The Regina Pats have been involved in a tumultuous off-season in preparation for the 2015-2016 Western Hockey League season. Tumultuous in the sense that the managerial brass has dealt with freak injuries and questionable trades, which has us reminiscing about the direction this team was perennially headed in the infamous Parker era. There was so much optimism during last year's magical run which led to a competitive second round series loss against the Brandon Wheat Kings, which also saw a much needed ownership change now under the direction of the Queen City entertainment group but this off-season, as implied in the opening sentence has been concerning on a number of fronts, and the ultimate question I have is will this organization have enough in the tank to be the team to beat in 2016-2017, a year in which the Pats have set their sights on to give the league
championship the old college try. I'm not sure there is, but I'll leave that up to you to decipher.
Injuries have been the name of the game in Pat land this summer. First, and by far most prevalent is the loss of Colby Williams. Colby had a heralded start to the summer being a surprise selection in the National Hockey League draft going to the Washington Capitals and the immediate concern for Head Coach and General Manager John Paddock was whether Williams would be returned or spend the year with the American Hockey League affiliate. Need not worry anymore about that scenario as Williams has suffered a season ending upper body injury. The expectation for Williams was that he was going to be the defensive catalyst this year as he really came into his own throughout the 2014-2015 jaunt. Now, without Williams, the Pats are heavily banking on the continued emergence of players such as James Hilsendager and Connor Hobbs to carry the ship this winter. I give credit to Paddock in that before he was brought in, I thought Williams's play, for a lack of a better word, was horse manure. Watching Williams play prior to last year was like watching, and only long time Regina Pat supporters will understand and appreciate the reference, Gerad Adams play defence. You weren't sure if Adams was truly aware what team he played on as his nickname should've been Gerad" The Double Agent" Adams as you never truly knew what team held his services, he was that bad, as was Williams pre-Paddock. I remember thinking that it may have been wise considering transitioning Williams to a forward, because he skated well and just not responsible is his own end. It's now apparent that Williams is yesterday's news, just add one to the unlucky tally for the St.Patricia's. As you're about to learn, that tally is soon to be increased with the news that we received that Taylor Cooper is out until at least Christmas. Cooper, who was brought over from the Lethbridge Hurricanes(great trade, one of the few, a topic that will be discussed later) was phenomenal playing on the top line. He netted timely goals and always seemed to be in the ideal scoring areas. He was a good veteran presence up front for a team that's true aspirations lie in the 2016-2017 season and beyond. So to summarize the injury front, two key twenty year old cogs have now been lost, so how does this effect the game plan for the upcoming season? We'll discuss below.
I was extremely impressed with what John Paddock accomplished last year. His reward of being named the Western Hockey League's coach of the year is completely deserved. He took a team that a lot of media pendants perceived to be a non playoff team, and completely twisted the fortune of the franchise allowing the team to trade away their older assets while still comfortably sitting in the playoff picture Morgan Klimchuk was dealt for Jesse Gabrielle, a deal that due to recent turn of events will be forced to scrutinize shortly, Dryden Hunt and team captain Kyle Burroughs were jettisoned to the Medicine Hat Tigers. Also, Connor Gay was sent to the Red Deer Rebels along with a first round pick for youngster Jake Leschyshyn. The Medicine Hat Trade, in which the Pats received fellow Washington Capital draft pick Connor Hobbs I felt as if the Pats didn't get enough back in return. Hunt and Burroughs were two excellent nineteen year olds, and although I'm hearing conflicting reports on Burroughs, the consensus is that Dryden Hunt will be returned to the Tigers, and if by some oft chance Burroughs is sent back to, you have to wonder whether Paddock took enough from the Tiger shed? The Red Deer trade is what it is. For what it's worth, in my limited viewing of Leschyshyn, I was taken a back by his aggression on the ice. Usually, a lot of fifteen year olds/sixteen year olds who get coddled into the league don't play with that level of ferociousness but Jake was there to immediately rake up the points. I think Jake is bound to have a splendid season and fingers crossed he'll turn out to be the player father Curtis was. On a complete side note, I feel sorry for Pats play by play Phil "The Thrill" Andrews as not only does he have a Leschyshyn to pronounciate he also has a Zborovsky to deal with, but to make matters worse in two years time he may have a Leschyshyn and a Lenchyshyn to filter through. Good luck Phil! So the trade I really want to focus on tonight, and I think this will end up reflecting towards to the ultimate success of Paddock's tenure is the Morgan Klimchuk for Jesse Gabrielle deal. Gabrielle, who in Brandon and certainly carried over to the Regina Pats was that he was the Steve Downie of the WHL, his pesky style of play compounded with his tabasco infested mouth got under the skin of the opposition rendering him quite effective in my eyes. On the premise, trading away a nineteen year old first round NHL draft pick of the Calgary Flames in Klimchuk for a moderately coveted seventeen year old NHL prospect in Gabrielle seemed to add-up, The second half of the season saw scorching results for the franchise so it was hunky dory going forward, or so I thought. But then came the ever controversial summer 2015 trade involving the Patties and the Prince George Cougars. Jesse Gabrielle, a now Boston Bruins pick was sent away from a team that is trying to build around the 1997 and 1998 age group??? Utter ridiculousness if you ask me! My first inkling, which was never brought up as reasoning when attempting to provide justification with the move was that Gabrielle's personality caused conflicts forcing the Pats and Paddock's hand, but more than that, if we would've got fair value in return, I could've stomached the thought of sending away Jesse. Instead, we exchanged fourth round draft picks and got back in return a player who put up average statistics in Lane Zablocki. Zablocki, who some will suffice that it works in the Pats favour in that you can pair Zablocki with his fellow 1998 counterpart and face of the franchise in Sam Steel, but what happened trying to win in Steel's eighteen year old year, thus the requirement of possessing a strong 1997 core. The assumption from my end anyway is that their's a very strong chance Steel won't be playing junior hockey when he's nineteen so I fail to reason what they see in Zablocki to be a leading contributor in two year's time. I just can't and never will agree with this being a sound move, and if this move flames which I suspect it will, this will poorly reflect upon Paddock's legacy as a Pat, as this was a non necessitated transaction that was consummated.