The Calgary Hitmen were one of the busier teams leading up to the 2018 Western Hockey League trade deadline. Jake Bean wasn’t the only member of the Calgary Hitmen to be traded. General Manager Jeff Chynoweth was quite busy in the days leading up to the eventful trade deadline Wednesday afternoon.
“In my 30 years with the league, I’ve never seen a trade deadline quite like this. There’s a difference between seeing the top players getting moved for the big prices and the perceived middle-of-the-road players also getting moved for high prices. I hope it’s healthy for the League in the long run,” said Chynoweth.
Bean was the most highly touted player that Chynoweth was taking calls on, but that didn’t stop him from pulling off an array of moves which he believes will help the Hitmen this year and in the years moving forward.
With the dust still settling from Bean’s departure to the Tri-City Americans, the Hitmen picked up 6-foot-7, 2000-born right-handed defenceman Ethan Martini and a conditional third-round pick in the 2020 Bantam Draft from the Swift Current Broncos for veteran two-way winger Andrew Fyten.
Martini was a third-round selection by the Broncos during the 2015 Bantam Draft. A product of Trail, B.C., Martini spent two seasons at the Edge School, playing for three different teams. Over the course of 62 games with the Mountaineers, Martini recorded eight points while playing alongside current Hitmen members such as Tristen Nielsen and Matthew Armitage.
“Ethan’s name came up last minute in the trade talks. I haven’t personally spoken with him since the trade, but Dallas Thompson (director of player personnel) and Bernie Bajnok (education advisor) have spoken with him, and Dallas will watch him play Jan. 12 against the Penticton Vees. We have a little info on him, as he played at the Edge School for a few years. While he hasn’t committed to the Western Hockey League yet, he also hasn’t committed to college either. So we will see what happens with him later on,” said Chynoweth.
As a 16-year-old, Martini debuted with the Trail Smoke Eaters of the B.C. Hockey League. In two years with the Smokies, Martini has appeared in 98 games, recorded 11 assists and racked up 191 penalty minutes.
“Ethan is a tough shutdown defenceman. For someone that is 6-foot-7, he has great feet, an amazing reach and is probably one of the toughest kids in the league,” said Smoke Eaters Head Coach Cam Keith. “He came into our program as a 15-year-old and right away established himself as a top-four defenceman. He plays hard and we use him in all situations. He plays the crucial final minutes; he’s a big member of our penalty kill and our go-to guy. His offensive ability is still coming along, but that will come as he develops more strength behind his shot.”
Martini will remain in Trail this season. If he does not sign with the Hitmen by the 2020 Draft, the Hitmen will absorb the Broncos’ 2020 third-round pick in that Draft.
In net, Nick Schneider has been the busiest goaltender in the league during his final season. With no serious depth in the organization, Chynoweth went and added a goaltender with WHL experience that will come in and compete for the starting job next training camp. Last training camp, the Hitmen brought in six goalies with Schneider the only one logging previous experience in the league.
Sanders, a Calgary product who grew up in the Calgary Buffaloes system with Royals superstar Matthew Phillips, has spent this season with the Prince Albert Raiders and the Lloydminster Bobcats of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
At the end of last season, Sanders underwent minor hip surgery, which delayed his ability to train and prepare himself for the upcoming season. Sanders broke camp with the Raiders, appeared in four games and finished with a 0-1-0-0 record with a 4.89 goals against average and a .854 save percentage. He was reassigned for what was called a conditioning stint with the Bobcats.
“Nick gobbles up pucks and doesn’t allow any easy rebounds. Pucks hit him and stick to him, whether it be in his body, glove or blocker. The guy battles on every shot and never quits on a play,” said Bobcats Assistant Coach Taylor Holt.
The 19-year-old goaltender played in 13 games for the AJHL club and performed to the tune of a 6-5-2 record, backed by a 2.95 goals against average and a .915 save percentage.
“Nick had suffered a high ankle sprain during his last start in Lloydminster. We brought him in and Tuesday morning and our training staff evaluated him then. He will still be out for a little bit so we will carry three goaltenders with us for the remainder of the season,” said Chynoweth.
Sanders was selected in the sixth-round by the Americans during the 2013 Bantam Draft. He first debuted with the big club during the 2014-15 season, going 0-2-0-0. In 67 career games in the WHL, he owns a 19-22-3-3, a 3.61 goals against with a .890 save percentage.
The Hitmen instantly called the 6-foot-1, 195-pound puck stopper up with them during their current three-game swing through Saskatchewan.
“This was mainly a move for next year. We do not have a lot of depth in goal. This was not a shot at Amry [Armitage] or [Connor] Dochuk, who battled it out at camp, but we felt like the prices to bring in a goaltender next fall would be sky-high. He has 67 games of experience and you can never have enough depth at the goaltending position moving forward,” said Chynoweth.
Earlier in the week, the Hitmen sent Russian-born winger Andrei Grishakov, 18, to the Victoria Royals for a third-round pick in the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft. Sending Grishakov to the island meant that the Hitmen opened up one of their two import spots on their roster. With potentially a top-10 pick in this summer’s CHL Import Draft, the Hitmen wanted to get something back for one of their import players before the trade deadline.
“When we traded Andrei Grishakov, it wasn’t our plan to select Egor [Zamula] one week later. We wanted to give more ice time to the younger players and keep our pick in the CHL Import Draft,” said Chynoweth.
Zamlua was drafted 60th overall in the first round of the 2017 Import Draft by the Pats and appeared in 38 games on their blue line. He recorded seven assists and with only a minus-1 rating.
The Regina Pats acquisition of Libor Hajek from the Saskatoon Blades on deadline day freed the Memorial Cup hosts to release Zamula.
“Zamula shares the same agent as [Vladislav] Yeryomenko and Grishakov. We had intel from some NHL teams that liked him so we picked him up. We like the fact that he’s 17 and a depth defenceman that didn’t play much in Regina. It was a no-brainer for us,” said Chynoweth.
The Zamula addition gave the Hitmen nine defencemen, which helped out when the Everett Silvertips came calling in search of some more help on the blue line.
That’s when Chynoweth turned around and sent defenceman Jameson Murray to the Silvertips in exchange for a sixth-round selection in either the 2019 or 2020 draft.
The pick depends on the Silvertips’ ability to land a sixth-round selection in either draft. Whichever draft they receive a sixth rounder in, the Hitmen will receive the opposite.
The 6-foot-3, 18-year-old Murray dressed for 63 games for the Hitmen over parts of two seasons. Murray established a career-high with six points this season, but was slowed down by an upper-body injury that was listed as day-to-day, but kept him out of the lineup for seven games around the holiday break.
Since Chynoweth kicked the door in on the trade season with the mega-deal that saw Matteo Gennaro and Beck Malenstyn go to the Broncos, the Hitmen GM has built his team around two main pillars; height and draft picks.
The Gennaro trade went down Nov. 25. Since and including that transaction, the Hitmen have been a part of six deals that have potentially produced a net gain of seven future draft picks along with six players of significant vertical presence.
Martini takes the belt with his 6-foot-7 frame. Not too far behind him are Dakota Krebs and Dom Schmiemann at 6-foot-4, with Zamula measuring in at 6-foot-3, while goaltenders Sanders and the 15-year-old Ethan Hein check in at 6-foot-2.
“It wasn’t something we targeted, it was more of the luck of the draw in the names that were being discussed ended up being the taller guys. Their height didn’t have a real bearing on whether or not we made a move for them. With the way the game is going, you got to be able to skate and think the game, and we think those players can do both very well,” said Chynoweth.
With all the new draft picks at his disposal and the trade deadline in the rearview mirror, Chynoweth will now crank up his draft coverage, as he his scouting staff will attend bantam regular season games, tournaments and playoffs later this spring.