Updated Jan 10, 2013 - 6:01 pm
T-Birds aquire two forwards at WHL trade deadline
The T-Birds acquired center Andrew Johnson, 18, from Moose Jaw for a fourth-round draft choice. (WHL.ca photo)
By Tim Pgulski
The Seattle Thunderbirds acquired two forwards at the Western Hockey League's trading deadline on Thursday, picking up wing Adam Kambeitz from the Saskatoon Blades in exchange for a third-round draft choice and center Andrew Johnson from the Moose Jaw Warriors for a fourth-rounder.
Kambeitz is a 20-year-old forward who has a total of 25 points on nine goals and 16 assists in 42 games this season - nine with the Red Deer Rebels and 33 with Saskatoon.
"Kambeitz is a real proven leader," said Seattle General Manager Russ Farwell. "He was captain in Red Deer and was really valued there. Saskatoon also spoke very highly of him. They had the allure of adding [forward Michael] Ferland so they had to make this move. He'll bring some offense but also some grit and competitiveness, which will be a real charge for our team right now."
With Ferland, the Blades had exceeded the league-mandated maximum of three 20-year-olds on their roster.
The acquisition of the 5-foot-10 Kambeitz, who recently played in his 300th career WHL game, likewise put the Thunderbirds over capacity, resulting in the waiving of center Brendan Rouse.
Rouse had 29 points in 42 games this season and led the team in plus/minus and was tied with Connor Honey for the team lead in assists with 23. Center Luke Lockhart and goaltender Brandon Glover are Seattle's other two overage players.
The T-Birds entered training camp with five players competing for the three senior spots. Many expected the team to hang on to defenseman Brad Deagle, as he would have been the oldest player on the Seattle blue line. Instead, he was waived and Chance Lund was traded to Swift Current to get the team to their limit.
Recognized as a heart and soul type player, the decision to get rid of Rouse was not an easy one.
"It was difficult. Rouse is a real good guy," said Farwell. "It was just as difficult for us to give him up as it was for Saskatoon to lose Kambeitz. But we were struggling and we needed a boost quickly."
Johnson, 18, had 15 points in 42 games with the Warriors this season. Last year he registered 37 points in 62 games. Unlike Kambeitz, Johnson still has two years after this one remaining in his WHL career.
"I think the change will be really good for Johnson," said Farwell of the 5-foot-10 center, whose stats have dropped a bit since last season. "He was a highly touted guy and plays with a lot of energy. I think he's got some offense and got kind of bogged down [in Moose Jaw]. He'll bring a real enthusiasm and will be a good addition down the road."
After the trades happened, Farwell made it a point to call each player individually and assess their feelings about coming to Seattle.
In Saskatoon, Kambeitz was set to appear in the Memorial Cup as the Blades will be hosting the tournament this year, granting them automatic entry into the CHL's final series.
"It was a shock to him at first, having already been traded once this year [from Red Deer to Saskatoon]," said Farwell of his conversation with Kambeitz. "By the time I spoke to him 20 minutes later he was excited and I think he'll be a great addition for us."
Johnson, on the other hand, was immediately excited after hearing he was traded.
"He saw it for what it was. He needed a fresh start and is really excited to come here. I think both guys are looking at it positively."
At the beginning of the season, Farwell and the coaching staff were excited about the potential of having four lines that were capable of contributing every night. However, a career-ending injury to forward Tyler Alos, as well as the extended absence of Branden Troock, has forced them to adjust on the fly.
Johnson, Farwell believes, is a player that the Thunderbirds and many others around the league have had their eye on.
"I think he was involved in deals with a lot of teams that went right down to the wire. After all of the injuries we've seen, we haven't been too happy with the balance of our lines and Johnson can be a contributor here for a couple of years."
One name that was popular in rumor circles was recently turned 18-year-old center Alex Forsberg, the younger brother of current Thunderbird Jesse, who walked out on the Prince George Cougars following the holiday break.
With his brother already entrenched as a top-line defender in Seattle and the team needing some help up the middle, the former first overall Bantam Draft choice seemed like he might be a good fit at the ShoWare Center.
However, the Thunderbirds weren't the only team high on the talented center, and Prince George General Manager Dallas Thompson was demanding a high return for his disgruntled star.
"We definitely talked about Forsberg, but I have no idea how close we were to making a deal," said Farwell of his negotiations with Thompson. "We were involved for quite a while, but not the last couple days. We pursued him for quite a while, but they ended up hanging on to him. We knew where the other stood and didn't see the trade happening."
Currently mired in a 12-game losing streak, Farwell knew a shot in the arm was necessary to get the team back on track.
"Not just today but over the last three or four days we were hoping to add to our team," said Farwell of the days approaching the deadline. "We think our team is way better than how we've played recently and we need to get back on track. We felt we needed to add something coming in and didn't want to be sellers even though we lost those games."
Farwell added that Saskatoon, stockpiling players for their appearance in the Memorial Cup, were the biggest players at this year's trade deadline. The Blades added Ferland, a Calgary Flames draft pick, Erik Benoit from Kootenay, and Collin Valcourt from the Spokane Chiefs.
"They were prepared to spend the next two or three years in order to improve their team because of the Cup being there this year," Farwell said of the Blades, who currently sit in second place in the Eastern Conference's East Division. "They were a real interesting part of the whole process today. I don't think anyone considered a trade today without running it by Saskatoon first because there was a reward there to be gotten."
While losing Rouse, who has signed with the Vancouver Giants, is a blow to the team, Kambeitz is a player who's built a positive reputation around the league for his tenacity and hard work. His numbers are similar to Rouse's, but the front office likely believes that he has the potential for more. Despite being traded twice this year, he's been spoken of positively by his past organizations.
Despite being the less marquee name acquired, Farwell came away well in the Johnson deal. Acquired for only a fourth-round pick, Johnson has over two years remaining in the league and fills a position of need for the T-Birds, who were set to lose their two top performing centers, Lockhart and Rouse, next season.
The acquisition of Forsberg would have been a huge get for Farwell, but it's likely the asking price was extremely high, as made evident by the fact that no team in the league was willing to give up what the Cougars were asking for. Early reports suggested that Prince George was seeking multiple draft choices and WHL-ready players. This one may come back to bite the Cougars, as the front office hasn't spoken highly of Forsberg since he left, likely reducing the probability that he might return in the future.
Follow Tim on Twitter @tpigulski
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