The Trail Smoke Eaters made a major five player deal today with the AJHL's Brooks Bandits. Matt Wilkins, Darnell Dyck and Mitch Kaufmann are headed to Brooks for Cullen Bradshaw and Steve Dobbin.
Bradshaw was Brooks' top scorer with 65 points while Dobbin was third on the team with 46 points. Dyck scored 29 for Trail while Wilkins had 25 in 37 games and Kaufmann added 17 in 32 games. Everybody in the deal can make a major contribution to their team.
It's a clear signal from the Smokies that they're looking to be competitive next season. Bradshaw and Dobbin are both entering their 20 year old seasons and expected to play at their highest level. Given that they were top scorers on their team in their 19 year old seasons one would expect they have the ability to be go to guys for the Smokies as well. Add them to a core of returning players that already includes several top 6 forwards and there's lots of reason for optimism.
As for the guys heading the other way... it's always disappointing to see promising and talented guys who want to be here move on. That's the reality of trying to make your team better. You have to give up something of real value to try to push to that next level. I'm sure that trading away Wilkins, Dyck and Kaufmann was far from easy for Coach Ingram. I know the team will miss what those guys brought to the table.
Darnell was probably the biggest character on the team who knows how to get under the opponent's skin better than anyone in the league. He also proved last year that he can be an offensive player as he increased his production from 11 points with Surrey to 29 with Trail. With some great moves and a very good shot he could take his game to an even higher level with the Bandits.
Wilkins had a rookie season unfortunately interrupted by a broken jaw in the fall. Up to that point he was hovering at a point per game pace, but it took him a little bit to get back to that when he returned. Matt also admitted to me that earlier in the season he deferred a little too much to the veterans and didn't take his shots. When he started to later in the year and especially in the playoffs... boy he was dangerous. Matt was the top goals per game scorer in the KIJHL as a 17 year old so the sky is the limit in Brooks.
Kaufmann heads back to the AJHL after he won a championship in that league two years ago. He brought a steady all-around game to the Smokies and has a bullet of a shot on the one timer. I think Kaufmann is a guy who with the experience he has gained is going to be able to run a power play in Alberta.
Brooks is lucky to have them.
But as I said you have to give something to get something. Bradshaw's point totals with the Bandits last season would have had him third on the Smokies in scoring behind Jacklin and Sandor. He fits right into that top group of forwards who would make a difference both at even strength and on the power play. He wasn't just a set up guy either as he put 28 goals home last year.
Dobbin also played at a high level with a point total that would have had him tied with St. Denis for 4th on the Smokies if he had been here last season. Obviously there are some questions about how the guys will adapt to the BCHL and a new team, but I'm looking forward to seeing both in Smokies colours.
This move gives Trail the kind of depth at the top of their line-up that would allow them to role out 3 very strong scoring lines. Depth wins championships whether you're Vernon or Chicago. Add that to all the new recruits that are going to be coming to camp and there's a lot to look forward to.
I'll have comments from Coach Ingram on this tomorrow night on Overtime. I'll also have an interview with Bradshaw on coming to Trail. We'll eventually get that audio on the blog as well.
Best of luck to Darnell, Matt and Mitch. You were all class acts and will be terrific in Brooks. Looking forward to seeing you again at the exhibition tournament in September.
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