Kamloops Blazers’ majority owner Tom Gaglardi said in July that his club would like to make a splash, but patience might be required before pulling the trigger on any major trades.
Shaun Clouston, the team’s head coach and general manager, is in charge of determining how Kamloops uses its sizeable chest of cannon fodder, which includes six first-round WHL Prospects Draft picks (two in 2023, one in 2024, two in 2025 and one in 2026).
So, has the club been close to making waves?
“No, not really,” Clouston said. “We haven’t been and it’s not necessarily for lack of interest. It’s timing. If there are certain players we have interest in, but they’re currently not available for whatever reason, that’s just the way it goes. As far as a splash, there is a smaller number of players that would fit into that category. Until the teams have gone through their process, evaluated where their team is at, made the decision that, OK, we are going to be sellers this year, then it’s just having some patience.”
Late November is often when business picks up on the major transactions front, then again in the period that runs from after the World Junior Hockey Championship (world juniors players cannot be traded during the tournament) to the WHL trade deadline on Jan. 10.
Kamloops is undergoing its own evaluation process.
Said Clouston: “How good are we? How good do we think we can be with this group and what exactly do we need to make us better? We have to make sure everyone comes back from NHL camps. Is there somebody that’s able to step up into a role that we thought maybe we were missing? Guys have a couple of more games and the early part of the season to make those arguments.”
The club’s GM was asked about the difficulty of determining when to make a move and how tough it is to part with assets that could end up being of value later on if a big fish becomes available.
“Every once in a while, maybe you get a player for just a pick,” Clouston said. “Most teams, if they’re willing or looking at potentially moving higher-end players, they want players back and that’s always a challenge, too. You want to make sure you’ve got a definite upgrade. We really, really like our team. We like our culture. We like the players who have grown up here and have totally bought into what we are doing. We will be patient and open and evaluate any potential opportunity to acquire players.”
Clouston, who is pleased with recent 19-year-old additions Kyle Masters on defence and Ashton Ferster up front, said it is not yet clear if one position group stands out in its need for upgrading.
WHL clubs have until early October to determine which three 20-year-old players remain on the roster.
“We really like our overage guys,” Clouston said. “[Ethan] Brandwood and [Daylan] Kuefler have grown up here and have just been warriors for us. [Drew] Englot came in and made a huge impact, was a real difference-maker for us. We like where we’re at there. It might be some time before something arises that really makes sense.”
As for the biggest fish of them all, 17-year-old Regina Pats’ sensation Connor Bedard, both Gaglardi and Clouston have expressed interest in acquiring him if the North Vancouver forward is available.
“I think Regina is going to evaluate things,” Clouston said. “The information we have is they’re not trading him right now. They believe they have a generational-type player and they’re going to try to add.
"So, right now, that’s the direction they’re going and I guess time will tell if they’re able to get to a place where they feel confident kind of going all-in at some point with Connor Bedard as the centrepiece or whether they change that mindset. But that, right now, from our understanding, is their mindset They’re looking to add right now.”