Moose Jaw Warriors general manager Alan Millar sat patiently, biding his time, as one blockbuster deal after another was announced in the days leading up to the 2018 WHL Trade Deadline.
That didn’t mean he wasn’t cooking up some dramatics of his own.
As the clock ticked past 3 p.m. MT on Wednesday, January 10, Millar’s Warriors announced the acquisition of Canadian World Junior gold-medal winning defenceman Kale Clague from the Brandon Wheat Kings at 3:15 p.m. MT, stunning fans across the WHL.
*Pause for dramatic effect*
In exchange for Clague, the Wheat Kings land a bevy of assets, including forward Luka Burzan (2000), defenceman Chase Hartje (1999), a first-round pick in the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft, a first-round pick in the 2021 WHL Bantam Draft and a second-round pick in the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft.
The top team in the WHL with a record of 33-6-1-2 (69 points) heading into Wednesday’s deadline, the Warriors watched all those around them in the WHL’s East Division make big splashes – the Regina Pats added the likes of Jesse Gabrielle, Cameron Hebig, Libor Hajek and Ryan Kubic (among others); the Swift Current Broncos landed Giorgio Estephan, Stuart Skinner and Josh Anderson (among others); the Saskatoon Blades brought in Max Gerlach, Eric Florchuk, Dawson Davidson and Tyler Brown (among others); and, even the Prince Albert Raiders bolstered their lineup with the acquisition of Kody McDonald (also among others).
If they weren’t already to be feared, the Warriors most certainly will have teams trembling following the addition of the smooth-skating, offensively-gifted and defensively-responsible Clague. A 19-year-old product of Lloydminster, Alta., Clague is blowing away opponents from the blueline thus far in 2017-18 with 47 points (10G-37A) through 28 games.
Originally selected by the Wheat Kings in the first round (sixth) of the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft, Clague has enjoyed a thoroughly productive and successful WHL career. In 169 career WHL regular season contests, he has 143 points (25G-118A). On three occasions, he has suited up for Team WHL at the annual CIBC Canada Russia Series (2015, 2016, 2017). He was named to the Sherwin-Williams CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in 2015 before being selected by the Los Angeles Kings in the second round (51st) of the 2016 NHL Draft. He has been named to a WHL Eastern Conference All-Star team (2016-17) and won the Ed Chynoweth Cup as a member of the 2016 WHL Champion Brandon Wheat Kings.
That doesn’t even bring to light the silver medal (2017) and gold medal (2018) he has collected while representing Team Canada at the IIHF World Junior Championship or the gold medal he earned with Team Canada at the 2015 U18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup.
Clague’s 47 points this season place him firmly in a tie with Medicine Hat Tigers defenceman David Quenneville (17G-30A) for the league scoring lead among defenceman. The difference – Clague has only played 28 games to Quenneville’s 40.
Okay, we get it. The Warriors did well to get Clague.
How about what’s going the other way? The Wheat Kings didn’t exactly miss the mark here either.
Heading up the key pieces off to Brandon is Burzan – an 18-year-old forward from Surrey, B.C., who has been flagged by NHL Central Scouting as a ‘player to watch’ ahead of the 2018 NHL Draft. Standing 6-foot-1 and weighing in at 180 pounds, Burzan was originally selected by the Warriors in the first round (sixth) of the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft. After enjoying a quality 16-year-old campaign that saw him post 27 points (14G-13A) in 66 games, Burzan has continued that success in 2017-18, marking up 19 points (6G-13A) in 42 contests to date this season.
In Hartje, the Wheat Kings land a 5-foot-11, 185-pound playmaking defenceman. A product of Bemidji, Minn., Hartje’s rookie campaign has seen him register 17 assists in 31 games with the Warriors. With Clague leaving a significant void, Hartje brings a similar skill set and will have a great opportunity to step into that role.
The cherries on that return for Brandon come in the form of first-round picks in 2019 and 2021, as well as a second-round pick in the upcoming 2018 WHL Bantam Draft.
It made for a busy finish to the 2018 WHL Trade Deadline, particularly in Brandon, as the Wheat Kings also dealt captain Tanner Kaspick in another under-the-wire shocker with the Victoria Royals.
“This was a difficult decision,” said Grant Armstrong, general manager of the Wheat Kings, in a team release. “While we explored a number of opportunities in an effort to improve this year’s team, the prices were far too high. We had to look at it as what is best for our team… what’s best for today, what’s best for tomorrow.
“These moves today give us a chance to stay along the plan that has been put in place, that we’ve consistently stuck with and continue to do so. Losing two players of this calibre is difficult, but the return made it impossible to turn down.
“I want to thank both Kale and Tanner for their outstanding contributions to the organization. Both are exceptional young men and we wish them the very best with their new teams.”
With Clague now in the fold, the Warriors will look to fend off the likes of the Swift Current Broncos (29-10-3-0, 61 points), Wheat Kings (27-12-1-1, 56 points), Saskatoon Blades (21-18-2-1, 45 points), Regina Pats (21-19-3-0, 45 points) and Prince Albert Raiders (15-18-6-2, 38 points) in a beastly East Division that is unlike any seen in the WHL in years.
The Warriors take to the ice Wednesday night (7 p.m. ST) when the Calgary Hitmen visit Mosaic Place in Moose Jaw. Clague is expected to make his Warriors debut on Friday (7 p.m. ST) when the Edmonton Oil Kings visit Moose Jaw.
As for the Wheat Kings, life without Clague begins Friday night (7:30 p.m. CT) when the Hitmen visit Westman Place in Brandon.