Chiefs general manager Scott Carter is hoping to build something great in Spokane.
When Carter assessed his team before the Christmas break, there were some glaring deficiencies he knew needed to improve: strengthening the team’s penalty kill; finding more mobility and offense from defenseman; and finding scoring from its third and fourth lines.
Carter believes his team improved in those areas with a flurry of moves leading up to the Western Hockey League trade deadline. But with the Chiefs in ninth in the western conference standings, the future of the club was in the back of Carter’s mind with every move.
“When I came here, I wanted to build a championship team,” Carter said. “I didn’t want to just be a team that just gets into the playoffs and be done. I wanted to build something where we could and win a division and potentially challenge for a (championship).
“You look at the core of the young players that are with you beyond this year, and you start to say ‘how can I grow that group?’ ”
The most notable deal of the period came when Spokane swapped 20-year-old forward Markson Bechtold and defenseman Evan Fiala (19) for Wyatt Sloboshan (19), defenseman Nolan Reid (18) and the Blades’ 2017 third round bantam draft pick.
By flipping Fiala for Reid, who has two years of eligibility after this season opposed to Fiala’s one, the Chiefs gained a player that fit in well with Carter’s vision of becoming more mobile and offensive-minded in the back end.
“We had good defenseman,” Carter said, “(but) we had a lot of bigger, physical, stay-at-home defensive defenseman that weren’t really getting the pucks to our forwards without our forwards having to come back deep to get an easy pass. They weren’t about to beat guys one-on-one and make plays.”
Moving Fiala was also necessary due to Carter’s desire to retain only one 20-year-old defenseman next season. Tyson Helgesen and Fiala both required a 20-year-old spot next season, and Carter elected to keep Spokane’s captain in Helgesen over Fiala.
Carter also said the deal initially didn’t include Bechtold and Sloboshan, but Saskatoon highly coveted Bechtold and the Chiefs traded him away in an attempt to obtain a forward with more eligibility in Sloboshan.
Sloboshan didn’t end up reporting after the Western Hockey League’s Christmas break, and the Chiefs flipped him to Regina for forwards Riley Woods (18) and Rykr Cole (19). A third round pick in 2017 was also included to Regina in the deal.
Carter said he liked Woods, who is a year older than Sloboshan, better in a skill forward role. Since being traded to the Chiefs, Woods has seven points in eight games, including a one goal, two assist outburst against Portland on Saturday.
Cole adds depth as a fourth- or third-line grinder type in the Chiefs’ forward depth.
Having 15 forwards, the Chiefs traded 19-year-old forward Curtis Miske to Prince Albert for a fourth round pick and 19-year-old forward Tanner Wishnowski to Prince George for a conditional eighth round pick. Both players would have counted toward Spokane’s 20-year-old player total next season.
As it stands now, the Chiefs 20-year-old players next season would be Helgesen, Cole and Hudson Elynuik, assuming the Carolina Hurricanes’ third round pick in 2015 isn’t signed to a professional contract.
The Chiefs also signed 20-year-old forward Alex Mowbray out of the Alberta Junior Hockey league, a step down from the WHL, to fill the third and final overage player void left by Bechtold. Mowbray played three years for Medicine Hat in the WHL, scoring 21 points in his final season with the team before being released.
With the flurry of trades and acquisitions, the Chiefs became not only a younger team, but a smaller team. Carter said his intention wasn’t to build a smaller team, and more moves could be made in the future to add to Spokane’s size.
“When you’re trying to get the best things back, you just take the best available players,” Carter said. “Sometimes they’re shorter, they’re taller. It doesn’t mean we didn’t ask for players that were bigger players, we just couldn’t get those deals done.”
“Personally, I like a bigger team if I can have a bigger team, but they also have to be able to skate, they have to be able to compete, they have to be able to have hockey sense.”
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