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Kneen, Smith shipped out of Kamloops in Blazers' roster shakeup

Matt Bardsley had seen enough to know immediate change was necessary.
Nolan Kneen
Nolan Kneen is no longer a Kamloops Blazer.

Matt Bardsley had seen enough to know immediate change was necessary.

The Kamloops Blazers’ general manager jettisoned a pair of veterans — 20-year-old forward Luc Smith and 19-year-old defenceman Nolan Kneen — in transactions on Monday that precede the WHL trade deadline by 45 days and leave ample time for further alterations to a franchise taking the shape of a new regime.

Kamloops shipped Kneen, the highest bantam draft pick in Blazers’ history (third overall, 2014), to the Saskatoon Blades in exchange for 19-year-old defenceman Jackson Caller, a Tournament Capital product, and second- and third-round picks in the 2020 bantam draft.

Kneen racked up 74 points, including 14 goals, in 216 regular-season games with the Blazers.

Smith was dealt to the Spokane Chiefs in exchange for 20-year-old forward Jeff Faith, along with third- and sixth-round picks in 2020. Smith, acquired from the Regina Pats in December of 2016, had 74 points in 115 games for Kamloops.

The Blazers (9-11-1-1), inconsistent and inexplicably substandard on home ice, are second-last in Western Conference standings.

“I believe we should be further up in the standings,” said Bardsley, a first-year GM who took the Blazers’ reins in June. “I’d like to see our team more consistent in how we play night in and night out.

“I wanted to address it now, rather than wait to closer to the deadline. By that time, we might have a better feel about where we’re at. I want to correct it and we still give ourselves time to do anymore changes. If we need to add or whatever, then we can do that, as well.”

The Blazers are stockpiling draft picks.

They have full sets of their own for the 2019 and 2020 drafts, although there is a condition on the Blazers’ fourth-round pick in 2020. If Kobe Mohr remains with Kamloops next season, the Edmonton Oil Kings receive the pick as part of a trade made in May.

The Blazers are slated to pick twice in both the first and fourth rounds in 2019.

In 2020, Kamloops has acquired extra second- and fourth-round picks, along with a pair of extra picks in both the third and sixth rounds.

WHL clubs are prohibited from trading signed 15- and 16-year-old players and can only deal 17-year-olds if the player requests the trade, rules that came into effect this season.

“Picks are important for now and the future,” Bardsley said. “It allows you flexibilty. You can move those picks to bring somebody in or keep them.

“As far as getting players from a team, you’re limited by new trade restrictions. You’re talking basically a three-year age group.”

Bardsley did not want to classify his club as a seller, but the moves indicate the team is looking to the future.

Kneen is enjoying a productive start to the season, arguably playing the best hockey of his career, and was third in Blazers’ scoring with 20 points, including 16 assists.

Smith was fourth in Blazers’ scoring, with 19 points, and tied for second in team goal scoring, having lit the lamp eight times. He had career-highs in goals, assists and points last season.

Both players had trade value.

Caller and Faith have combined for three points this season.

“What these two players will bring is a bit of a different element,” Bardsley said. “Jackson actually had a pretty good year last year. He had 26 points.

“This year, he’s certainly had a different start, but maybe with a new opportunity I believe he can get back to where I believe he can get to.”

Caller, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 189 pounds, was drafted by the Winterhawks in 2014, when Bardsley was Portland’s assistant GM.

The Chiefs nabbed Faith — a defenceman when he came into the league — 16th overall in 2013.

“Jeff is a big, strong kid,” Bardsley said of the 6-foot-4, 200-pound forward. “He plays a hard game. He’s hard to play against. I know what we’re losing offensively in Nolan and Luc.”

The Blazers have not been a particulary strong offensive team, even with Kneen and Smith in the lineup.

Bardsley said their void represents opportunity to Caller, Faith and everyone else on the roster looking for increased roles.

Does the Monday deal also address culture issues?

“I wouldn’t talk about the culture part,” Bardsley said. “Some people might suggest that. It was more about putting a stamp on this team.

“Even though we’re last in the division, we’re only four points out of second place, as well. I wanted to address it now, rather than wait and wait until maybe it’s too late.”

The Blazers have 16 games before the Jan. 10 trade deadline.

“I’m not suggesting that we’re selling,” Bardsley said. “I don’t believe we’re selling. Some people are probably going to look at it like we are.

“We’re a bit inconsistent, not so much in how we play, I guess a little bit, but also just with where we’re at. I just felt for the organization it was time to make a change.”

Hello, Nolan

Kneen and the Blades (15-8-2-0) will be in Kamloops for a tilt against the Blazers on Friday.

Game time is 7 p.m. at Sandman Centre.

The Blazers will play host to the Seattle Thunderbirds (8-12-3-0) on Saturday, with puck-drop slated for 7 p.m.

Kamloops split a pair of games against U.S. Division opponents last weekend, besting Tri-City 5-1 in Kennewick, Wash., on Friday and falling 3-1 to the Chiefs (13-8-1-1) in Spokane on Saturday.

The Americans are 13-9 on the campaign.