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Kamloops Blazers' GM Clouston recaps busy WHL trade deadline day

Shaun Clouston was among the most active general managers in the WHL on trade deadline day, swinging three deals on Monday, Jan. 17, to shake up his roster ahead of the stretch drive.
Josh Pillar celebrates Zazula's tying goal_1332 feat
Minnesota Wild draft pick Josh Pillar was traded on Monday to the Saskatoon Blades from the Kamloops Blazers.

Shaun Clouston was among the most active general managers in the WHL on trade deadline day, swinging three deals on Monday, Jan. 17, to shake up his roster ahead of the stretch drive.

Kamloops sent 20-year-old forward Nick McCarry and a second-round pick in the 2025 WHL Prospects Draft to Spokane in exchange for 20-year-old forward Luke Toporowski, the Bettendorf, Iowa, product who has 165 points, including 76 goals, in 223 WHL games, all with the Chiefs.

That deal came on the heels of a one-for-one swap with the Regina Pats, with the Blazers acquiring 19-year-old forward Drew Englot in exchange for 17-year-old forward Tye Spencer.

“There were some tough decisions that were made, but after it’s all finished, I think we added two players that have established themselves in the league and, with Luke, a proven goal scorer that plays gritty and has some swagger in his game,” Clouston said.

“He enjoys the spotlight and I think he’s going to add some scoring and confidence to our lineup.”

Toporowski, a 5-foot-11, 182-pound left shot, has 15 goals and 27 points in 29 games this season. The Blazers listed McCarry last June. The 5-foot-9, 165-pound forward from Calgary has seven goals and 28 points in 34 games this season.

“With Drew, he’s a real big centreman that skates hard and is tenacious and physical, one of the hardest-working guys I’ve seen at this level and another very mature-sounding player,” Clouston said.

Englot, a 6-foot-2, 198-pound right shot from Candiac, Sask., has six goals and 16 points in 32 games this season.

The Blazers nabbed Spencer in Round 3 of the 2019 WHL Prospects Draft. The 5-foot-8, 145-pound forward from Saskatoon has 13 points in 50 WHL games.

“With Tye, it’s challenging to move a good young player, but I think it’s going to be a nice fit in Regina closer to home,” Clouston said.

The Blazers also parted with one of their star players on Monday, sending 19-year-old Minnesota Wild draft pick Josh Pillar to the Saskatoon Blades in exchange for a conditional 2022 third-round pick and a conditional 2024 second-round pick in the prospects draft.

Pillar, a forward from Warman, Sask., is at home recovering from a private medical situation, according to a Blazers’ press release.

“It was a very unfortunate situation with Josh,” Clouston said. “We’re really pleased that Saskatoon and us were able to work something out so Josh could be at home.”

There are moving parts to the trade the team will not disclose, but Clouston said the conditions pertain to the number of games Pillar ends up playing for the Blades.

“We gave up a second for Topper,” Clouston said. “Hopefully, there is potential for a second and third back from the Pillar deal.”

Earlier this month, Clouston acquired 19-year-old forward Ethan Rowland from the Red Deer Rebels in exchange for a fourth- or fifth-round pick in the 2024 prospects draft.

He also snared 18-year-old forward Kobe Verbicky from the Edmonton Oil Kings in exchange for a seventh-round pick in 2022.

“Our depth was exposed a little bit recently,” Clouston said, noting his club’s lighter first-half schedule may have led to a record not totally indicative of its true standing in the league. “We’ve got some really good, young hockey players, but we need to make sure if we get into an injury situation, we’re a little stronger, have a little more experience.”

The recent trades were also designed to create competition within the Blazers’ dressing room.

“There was a time where everybody was just really comfortable with where they were going to play,” Clouston said. “We’ve created a situation where there is a little bit more competition for getting in and staying in the lineup.”

The Blazers feel they have potential to make a deep playoff run this season, but the club is planning to bid to host the 2023 Memorial Cup, so it avoided jettisoning first-round draft picks and key 17- and 18-year-old players, assets required for the bid.

Kamloops did not relinquish any of the four first-round picks it has over the next three prospects drafts.

“There is only a small number of players out there that would have demanded first-round draft picks,” Clouston said. “What we were looking to do with our team didn’t necessarily require that.”

Whether the Blazers’ roster is talented enough to compete with the top teams in the league — including any of the juggernauts that could emerge from the Eastern Conference — remains to be seen.

The Oil Kings, for example, acquired Justin Sourdif from the Vancouver Giants on Monday, a deal that has significant implications for the B.C. Division and leaves Edmonton with five players who toiled for Team Canada at the world juniors.

“With Edmonton, they’ve moved out a lot of their first-round picks for the next few years, so this is a year that they feel is their time and they’ve obviously kind of pushed all-in to make that happen,” Clouston said.

“It’s always got to be challenging to give up your best player. I’m sure it wasn’t an easy thing for Vancouver to do. They were able to, in both their deals, where they acquired three firsts, they were able to bring guys back that will help for this season so it wasn’t just acquiring picks.”

Toporowski and Englot are expected to be in the lineup on Friday, when the Blazers (22-11-1-0) square off against the Cougars (15-17-1-1) in Prince George.

Rowland is recovering from an upper-body injury that will keep him out of the lineup until February.

The Blazers, who hold a five-point lead on the Kelowna Rockets atop the B.C. Division, will play host to the Cougars on Saturday, a 7 p.m. start at Sandman Centre.

Kamloops has 34 games remaining in the regular season, 23 of which are slated to be played on home ice.