The Regina Pats decided that being solidly in second place in the WHL’s Eastern Division wasn’t proof positive that the team would experience a lengthy playoff run come spring.
Therefore, with a bigger focus on the future, Pats head coach and senior vice-president of hockey operations John Paddock dealt away his top 19-year-old players, starting with forward and Calgary Flames prospect Morgan Klimchuk and followed by defenceman Kyle Burroughs and forwards Dryden Hunt and Connor Gay.
Klimchuk was dealt to the Brandon Wheat Kings last Friday and on Monday Paddock sent Burroughs and Hunt to the Medicine Hat Tigers and Gay to the Red Deer Rebels. Coming back the other way were younger players and draft picks, although the Rebels also got a first- and second-round pick due to the fact that arguably their top prospect, Jake Leschyshyn, was included in the deal.
Gay would have been happy if he had survived the purge, but he’s more than OK with being the newest addition to the Rebels roster.
“The Pats made the decision that they wanted to base the team around the younger guys. I respect that decision and I’m lucky enough to come to Red Deer,” the 19-year-old right winger said Wednesday following his first practice with the Rebels.
“I’m extremely excited about getting the opportunity to play in this organization. It’s a pretty good feeling.”
Gay, who instantly becomes the Rebels’ leading scorer with 20 goals and 44 points in 39 games this season, felt he would be staying with the Pats as a veteran presence once Burroughs and Hunt had been dealt to the Tigers earlier Monday.
“When Dryden and Kyle got traded to Medicine Hat I thought I might be OK to be staying in Regina,” said Gay. “But I knew there was a possibility I might be traded because I had talked to John. He couldn’t give me an answer either way.
“But it’s history now and I’m here and I’m happy.”
Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter isn’t expecting Gay to become the Rebels’ primary go-to guy. Sutter merely expects the six-foot, 190-pound Saskatoon native to continue to play to his potential.
“We’re looking for him to provide us with a real good veteran presence,” said the Rebels boss. “He’s got a knack for scoring goals. He’s good around the net and just from watching him in practice you can tell he’s a real smart player.
“He’s not going to be a guy who is physically dominant, but he’s going to battle and win battles just from having good size. He’s a smart player who knows how to play the game and that’s what we want from him.”
As a third-year WHL player, Gay feels that he harbours leadership skills.
“I like to think so. I’m a guy who doesn’t speak a ton but I like to do it with my play,” he said. “ I work hard and hopefully I can help this team continue to win.”
Gay will make his Rebels debut Friday night versus the host Kootenay Ice, skating on a line with Presten Kopeck and centre Brooks Maxwell. Meanwhile, Wyatt Johnson will move onto a line with Riley Sheen and Conner Bleackley.
The Rebels will host the Brandon Wheat Kings Saturday.