The T-Birds acquired goalie Taran Kozun, 19, from Kamloops just before Friday's trade deadline. (WHL.ca photo)
By Tim Pigulski
The Seattle Thunderbirds kicked off their trade deadline activity by completing the hat trick with the Lethbridge Hurricanes, acquiring center Russell Maxwell in exchange for veteran forward Seth Swenson, disgruntled 17-year-old forward Michal Holub, and a fourth-round draft choice in the 2014 Bantam Draft.
This is the third trade of the season that the two teams have completed, as the T-Birds acquired Jaimen Yakubowski and Sam McKechnie in one deal and defenseman Adam Henry in another.
Maxwell, 19, has appeared in 42 of the Hurricanes' 44 games this season, tallying 10 goals and 17 assists, tying him for the team lead in points with Tyler Wong and Brady Ramsay. Last season the 5-feet-8 center had 55 points in 66 games, which led the team.
"He's a real hard-working, good two-way guy," said Thunderbirds GM Russ Farwell of Maxwell. "He'll really strengthen us up the middle for the rest of the season. So far we haven't had the most consistency in the middle so it'll be a big help to bring in a guy that we know can play center. Eansor's development has helped a lot, but having that guy with experience there will be good for us."
The Thunderbirds sacrificed a good deal in the trade, sending Swenson, a positive locker room presence and contributor on the ice in all situations, as well as Holub, who could have been an important piece on the team as an 18-year-old and also would have been a good player to have around this season as the team has tried to work through a barrage of injuries.
"Swenson has been a real good soldier for us over the past couple of years, but this year he saw a greatly diminished offensive role," said Farwell of the 20-year-old wing. "He was an important piece on the penalty kill but wasn't too satisfied with the smaller role.
"Holub is a guy that they had their eye on for the future and he's been really attractive for them."
The Mission, British Columbia, native left the T-Birds in early December after seeing his playing time diminish. Farwell mentioned that the two teams had been working on a deal since around Christmas, but that Lethbridge was short on players and needed to wait a short bit of time before pulling the trigger on any trades.
In a separate trade completed just before the deadline hit on Friday, the T-Birds sent goaltender Justin Myles, defenseman Austin Douglas, and a fourth-round draft choice in the 2015 Bantam Draft to the Kamloops Blazers in exchange for goalie Taran Kozun.
Kozun, another 19-year-old, comes from a Blazers team that has struggled to a 10-28-2-2 record so far this season. Kamloops has allowed the second-most goals in the Western Conference, but Kozun proved himself as a backup last year, when he went 11-4-1-2 with a .914 save percentage playing behind a much better defensive group.
Myles, who hadn't played recently due to illness, was someone appealing to the rebuilding Blazers, as he still has two years left in the WHL after this one.
Kozun, on the other hand, was attractive to the T-Birds as he was the Blazers' backup in the playoffs, providing experience in net where the T-Birds didn't really have any to speak of. While he didn't play, he still was part of a team that made an extended run.
"Our guys stood tall through the first part of the year so we didn't really feel the need to make a move until now," said Farwell when asked about the speculation that he might try to find a goalie before the season started. "But now with Myles out for a bit of time, we thought it'd be a good idea to go and add a veteran guy in Kozun."
Both Kozun and Danny Mumaugh, who recently cemented himself as the 1A goaltender in front of Myles, will have the opportunity to earn playing time, according to Farwell. He stated that he doesn't believe head coach Steve Konowalchuk will anoint either player as the starter immediately, and if Mumaugh plays the way he did in Prince George on Saturday night when he made 28 saves on 29 shots en route to a 2-1 shootout victory, he'll certainly continue to see time in net.
The trades seemed confusing initially, as the deal crowds the 19-year-old age group even further, giving the Thunderbirds 11 total, while they only have one of their three 20-year-old spots occupied.
However, after the trade it was reported that Maxwell may not have plans to play in the WHL as a 20-year-old due to religious obligations. While it might mean the Thunderbirds don't need to factor him into their plans for next season, it also means that they won't be able to get anything in return for Maxwell when they are forced to revamp their roster and unload a bevy of players that will be overagers next season.
"It's something that I was well aware of when the deal was made and certainly not something that was hidden," said Farwell of the possibility that Maxwell could be only a half-season rental. "We haven't had a chance to speak about it, but I know it's something that we'll have to discuss."
In addition to the potential departure of Maxwell, Seattle will likely also lose their two 19-year-old import players, as well as forward Branden Troock, who is eligible play in the AHL full-time next season. Farwell also mentioned that he believes a couple more guys, specifically Justin Hickman and Evan Wardley, may earn themselves professional contracts by the time the season wraps up, which would provide further clarity.
"We didn't want to go out and add a 20-year-old this year just because they were 20," said Farwell of his two vacant overage spots. "We have an unusual number of 19-year-olds, and to us all of those guys fit in the same category. They're all veterans and know their place here and there isn't much of a difference between being 19 and 20. Next year we'll have those spots filled for sure."
With so many injuries, especially to the forward ranks, it appeared that the T-Birds may try to add some quantity in order to fill out their roster. However, that was not the case, as the team actually traded three skaters and a goalie and received just one skater and one goalie in return.
Of the injured forwards, Farwell was only confident that hard-nosed winger Yakubowski was close to a return. Yakubowski has been participating in full practices and should only be days away. Center Mathew Barzal has been slowly improving, but Farwell was hesitant to set any timetable for his or Connor Honey's return.
Ultimately these two trades were made to improve the team this season, while only sacrificing a small amount for the future. Swenson was in need of a new situation, Holub asked to be traded, Douglas didn't seem to be finding a consistent place to play, and Myles looked to have lost the No. 1 goaltending job to Mumaugh, who is a year younger. The T-Birds do lose two draft middle-round draft picks, but gain two proven WHL players who have the chance to be big contributors this year as the team attempts to make some noise in the postseason.
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