Zablocki heads south as Rebels & Hurricanes strike late-night blockbuster

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Is there ever a bad time for a division-altering blockbuster trade?

Evidently, Peter Anholt doesn’t think so.

The ever-crafty general manager of the Lethbridge Hurricanes struck the latest jaw-dropping trade Friday evening just before 11 p.m. MT, sending 17-year-old forward Josh Tarzwell, a second-round pick in the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft and a conditional third-round pick in the 2020 WHL Bantam Draft up the highway to the Red Deer Rebels in exchange for high-scoring 19-year-old Detroit Red Wings prospect Lane Zablocki.

“We felt by adding a guy like Zablocki, the way he plays, how hard he plays, how hard he competes and his ability to score big goals is one of the things that jumps out at you,” Anholt said in a team release.

“The injury to [Ryan] Vandervlis pushed this on a little bit further. We saw what Zablocki could do in the playoffs against us in the playoffs with his experience. He’s a quality player and I think any time you have a chance to add that kind of quality, you have to give it a look.”

Zablocki, a 6-foot, 182-pound product of Wetaskiwin, Alta., has managed 19 points (9G-10A) through 31 games with the Rebels this season. Over the course of 167 career WHL regular season games split between Red Deer and the Regina Pats, Zablocki has collected 110 points (55G-55A).

In Vandervlis, the Hurricanes lost their veteran pivot to season-ending surgery this past week. The 19-year-old native of Red Deer was enjoying a career pace to start his season, producing a point per game through 19 contests (11G-8A).

As for Anholt’s reference to Zablocki’s playoff prowess, the gritty forward has 17 points (13G-4A) to his name through 18 career WHL post-season outings.

The third-year WHL forward enjoyed a career season in 2016-17, managing 54 points (28G-26A) in 64 games split between the Rebels and Pats. That performance was good enough for the Detroit Red Wings to take a chance on him, calling Zablocki’s name with the 79th overall selection in the third round of the 2017 NHL Draft this past June.

While the established veteran Zablocki heads south down Highway 2 to Alberta’s Windy City, it’s the young and emerging Tarzwell heading north up that same road to central Alberta.

“It’s hard to give up Tarzwell,” Anholt said. “He’s been a soldier here and he was one of the first guys to sign since I’ve been here and he’s continued to get better and better.”

While Tarzwell’s departure may be bittersweet for Anholt, it presents a homecoming for the 6-foot-2, 197-pound forward in his NHL Draft year. The second-year WHLer is a product of Red Deer, having played his minor hockey in the area, including suiting up for the Red Deer Midget AAA Chiefs in 2015-16.

In his sophomore WHL season, Tarzwell is enjoying a career campaign 28 games in, establishing new personal marks in all major offensive categories, including points (14), goals (3) and assists (11). During his rookie season, he managed five points (2G-3A) in 36 games.

Not only did Anholt strike this deal at nearly 11 p.m. on a Friday night, he did so after a less than ideal outcome against the Hurricanes division rivals from Edmonton. Friday night, the Central Division’s last-place Oil Kings (7-19-3-0) handed the Hurricanes a 6-5 overtime loss in which Lethbridge surrendered a 5-3 lead before falling in extra time. The defeat dropped the Hurricanes to 14-13-2-0 on the season, though they sit in second place in the Central Division, six points behind the Medicine Hat Tigers (17-11-2-0) but with one game in hand.

As for the Rebels, they remain fifth in the Central Division with a record of 9-18-3-1. Jettisoning Zablocki seemingly indicates general manager and head coach Brent Sutter is already preparing to retool his club for the future.

Zablocki, a right-shooting right winger could have the opportunity to lineup alongside high-end 20-year-old centre Giorgio Estephan, who has rattled off 45 points (14G-31A) in 29 games this season, coming on the heels of an outstanding 2016-17 season in which he racked up 89 points (35G-54A) in 68 contests.

While Hurricanes suffered defeat at the hands of the Oil Kings on Friday, the Rebels played host to the Moose Jaw Warriors, falling 3-0 on home ice. The Rebels return to action Saturday as the Swift Current Broncos visit the Enmax Centrium in Red Deer. Meanwhile, the Hurricanes are off for the remainder of the weekend before heading out on a four-game East Division road swing prior to Christmas, beginning Tuesday at Saskatoon.

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