The results are in and people like the Everett Silvertips’ blockbuster trade.
The WHL trade deadline was Wednesday, but the Tips got their primary work done a few days early, pulling off a big trade with the Kamloops Blazers on Sunday in which they acquired 19-year-old center Garrett Pilon and 19-year-old defenseman Ondrej Vala in exchange for 17-year-old defenseman Montana Onyebuchi, 17-year-old winger Orrin Centazzo, 15-year-old prospect forwards Nathanael Hinds and Kalen Ukraninetz, and first- and fourth-round picks in the 2019 bantam draft.
It was the classic WHL trade deadline deal, in which one team surrenders assets that will be valuable in the future in order to improve the team in the present.
So what did Everett observers think of the deal? Here’s what they said:
POLL: What do you think of the Silvertips’ blockbuster trade to acquire forward Garrett Pilon and defenseman Ondrej Vala from Kamloops? Full context here: https://t.co/jXu3bA1cok
— Nick Patterson (@NickHPatterson) January 8, 2018
Add the two together and more than 80 percent of the responders liked the deal for Everett, with 42 percent saying it was a great deal for Everett specifically, and another 41 percent saying it was a good deal for both teams. There was a modest faction (14 percent) who thought it was a terrible deal for the Tips, and just four percent didn’t like the deal for either team.
OK, I’m going to do something I don’t usually do with these polls and tell you exactly how I would have voted. When the trade happened I thought it was a great deal for Everett, and after all the craziness happened at the deadline …
How crazy was this year's WHL trade deadline? Did some counting from the transactions list on the WHL website and since the trade freeze ended on Dec. 27, there were 44 deals involving 86 players and 72 draft picks. Been covering the WHL since 2003, never seen anything like this.
— Nick Patterson (@NickHPatterson) January 11, 2018
… I liked it even more. In fact, I thought it was the best deal pulled off by any of the contenders at this year’s trade deadline. Here’s why.
First, let’s go over what Everett received. Pilon and Vala are immediate high-impact players for Everett. They’re both WHL veterans as each is in his third full season. They’re both proven, with Pilon having 156 points in 177 career WHL games and Vala having 66 in 163 as a defenseman. Both are having good seasons, as Pilon was Kamloops’ leading scorer with 44 points (18 goals, 26 assists) in 39 games while Vala had 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists) in 30 games and played for the Czech Republic at the World Junior Hockey Championships for the second straight year. Both are future pros, with Pilon having signed with the Washington Capitals after being selected in the third round of the 2016 NHL draft, and Vala having signed with the Dallas Stars as a free agent in 2016. So Everett got top quality.
And Pilon and Vala filled Everett’s needs to an absolute T. Everett’s offense has improved as the season’s progressed, but it still needed one more top-notch offensive weapon to ensure the Tips couldn’t be reduced to a one-line team come playoff time. The addition of Pilon accomplishes that. Meanwhile, Everett’s defense has been solid throughout the season, but was lacking experience and a tad undersized. The rugged 6-foot-4 Vala addresses both those issues, and as a left-handed shot he perfectly complements the right-handed Davis and Wyatt Wylie and left-handed Jake Christensen to give the Tips a balanced top two defensive pairings. I don’t think Everett general manager Garry Davidson could have filled the holes any better.
First impressions of the Silvertips' new players: Vala is BIG, looks bigger on the ice than he's listed (6-4, 210). Pilon wasn't on the scoresheet, but he skates well and was always trying to make something happen with the puck.
— Nick Patterson (@NickHPatterson) January 11, 2018
But what about what Everett gave up? Didn’t the Tips pay a heavy price to get this deal done? Given what Everett got, I actually don’t think they did.
Let’s start with the roster players Everett gave up. Centazzo and Onyebuchi are both pretty good 17-year-olds. But both are more the red-chip type of players rather than blue-chip types. Neither was among NHL Central Scouting’s preliminary players to watch for the 2018 draft. I think Centazzo has offensive potential, and he’s a tough loss for Everett because the Tips are now paper thin when it comes to 2000-born forwards. But with just 10 goals and 10 assists in 81 career WHL games Centazzo still has a ways to go to realize his potential, and with his small stature I think it may not be until he’s 19 and 20 that he’s a major offensive factor in the league. As for Onyebuchi, he definitely stands out because of his willingness to fight, and he’s a legitimate physical presence. But Everett had four 2000-born defensemen on its roster, and from a functional standpoint Onyebuchi was playing at the same level as the other three: Ian Walker, Kyle Walker and Gianni Fairbrother. The Tips were going to have to move one of those players eventually anyway to balance out the blue line from an age standpoint.
How about the 15-year-old prospects? I think both Hinds and Ukrainetz are pretty good prospects. But again, they’re more red chips than blue chips. Both are having solid seasons playing midget major, but neither is putting up the kind of numbers that make them can’t-miss WHL impact players. Everett’s true blue-chip prospects among its 16- and 15-year-olds are 16-year-old goaltender Dustin Wolf and 15-year-old defenseman Ronan Seeley. Then there’s 16-year-old Americans Ryan Robinson and John Driscoll, who would be in that range if they were committed to playing in the WHL, while 16-year-old forward Mark Liwiski would be in this group as well if he hadn’t been suspended from the team. Even among Everett’s 2002-born forwards Hinds and Ukrainetz weren’t at the top of the heap, with second rounder Jackson Berezowski being the marquee name, while 10th-rounder Kent Johnson has been the breakout performer. Everett didn’t have to part with any of those prospects.
The 2019 first-round pick the Tips surrendered is a blue-chip asset. But otherwise Everett traded a handful of red chips to get a pair of blue chips, and in my book that’s a great trade-off.
Now let’s look at the deal in comparison to other deadline deals, which escalated as the deadline approached. Specifically, let’s look at the move U.S. Division rival Tri-City made in acquiring defenseman Jake Bean from Calgary. Bean was the top name on the market, a 19-year-old first-round NHL draft pick who helped Canada take gold at the World Junior Hockey Championships. So landing the offensive wizard from the blue line was a big deal for the Americans.
But what did Tri-City give up? Bean cost the Americans 18-year-old defenseman Dakota Krebs, 17-year-old forward Carson Focht, a first-round pick in 2019 and second rounders in 2018 and 2020. Focht was the seventh-overall pick in the 2015 bantam draft, and while he hasn’t exploded on the scene, he does have 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) in 37 games this season and was listed as a C prospect by NHL Central Scouting for the 2018 draft. So that’s essentially two first rounders, two second rounders — a lot of blue chips there — and a serviceable defenseman. Frankly, that package is arguably bigger than what Everett gave up, and that was for just one player while the Tips added two.
Sure, Everett is now in a position where it’s going to take a big step backward next season its top six players probably won’t be back — Pilon, Vala, goaltender Carter Hart are signed 19-year-olds, while forwards Patrick Bajkov and Matt Fonteyne and defenseman Kevin Davis are overagers. If the trade doesn’t pay off in the form of playoff success it won’t look as good. But you know what, Everett was going to take a big step backwards next season anyway with the departures of Hart, Davis, Bajkov and Fonteyne. The outlook for 2018-19 really isn’t any different.
With Everett challenging for the best record in the Western Conference, with the Tips having the premier goaltender in all of junior hockey in Hart, and with next season not looking like it’s set up to contend, it made all the sense in the world to try and make something happen this season. With this trade Davidson made something happen, and in my estimation he did so without breaking the bank.
Now, let me emphasize that I don’t think this deal elevated Everett above the pack in the Western Conference. But it does put the Tips squarely in the middle of the leading pack, and if you’re in the middle of the leading pack and have the best goaltender, I like your chances.