Sun May 06 01:26pm EDT
At last week's Western Hockey League bantam draft this past Thursday, the Saskatoon Blades began to shake up their dressing room for the 2013 MasterCard Memorial Cup.
Blades general manager Lorne Molleken acquired sniper Shane McColgan and rugged power-forward Jessey Astles from the Kelowna Rockets for 18-year-old Ryan Olsen and a couple bantam picks; as well as 80-point winger Brenden Walker from the Brandon Wheat Kings for a trio of bantam picks.
Adding Walker, McColgan, and Astles significantly changes the look of the Blades' offence. Walker broke out for Brandon this season, scoring 26 goals and 81 points in 68 games. McColgan, a New York Rangers prospect, stayed on par with his previous two seasons in Kelowna, netting 16 goals and 64 points in 70 games. Walker and McColgan should play wing on Saskatoon's top two lines. Astles' role up front isn't scoring goals. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound winger earns his keep by wearing down opponents physically. He racked up 84 minutes in the sin bin this season, including 10 fighting majors. Astles will likely play sparingly, but make an impact as a grinder nonetheless.
Molleken shaking up his roster shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. After being swept by the Medicine Hat Tigers in the first round of the playoffs in March, Molleken made it clear he was going to try to add to his team in the off-season. He told Daniel Nugent-Bowman of the StarPhoenix, "It's two years now where we haven't been able to win with these players so we're going to have to look elsewhere and see what we can do in that category."
Molleken is only at the starting point for his major roster shakeup. He knows there is still a lot of work to be done to mold this club into one of the top teams in the Canadian Hockey League, on paper anyways.
"I made it clear we were looking to make some changes," said Molleken to the StarPhoenix. "With us hosting the Memorial Cup, we thought it was real important. The three players we're bringing in have lots of experience."
"Today was just the start of things we want to try to accomplish."
The Blades still have a gaping hole down the middle in the No. 1 centre position. A hole that will be very hard to fill.
Lukas Sutter is their top scoring centre. He posted 28 goals and 59 points in 70 games this season. It is undoubtedly possible that Sutter could net 70-plus points next season. Nonetheless, Sutter's offensive skill and upside still doesn't stack up well against previous Memorial Cup champions' top centres such as the Saint John Sea Dogs' Jonathan Huberdeau in 2011, Windsor Spitfires' Adam Henrique in 2009 and 2010. Or Justin Azevedo when the Kitchener Rangers hosted in 2008 but lost the final to the Spokane Chiefs.
Prince Albert Raiders star Mark McNeill would be an ideal centre for the Blades. He is big, strong, and has notched 30-plus goals in his previous two seasons. It is possible McNeill could make the Chicago Blackhawks next year. Moreover, if he does indeed return to Prince Albert, it appears very unlikely that he will be available at the trade deadline if the Raiders are sitting in a playoff spot.
A less enticing centre that could be available is the Seattle Thunderbirds' Luke Lockhart. The 19-year-old is yet to break out beyond a depth scoring role and seemed to regress this season. He dropped his point total by 11, scoring 16 goals and 37 points. A change of scenery might revitalize the 5-foot-10, 182-pounder's hockey career.
Despite recently trading some future bantam picks, the Blades still have some appetizing chips to parlay to boost their roster.
Saskatoon still holds their first-round bantam pick in 2013, as well as 2014. One or both of these picks will be likely used in the off-season or at the trade deadline to fill their No. 1 centre hole.
When Russian puck-stopper Andrey Makarov left Saskatoon for the world juniors and later suffered a concussion, Alex Moodie stood tall during his call-up stint. He posted nine wins in 13 games, including a 37-save shutout against the Wheat Kings.
Next year either Moodie or Adam Todd, who started 11 games this year, will back up Makarov. It seems logical one of the two goaltenders will be dealt. Even though it seems Moodie has the edge on Todd between the pipes, the Blades might choose to deal Moodie because of his more appealing trade value.
Ryan Graham, who will turn 16 in June, also seems to be a prospect of some trade value. The 5-foot-11, 168-pound winger, who was a fifth-round bantam pick in 2011, impressed during his five games worth of call-ups this season, notching a single goal.
The Blades have four players set to be 20-year-olds next season. With three being the overage limit, one obviously won't be in Saskatoon next year.
Walker will undoubtedly fill one of the spots.
Josh Nicholls has yet to sign an entry-level contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He has until June 1 to do so. It's possible that Nicholls could ink a deal and play for one of Toronto's minor-league squads. However, because of the Marlies' expected strong depth and this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play in the Memorial Cup, it appears Nicholls will be in Saskatoon regardless of whether he has an NHL contract.
That leaves defenceman Connor Cox and winger Chris Collins to fill the final overage spot. Cox scored three goals and 41 points from the back end this year, proving to be a valuable second-pairing blueliner. Collins struggled this season. He only sniped seven goals and 26 points in 56 games, scoring 15 less points than his previous season. Therefore, it seems logical that Collins is more likely to get the short end of the overage stick.
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen