

The six-foot-four, 215-pound defensive defenceman was a virtual sniper in a 5-3 win over the visiting Edmonton Oil Kings Saturday, settling down somewhat the next night while adding an assist in a 5-4 shootout loss to the host Regina Pats.

Craig wasn’t promising a constant repeat of his scoring exploits, simply noting that he’s hoping to at least partially compensate for the loss of Eastern Conference all-star rearguard Darren Dietz to the pro ranks.

“He had 24 goals last year so someone has to pick up a little bit of the slack,” Craig, the Blades captain, told Daniel Nugent-Bowman of the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. “I’m not expecting to score 24 goals, but any amount I can get will help out.”

Craig’s two-pack of goals in the Blades’ first win of the season, as Nugent-Bowman noted, were very Dietz-esque.

On the winner, he toe-dragged around Edmonton winger Brett Pollock and froze goaltender Tristan Jarry before burying the puck. Just under three minutes later, he picked off a pass by Oil Kings defenceman Cody Corbett and beat Jarry to the glove side.

“Watching him in practice, he was always patient,” said Craig of Dietz. “He had good fakes on the blue-line. He had a rocket shot. I worked on my shot and fakes as well. Having that guy last year was a big help.”

Blades head coach David Struch is using Craig as the quarterback of the first-team power play, pretty much a new experience for the 20-year-old.

“With Graeme, he’s that defensive guy that can make a good play,” Struch told Nugent-Bowman.

“He can shoot the puck. When you get those types of players, we’re looking to get the puck to the net.

“We don’t have the flashy guy out there. He’s the guy that’s going to make some plays for us in that regard, getting the puck down low so our forwards can do the work for us.”

Winger Cory Millette is thankful for a fresh start and hopefully a heavier workload with his new club.

“I’m very excited. I’m closer to home,” Millette, a native of Storthoaks, Sask. told Nugent-Bowman Thursday after being dealt from the Red Deer Rebels to the Saskatoon Blades (see story on Page 1C). “I see myself as a role model. I’ve played a decent amount of games. I want to lead by example and play hard every time I have a chance.”

“With Cory, it’s experience, and he’s still young at 18 years old,” said Struch. “We bring in a guy who’s been in the league a couple of years.”

Added Blades GM Lorne Molleken, who sent 17-year-old forward Evan Polei to the Rebels in return for Millette: “Over the last couple years as a 16- and a 17-year-old in Red Deer he sparked our interest. We thought he would be a guy that had some offensive upside if given another opportunity.”

After being sent to Sherwood Park of the AJHL at the start of the season, Polei was recently recalled to the Blades because of injuries.

“He had a tremendous training camp. I thought in one of the exhibition games he played real well,” Molleken said.

“In the end he wasn’t able to crack our lineup. I’m just hoping the trade works out for both boys and helps both clubs.”

Meanwhile, the Blades released defenceman Kevin Pochuk, who was acquired — along with 2014 third- and seventh-round bantam draft picks in 2014 — from the Rebels in June for overage forward Lukas Sutter.

After missing all of September with a shoulder injury, Pochuk recorded no points, six penalty minutes and a minus-2 rating in five games.

“Unfortunately for Kevin, things just didn’t work out,” said Molleken.

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