Raiders add veteran savvy with acquisition of McDonald from Cougars

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If the WHL’s East Division wasn’t tough enough already, the Prince Albert Raiders are taking steps to ensure it’s that much more daunting down the stretch run.

Saturday morning, Raiders general manager Curtis Hunt went out and added a gritty, goal-scoring veteran in the form of Kody McDonald (1998), swinging a deal that should benefit his club not only for the duration of 2017-18, but with 2018-19 in mind as well.

In addition to McDonald, the Raiders gain a conditional third-round pick in the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft. While all that is very nice, it came at a special cost for Hunt as he shipped former first-round WHL Bantam Draft selection Rhett Rhinehart (2001), defenceman Austin Crossley (1999) and a first-round pick in the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft back to Prince George.

“We are very excited to add Kody to our lineup,” Hunt said in a Raiders release. “He is a player we have been pursuing for some time. He brings a scoring touch, grit, incredible competitiveness, and rounds out our group. We hope that he will be a two-year guy.

“Rhett is a good, young player. Due to our organizational depth and the work by our scouting staff, we were able to move a blue-chip prospect and that’s what it takes to get a player like Kody.”

At the time of the trade, McDonald – a 6-foot-1, 200-pound product of Lethbridge, Alta. – leads all Cougars forwards in scoring with 36 points (19G-17A) in 35 contests this season. Producing at roughly a point-per-game clip, the former second-round selection (24th) from the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft is well on his way to eclipsing the career marks he set during the 2016-17 campaign, when he managed 49 points (17G-32A) in 68 games. Over the course of 232 career WHL regular season outings, McDonald has 126 points (60G-66A) to his name. In 15 WHL Playoff games, he has added another seven points (3G-4A).

“Kody grew up in Prince George and blossomed into an elite power forward in the WHL,” said Todd Harkins, general manager of the Cougars, in a team release. “Our entire organization wishes him all the best in his future with the Raiders.”

The acquisition of McDonald marks the third deal this week in which the Raiders moved to bring in greater experience. Tuesday, Hunt added overage forward Regan Nagy in a trade with the Victoria Royals. Thursday, he brought in the hulking presence of defenceman Jeremy Masella from Victoria.

Sitting seven points back of both the Saskatoon Blades and Regina Pats for the two wild card slots in the Eastern Conference, this week seems to be a clear indicator the Raiders aren’t content to settle for life outside the playoff picture.

On the other side of the coin, the young Cougars move to get younger for the second time in as many days.

Rhinehart – a 6-foot-3, 190-pound product of Lloydminster, Alta. – only turned 16 back on November 27. In his WHL rookie campaign, the rangy blueliner has dressed in 31 games, collecting one assist. While those numbers may not wow, we’re talking about a 16-year-old rearguard who was selected 13th overall at the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft after collecting 30 points (9G-21A) in 25 games with Yale Hockey Academy of the Canadian Sports School Hockey League. On top of that, Rhinehart’s potential is great enough for Hockey Canada to take notice as he suited up for Canada Red at the 2017 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.

“Rhett was one of the top defencemen in his Bantam Draft year, given his unique blend of size and skill,” Harkins said. “We’re thrilled to add an elite-level defenceman like him, that NHL scouts are already zeroing in on. He will be a staple on our blueline for years to come.”

In addition to Rhinehart, the Cougars add Crossley – a 6-foot-1, 202-pound product of Fort St. John, B.C. – to their blueline. In 49 career WHL games, Crossley has six points (1G-5A) to his credit.

“Austin brings a welcomed combination of size and grit to our team and he’ll fit in perfectly on our backend,” Harkins said. “His experience and ruggedness will complement our younger blueline nicely.”

What could very well go a long way for Harkins is the 2018 first-round pick, particularly if the Raiders positioning in the standings remains relatively unchanged between now and the end of the 2017-18 WHL regular season.

As previously mentioned, this is the second deal involving a veteran that Harkins has made in the past 24 hours. After having Jesse Gabrielle returned to the club from the AHL’s Providence Bruins, the Cougars GM promptly flipped the overage asset to the Regina Pats along with defenceman Jonas Harkins, bringing in Kjell Kjemhus, Ethan McColm and picks in the process.

The Raiders take to the ice Saturday evening (7 p.m. ST) when they host the Red Deer Rebels. Meanwhile, the Cougars will look to knock off the Tri-City Americans for the second time in as many nights when they do battle beginning at 7 p.m. PT.

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