With a team that’s been as aggressive as the Everett Silvertips in the trade market this season, playoff contenders from seasons past attempting to liquidate assets to expedite a rebuild are the natural trade partners.
That’s precisely what’s happened in Everett’s case, acquiring players from Swift Current, Regina and Seattle, the Western Hockey League’s three Memorial Cup participants over the past three seasons, to bolster its roster with older, experienced players.
It’s most concentrated in the Silvertips’ overage group, as defensemen Sahvan Khaira and Artyom Minulin from Swift Current and forward Zack Andrusiak from Seattle bring a wealth of experience to the Silvertips’ dressing room.
“They’ve all experienced deep runs,” Silvertips head coach Dennis Williams said. “Whether they’ve been a big part or not, they’ve been there and see how it’s operated.”
Despite having no Memorial Cup experience in their franchise’s history, Everett possesses five players, including 19-year-olds Max Patterson (Swift Current) and Robbie Holmes (Regina), that have played in the prestigious major junior tournament, which is the most among Western Hockey League playoff teams. Regina had six leftovers from last year’s team that hosted the tournament, but the Pats didn’t qualify for the playoffs.
Davidson said he wasn’t seeking out Memorial Cup experience, per se, but playoff experience was a major component he considered before pulling the trigger on a deal.
The overagers have added experience to the several key members of Everett’s team that advanced to the WHL Finals last year — Connor Dewar, Bryce Kindopp, Jake Christiansen and Wyatte Wylie, who form Everett’s leadership group.
The first of the overage trio to join the fold in Everett was Khaira, who requested a trade out of Swift Current to join a contender, knowing that the Broncos would be scuffling this season after going “all in” last year.
“That’s not something I wanted to happen,” Khaira said. “I wanted to play as long as I could. I wanted to come out to a strong team.”
The stay-at-home defenseman has been a steady presence this season for Everett, posting the second best plus/minus rating on the team at plus-29.
The Langley, British Columbia, native made a resounding impression on the team early on, so much so that he earned an ‘A’ on his jersey as an alternate captain at home, without having played more than just a couple games with Everett.
“You could see that the minute I met him,” Williams said. “Obviously with the wealth of experience and success he’s had in the league and how he approaches the younger players and teaches them and guides them, it was an easy decision for me. And it’s had nothing to do with his on-ice play. It’s what you do off the ice and how you develop a culture in the locker room, and he adds to that culture.”’
The second 20-year-old added to the Silvertips this season was Minulin in a late October deal. The Russian blueliner was a perfect fit for Everett, which was holding onto both an open overage spot and an import spot — teams are permitted just three overage players and two import players on their roster.
Minulin was a dynamic puck-mover with Swift Current, registering 43 points (13 goals and 30 assists) to rank second amongst Broncos blueliners. He’s posted just 18 points in 51 games with the Silvertips this season, but his play hasn’t dipped or his role hasn’t decreased — he’s still a fixture on Everett’s power play and typically is on the ice in key moments of the game.
It’s been more about adapting to a more physical style of play in the West, which Minulin has succeeded at.
“In the East it’s more open hockey and the ‘D’ getting more of a chance to play in the offensive zone and take shots,” Minulin said. “I think my game changed to playing more defensive and just making smarter plays. Just keep it simple.”
Andrusiak was the third to join the group in a bit of controversial trade on New Year’s Day with the Thunderbirds, which sent 20-year-old Sean Richards, a popular member of the dressing room and the fanbase, but struggled with suspensions due to his aggressive play style, back to Seattle to clear an overage spot.
His scoring has been down — Andrusiak has scored at a 0.37 goals-per-game rate in 29 contests in Everett, compared to a 0.79 rate in 34 games with Seattle. Andrusiak has shown the ability to score in bunches, having recorded seven multi-goal games this season, three hat tricks and a four-goal outing, but aside from a hat trick against Lethbridge on Jan. 26, all of those performances have come with Seattle.
The 20-year-old group has a much different look than the Silvertips’ overage contingent last year. Kevin Davis, Matt Fonteyne and Patrick Bajkov started their careers in Everett as 16-year-olds and concluded as 20-year-olds.
But a different perspective may not be a bad thing.
“It is a little odd. Usually most teams have at least one guy that has been in the organization right from the beginning,” Andrusiak said. “But I think it’s going to help a lot in the playoffs. We’ve obviously seen it from two different sides and two different organizations, so I think we can bring our experiences and what we’ve learned to help the team be better.”
Andrusiak added there are some parallels between this team and Seattle’s 2016-2017 Memorial Cup squad, in that the Thunderbirds added Rylan Toth and Austin Strand from Red Deer, two players that played in the tournament with the host team the year before.
The Thunderbirds also lost in the WHL Finals to Brandon the season before it got over the hump the next year.
“I think both groups were very close-knit,” Andrusiak said. “Obviously with the boys getting so close last year, you get that hunger in your mouth that you really want to win it because you don’t want that sour feeling like you did the year before.”
Some pundits expected Everett to take a step back this season after losing the aforementioned crop of 20-year-olds and three-time WHL goaltender of the year, Carter Hart. But with a reloaded, experience-laden roster, Everett’s back in a position to make a run.