Regina Pats head coach/senior vice-president of hockey operations John Paddock borrowed a line from the classic movie The Godfather, making Brent Sutter an offer he couldn’t refuse.
Paddock, playing the part of Don Corleone from the legendary flick, wanted Red Deer Rebels top prospect Jake Leschyshyn as he continued to clean house in an attempt to build a team that will hopefully be among the Western Hockey League’s elite two and three years down the road.
Originally, Rebels GM/head coach Sutter wasn’t interested in moving Leschyshyn — currently a point-per-game player as a 15-year-old centre with the midget AAA Saskatoon Blazers — but the chance to land 19-year-old scoring forward Connor Gay and first- and second-round bantam draft picks was too good to pass up.
And so the deal was completed Monday, with the Blades getting Leschyshyn — the Rebels first-round pick, sixth overall, in last year’s WHL bantam draft — and a fourth-round pick in 2017, and Red Deer receiving Gay and a first-round selection in 2016, a second-rounder this year and a seventh-round pick in 2017
“It’s a hard thing to do, trade away your first-round pick. I was approached by Regina to see if I was interested in moving a player like that and to be quite honest, I really wasn’t,” said Sutter. “But we got into discussions and one thing led to another.”
Leschyshyn, as Sutter pointed out, would have been in tough to crack the Rebels’ lineup as a 16-year-old next season. Red Deer will host the 2016 Memorial Cup tournament and will therefore be looking to ice an older lineup, and the team already has plenty of depth down the middle.
“It would have been hard for him to play here next season and with Regina being just three hours away from home it should be a good fit for Jake and his family,” said Sutter. “At the same time we needed to make sure that we were able to add to our team this year with a player who could push to be one of our 20-year-olds next season, a guy who can put up numbers. He’s a very good 19-year-old in our league and the likelihood is that he’s going to be a good 20-year-old too.”
Gay, a six-foot, 195-pound right winger from Saskatoon, currently sits 16th in WHL scoring with 20 goals and 44 points in 39 games. He’s put up 92 points (40-52) in 135 games with the Pats over parts of three seasons.
Gay steps into the Rebels lineup as the team’s top scorer and the two high draft picks will replace the selections Sutter sent to the Saskatoon Blades last month in exchange for defenceman Nelson Nogier.
“Your bring those two assets back to your team and now you’re dealing from an area of strength again going into the summer and next season where we have all our picks and them some,” said Sutter. “Also, adding a player like Connor to our hockey team is significant.
“Again, this wasn’t an easy thing to do, but it’s a responsibility that I have . . . a part of the stakes involved when you’re hosting the Memorial Cup. When you’re going to be the host you have to make sure you have to team that gives you the opportunity to be very competitive and a chance to be very successful in league play and during the tournament, too. It’s just the way it is. These are the types of things you have to do and we were in a position where we could do it.”
l In a trade of lesser impact Monday, Sutter dealt 19-year-old defenceman and Red Deer native Kolton Dixon to Saskatoon in return for 18-year-old netminder Trevor Martin.
Dixon was in tough to keep his spot on the Rebels blueline, especially with the recent acquisitions of Nogier and Colton Bobyk, and wasn’t going to be with the club as an overage player next season.
“Dixie and I had a talk right after Christmas and we both agreed that if there was something that could work out for him so he could play in the league for the rest of the season and have an opportunity to perhaps play as a 20-year-old for another team, that I would seriously look at it,” said Sutter.
The addition of Martin was a depth move. The Ardrossan product made 19 appearances with the Blades, who are woefully weak defensively, posting a 4.16 goals-against average and .886 save percentage, and will now report to the Melville Millionaires of the SJHL.
Martin has played five games with the Millionaires this season and has racked up some impressive numbers — a 1.20 GAA with one shutout and a .963 save percentage — in the process.
“We felt that as an organization we needed to add some depth to our goaltending situation, not just in case of one of our guys goes down with an injury but also having someone to create some competition going into next season,” said Sutter.
Adding Martin to his team’s depth chart also means Sutter — in the event of an injury to either Rylan Toth or Taz Burman — can leave 15-year-old Dawson Weatherill with the midget AAA Notre Dame Argos this season and likely next.
“We needed to have some extra depth in goal and it’s a trade that also works out great for Dixon,” said Sutter. “Saskatoon was looking for someone like him to play the back end. It was a good fit for everybody.”
Martin will take over as the No. 1 stopper in Melville and will likely get a look from the Rebels at some point in the season.
“I’m hoping that we can bring him in and let him play a couple of games,” said Sutter.
The Rebels boss wouldn’t reveal if he’s attempting to complete one or more deals prior to Saturday’s WHL trade deadline.
“At this period of time there’s a lot of talks going on,” he said. “This isn’t just stuff that comes up overnight, you’re always in communication regarding trades. Discussions can go on for three weeks to a month before it all falls into place.”
l Paddock continued to move his older players Monday, sending 19-year-old team captain Kyle Burroughs, a defenceman, and forward Dryden Hunt to Medicine Hat in return for 17-year-old rearguard Connor Hobbs and second- and third-round bantam draft picks . . . In another deal, Brandon acquired the playing rights of overage defenceman Reid Gow from Spokane for a fifth-round pick.