KAMLOOPS — January 10 is the trade deadline in the Western Hockey League.
The Blazers have jumped the gun on the rush with two separate deals — dealing veterans for veterans and draft picks.
19-year-old defenseman Nolan Kneen is headed to the Saskatoon Blades for 19-year-old Jackson Caller, also a defenceman.
Kneen had spent his entire career with the Blazers, who took him as their first round bantam draft pick in 2014.
This is a homecoming for Caller, who is from Kamloops — starting his career with the Portland Winterhawks, he was in his third season with Saskatoon.
20-year-old forward Luc Smith is going to the Spokane Chiefs for 20-year-old forward Jeff Faith. This is Smith's fifth and final season — his third with the Blazers.
Faith is a four-year veteran — all with Spokane until today.
"Jeff Faith in Spokane — when I was in Portland we played against him the last four year," says general manager Matt Bardsley. "He's a different type of player, he's a big body and certainly has a presence on the ice. Plays a game that's very difficult for opposing teams to play against.
"Jackson Caller, we had him in Portland," says Bardsley. "We drafted him, so I know Jackson as a person. I think he's a steady two-way defenceman. He had a good year last year offensively — this year has been a little bit of a slow start."
The Blazers are giving up a difference of nine goals and 36 points in the two trades.
Smith had 8 goals and 11 assists for 19 points in 22 games. Faith has a goal in 24 games.
Kneen is having a career season with four goals and 20 points in 21 games. In 20 games in Saskatoon, Caller has two goals.
"We're right in the playoff hunt," says Matt Bardsley. "Some people will be thinking we're selling off, but that's not the case. Technically we're four points out of second place (in the B.C. Division). But we've been inconsistent and I think sometimes you have to make some changes to help the organization."
Bardsley points to the team's streaky first two months to the season and their home versus away record — 7-5-1 on the road compared to only two wins in nine games at the Sandman Centre.
"Sometimes you just have to make changes — I don't know if maybe our team is in a rut," says Bardsley. "We'll go on a winning streak, we'll go on a losing streak — we take some strides and then it's one step forward and two steps back. I think sometimes you have to make change to change the way the team's going."
Bardsley says with the new rules regarding trades, the draft picks are as important as fresh bodies in moving forward.
"You're not allowed to trade a signed 15- or 16-year-old and the 17-year-olds have to agree to a trade," says the general manager. "So you have a pretty small group of 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds that you're allowed to trade. Last year with all those major trades a lot of them included signed 15- and 16-year olds, teams are going to have to make up for it (for trades) with the draft picks... so whether we use those to select a player or use those drafts to acquire a player — it gives some options of what you can do to improve your team."
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