Rarely does a trade work out so well for all the parties involved as it did when the Swift Current Broncos and Calgary Hitmen constructed a blockbuster Nov. 25.
The Hitmen sent a pair of veteran, two-way forwards in Matteo Gennaro and Beck Malenstyn along with a 2018 fifth-round pick in the WHL Bantam Draft to the Broncos for a package of six assets.
Gennaro was playing in his overage season and Malenstyn was playing in the back nine of his WHL career. The Broncos kicked off an arms race in the Eastern Division with this trade. After further bolstering their lineup with players from the Lethbridge Hurricanes at the trade deadline, the Broncos went on to capture their third Ed Chynoweth Cup in franchise history.
Even Broncos Head Coach and Director of Hockey Operations Manny Viveiros landed a gig with the Edmonton Oilers this offseason.
On the Hitmen side of things, in return they received 20-year-old Conner Chaulk, 18-year-old defenceman Dom Schmiemann, 17-year-old Riley Stotts, the rights to 17-year-old forward Josh Prokop and 15-year-old goaltender Ethan Hein, along with a second-round pick in the 2018 draft.
Chaulk came as advertised: A veteran two-way centre that finished second on the team with a 58.0 per cent in the faceoff dot. He was also known around the league as one of the best players to have within the dressing room. The knowledge he was able to pass down to one of the younger WHL clubs is immeasurable.
Schmiemann came over and helped anchor a blue line that was decimated through injuries and absences during the World Junior Championship. Not known for his point producing, Schmiemann brought sandpaper to the back end and was constantly clearing out the front of the net and blocking shots.
Thrown into the deal was Hein, a 6-foot-2 netminder and Prokop. Although the former fifth-round pick Prokop is committed to Ohio State University for the 2019-20 season, the Hitmen are still holding out hope he shows up with his younger brother, Luke, to training camp this fall.
The last part of the deal was Stotts, a utility forward that was buried in the depth chart of one of the most skilled lineups in the WHL.
In his first season with the Broncos as a 16-year-old, Stotts showed flashes of potential when he scored nine goals and added seven assists in 52 games.
But in the first 22 games last season, the 6-foot, 170-pound forward only found the back of the net twice and chipped in with one assist. He was left in the shadows while names like Glenn Gawdin, Tyler Steenbergen and Aleksi Heponiemi grabbed all the headlines up front for Swift Current.
Stotts always had it in him. He was the 10th overall pick in the 2015 Bantam Draft and was selected ahead of names like Ryan Chyzowski, Chase Wouters and Tristen Nielsen.
He just needed a chance to bloom.
“Things fell into place when I got here. I got more of an opportunity, the coaches trusted me and put me out there more.,” said Stotts.
It didn’t take the Winnipeg product long to get used to Hitmen colours. In his first game Dec. 1 at Prince Albert, he picked up a pair of assists.
“I didn’t try to change too much up when I got here. I always tried to play the same game — a 200-foot game — and tried to be as consistent as possible,” said Stotts.
Playing the wing the majority of the time in Swift Current, former Hitmen Head Coach Dallas Ferguson moved him over to centre. In his first two games with the Hitmen, he went 15-for-28 in the faceoff dot.
He also quickly connected with another former first-round pick (13thoverall in 2013 by the Prince Albert Raiders) in Jake Kryski.
“The first day I got here, he looked at me and said, ‘we both like to move the puck and skate,’ and the rest really spoke for itself this season,” said Stotts.
Stotts turned into one of the more consistent goal scorers for the Hitmen on the second and third line. In 47 games after the trade, he notched 17 goals, 24 assists and 41 points while being one of the few Hitmen to record a positive plus-minus, at plus-two.
He also helped Kryski enjoy a career year in his fourth full season.
After he was teamed up with Stotts, Kryski went on to score 11 of his 17 goals and register 30 of his 40 assists this season.
“(Kryski) is a great player that makes some really good plays out there and he does a great job finding me so I try and do the same for him,” said Stotts.
It was Stotts’ ability to make players around him better, show off a dynamic skating ability, win the occasional faceoff and put the puck in the back of the net that intrigued the Toronto Maple Leafs enough to draft him 83rdoverall in the third round of the NHL Entry Draft.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Stotts told Hitmenhockey.com after the draft. ““My family and I were gathered around watching it on TV and when it went on commercial I decided to refresh the draft tracker on my phone, there was nothing there but 30 seconds later I saw my name and it was just the happiest moment.
“There’s a thousand emotions going through right now and it’s hard to really explain it. Seeing my name on there didn’t feel real but it was and I’m honoured to be headed to Toronto. It’s a great organization from top to bottom and I’m looking forward to it.”
The Maple Leafs have employed former Hitmen players such as Brandon Kozun, Jerred Smithson, Justin Pogge and Fredrik Sjostrom.
Stotts would not be the only Hitmen to hear his name called by an NHL club.
68 picks later, the Nashville Predators came calling and nabbed Belarusian blue liner Vladislav Yeryomenko in the fifth round.
The 1999-born defenceman came to the Hitmen in 2016 when they selected him 46th overall in the Canadian Hockey League Import Draft.
Adjusting to life on a different continent, Yeryomenko popped in six goals and 19 assists in 62 games with the Hitmen in 2016-17.
That season, he was also a big reason Team Belarus qualified for the 2017-18 World Junior Championship in Buffalo, N.Y.
In 13 games with the national program in 2016-17, he scored three goals and supplied seven points, as Belarus won gold at the World Junior Championship Division 1A tournament in Germany. He also won gold at the U18 level a year prior.
“Vladislav has really developed in the past two years. He’s getting a lot stronger and playing more of a North American style. He was one of our best players with the U18s last year,” said Team Belarus GM Vladislav Klochkov following last year’s World Junior Championship tournament. “I think he has a good shot and is a good defenceman. Depending on what NHL teams want, he could go in the draft. He certainly has what it takes to be the best defenceman on our national program in the next four to five years.”
Yeryomenko got to put his talents on display on one of the biggest stages this winter, when he saw his dream come true and suited up for Belarus at the World Junior Championship in Buffalo. His team might not have faired that well, but Yeryomenko led his team in ice time against juggernauts such as Team Russia, Team Czech Republic and Team Sweden in the round robin.
Upon returning from the World Junior Championship, Yeryomenko’s partner and former first-round pick Jake Bean was dealt to the Tri-City Americans.
The two blue liners were second and third on the Hitmen in scoring at the time of the trade. Bean was playing out the string on his final year of junior and made sure to help Yeryomenko out while he was still there.
“Yoyo is a very smart d-man. He sees the ice really well, has come along this year and can play big minutes against anyone in this league,” said Bean prior to his departure. “He’s one of those guys that just gets it. He doesn’t need much advice from me, he’s already well on his way.”
Naturally, Yeryomenko’s production dipped a little following the Bean trade. In 31 games with Bean on the Hitmen roster, Yeryomenko recorded eight goals and 18 assists, including the timeless Teddy Bear Toss goal Dec. 10 against the Moose Jaw Warriors.
Upon his return from the World Juniors, the 6-foot, 185-pound Yeryomenko only produce five goals and 10 assists in 31 games.
Nevertheless, scouts must have been impressed with the fact that he shoots right handed, is one of the smoother skaters on the ice, makes great decisions with the puck and is calm under pressure.
This wasn’t the first time that an NHL team showed interest in Yeryomenko. The blue liner was invited to the Maple Leafs’ developmental camp last summer but couldn’t attend because of issues with his passport.
After having their dreams come true, the road only gets tougher from here for Stotts and Yeryomenko. Neither has signed a pro deal yet. They should both be at development camps later this summer and possibly training camp. However, both can be expected back at Hitmen camp later this summer.