The Everett Silvertips kicked off last offseason with only a single overage player on their roster in Sean Richards.
By the end of it, Everett was adorned with three completely new 20-year-olds, defensemen Sahvan Khaira and Artyom Minulin, and forward Zack Andrusiak, each with a wealth of valuable playoff experience and eager to make a run.
The Silvertips’ run fell short of their grand aspirations in the Western Conference semifinals, losing in five games to Spokane, but a bitter end to the season doesn’t diminish their enjoyable Western Hockey League careers.
The three overagers reflected on their WHL careers and what the future may hold during the Silvertips’ organization-wide exit meetings and locker cleanup day on Monday:
Khaira was the first of the three 20-year-olds to join the fray in Everett. The Langley, British Columbia, native requested a trade out of Swift Current and the Silvertips decided to acquire the burly, stay-at-home defenseman in exchange for Ethan O’Rourke and a third-round pick.
The younger brother of Silvertips alumni and Edmonton Oilers forward Jujhar Khaira made his presence known almost immediately, earning an assistant captain position in Everett’s leadership group.
Khaira stated before the season that he hoped to position himself to play professional hockey. That dream still lives on within Khaira, he affirmed.
The right-handed shot began his WHL career in 2014-2015 with the Seattle Thunderbirds as a 16-year-old. He was eventually traded to Swift Current for forward Cavin Leth, where he eventually won the Memorial Cup in 2018 after knocking off the Silvertips in six games in the WHL finals.
He requested a trade in the offseason to join a contender once again. The Silvertips didn’t win an Ed Chynoweth Cup, but Khaira said he didn’t regret his tenure in Everett one bit.
“It’s pretty tough to put into words,” he said. “Like anything, there is ups and there are downs, but I’m glad I was able to finish it here in Everett on a high with a bunch of great guys.”
Minulin was the second Swift Current Broncos blueliner to join the Silvertips, after Everett acquired him in a trade that went official on Halloween for 17-year-old defenesman Alex Moar.
The Tyumen, Russia, native was picked No. 29 overall in the 2015 Canadian Hockey League import draft and started to show immediate signs of being an impact offensive presence from the blueline.
After a successful Memorial Cup run, in which Minulin chipped in eight points in 20 WHL playoff games, Minulin was traded to Everett, which he was equal parts excited and amused about.
“I was really excited, and it was kind of funny because we played them in the finals the year before,” Minulin said.
Minulin said Khaira helped him assimilate with the team quickly.
“I really enjoyed (my) time in Everett and it was a really fun time here,” Minulin said.
The 6-foot-3 defenseman said he enjoyed playing in North America enough that’d he would pounce at an opportunity to play professional hockey in the American Hockey League or ECHL if it presented itself.
If that doesn’t pan out, Minulin was confident he’d have an opportunity in the KHL in Russia or somewhere else in Europe.
Andrusiak was the first of the acquired 20-year-olds, and his trade easily sparked the most ruckus.
After cementing himself as a big-time goal scorer with Seattle, Andrusiak was traded to Everett for draft picks, a prospect and overage forward Sean Richards, a fan and dressing room favorite.
But the goals didn’t come quite as easily for Andrusiak in Everett compared to Seattle.
After potting 27 in 34 games with the Thunderbirds, a .79 per game pace, the left winger notched just 11 in 29 regular-season games with the Silvertips, a .38 per game clip.
Some of the dropoff was due to playing a different role on a better team. But Andrusiak also admitted some bad luck led to his struggles.
“That’s just the way it goes sometimes,” Andrusiak said. “Some things begin to go in more times than not other games and I think here I had plenty of opportunities to score just as much. It just didn’t seem like they were going in some nights.
“But I think my overall game got a lot better, too. I really enjoyed my time here and it was great to learn.”
Andrusiak added that he thought his 200-foot game improved greatly.
The 5-foot-11 forward was originally a listed prospect by the Tri-City Americans, but aside from seven pointless games with the Americans as a 16-year-old, Andrusiak failed to crack the roster and wound up back in lower tier leagues.
He was eventually picked up by Prince Albert, where he accumulated a goal and an assist in eight games before being traded to Seattle, along with a third-round pick, for Leth, who ironically was the player Seattle acquired from Swift Current for Khaira. He was a key depth player on the Thunderbirds’ Memorial Cup squad.
Similarly to Khaira and Minulin, Andrusiak is clamoring for an opportunity to play professional hockey in the near future, whether it’s in the AHL or the ECHL.
“If it works out and I can do that next year, or if I had to go the USports (college) route, and take a little longer route, that’s OK, too. I’m just going to keep working and never give up.”
The Armstrong, British Columbia, native said in the meantime he’ll unwind after an eventful season, which for Andrusiak is exploring the Okanogan mountains and watching Los Angeles Dodger games, his favorite baseball team.
It might be the perfect time to reflect on a sometimes turbulent WHL career that ended in sublimity in Andrusiak’s eyes.
“It was probably my best year of junior hockey,” Andrusiak said. “They say how fast it goes, but you don’t realize truly how fast it goes until it’s over. I’m glad I got to spend the majority of my time here playing in the Puget Sound and it was awesome to see both sides of it from Seattle and Everett. I wouldn’t want to finish my junior career anywhere else.”