The Swift Current Broncos said goodbye to Dillon Wagner today. They moved the overage forward to Portland for 1994 born forward Adam Smith. It was one of two moves on the day as the Broncos also added 1992 born defenceman Erik Fleming from Seattle for future considerations in the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft.
Broncos Coach/GM Mark Lamb on the trades (Download)
Wagner’s story in Swift Current ends with us wondering what could have been. He was a point per game player in as a 15-year-old in Midget AAA before playing in the AJHL at 16 and the WHL at 17. As a sophomore in the, Wagner more than doubled his production from 13 to 32 points. He actually outpaced current Broncos leading scorer Taylor Vause two seasons ago. Unfortunately, a series of knee injuries robbed Wagner of a chance to build on that progress last season. He missed all but 25 games after starting the season on the shelf and then getting shut down with a completely different knee injury at the end of the year.
Wagner came to camp this year in great shape and ready to fight for a roster spot. He scored a hat trick in a pre-season game against Prince Albert and did it while continuing to play the kind of game that makes him a guy coaches love. So what happened? Two games into the season he gets hurt again and the injury basically forced Swift Current’s hand. They are relying on the overage forwards they have (Vause and Hoban) to provide a lot of their offence and some key minutes in all situations. They can’t afford to gamble that Wagner was going to make it through the rest of the season healthy. Portland is in a different situation as they have more depth in the high-end skill department. Wagner is going to help them in what is a low risk and potentially high reward move.
I know the Broncos hate having to part with guys who have bled for this franchise like Jordan Peddle (to Edmonton for Groenheyde) and Dillon Wagner. We’re talking about guys who played combined nearly 350 games in a Bronco uniform. That is the unfortunate reality of the overage rule.
I think Wagner has the potential to be a 40+ point guy in the right situation. Even if he isn’t he will bring a ton of grit, heart and leadership to the Winterhawks. Portland is a better team today as a result of the deal.
So what are the Broncos getting in Adam Smith? In an article when they signed him, Winterhawks Coach/GM Mike Johnston described him as a “strong, physical two-way center who will add a lot of grit.”
Smith was Portland’s ninth round pick, 178th overall, in the 2009 Bantam Draft. He then played a year with the BC Major Midget North Island Silvertips and put up 7-8-15 in 38 games. As a 16-year-old Smith started the season in my old stomping grounds with the Castlegar Rebels of the Junior B KIJHL. A friend of mine in Castlegar told me he was a guy who would take on all comers (willing to scrap) and who was capable of some huge (sometimes borderline) hits. No kidding… he had 3 points and 108 penalty minutes in 16 games with Castlegar.
Whatever he did was enough for the Cowichan Valley Capitals of the BCHL to take notice. He spent the second half of the season in a bottom six role with the Caps. It appears the physical play may have calmed down some in the BCHL as he only had 15 penalty minutes in 30 games there. That may also be a result of the rules in Junior A that now restrict players to five fights a year before they start getting suspended.
Smith hasn’t been a go-to scorer at any junior level so far. We are talking about a physical, grinder type player at this point in his carer. He has the size for that. Different spots have him listed at 6’2 or 6’3 and between 180-220lbs. When I talk to him this week I will try to get a better idea of where he really sits. Either way it seems clear he is a player with size and strength.
Smith had put up 1 point in 6 games with Nanaimo in the BCHL so far this season. The Vancouver Island native is now en route to Swift Current to join the Broncos for the forseeable future. If he plays as advertised it looks like the Broncos are continuing their quest to become a bigger team that is tougher to play against. He sounds like a player Bronco fans are going to really enjoy watching.
The other move of the day saw the Broncos add depth to their blue line. One fan has already e-mailed me today to ask why they would re-assign Zinkan only to bring another defenceman in. I would say it is because there is less risk with someone like Fleming. He appears to come cheap (future considerations in the coming draft) and has over 150 games WHL experience. Fleming should be able to step into the line-up and be ready for the level of play. He also isn’t a young and developing WHL prospect. If he stayed, Zinkan needed to play at least 40 games whether he was ready for that workload or not. Fleming can play as much or as little as the Broncos need him. At the same time, Zinkan will be playing top pairing minutes in all situations in Major Midget AAA.
With Zinkan re-assigned and Jordan Evans out (and no timetable for his return), the Broncos were one injury away from being short a defenceman. Coach Lamb said they had to be proactive so they weren’t caught in a position of weakness. Even if no on else gets hurt the addition of Fleming brings competition back to the Swift Current back-end. They’ve been riding with the same six guys since the Evans injury. Fleming’s addition means no free rides for any of those six.
Another plus? Fleming apparently has chemistry with Adam Lowry already… wiffle ball counts, right?
What kind of player is Fleming? He’s as big body at 6’1, 206lbs. He doesn’t appear to have found himself as an offensive defenceman at the WHL level so far. However, Coach Lamb feels Fleming is a guy who can step into any situation.
There may be offensive potential if he gets an opportunity. Fleming scored 8 points in 17 Major Midget AAA games in 2007-08. His teammate with the UFA Bisons? None other than Jordan Evans.
Coach Lamb doesn’t expect either new guy to play in the upcoming three in three. However, stranger things have happened. Suspensions, injuries or poor games by certain individuals could change plans pretty quickly. The Broncos are back up to 14 heathy forwards and 7 healthy defencemen now. Spots in the line-up won’t be easy to keep if guys aren’t doing their jobs.
Thursday night’s game against the Raiders should be a good one. They played a roller coaster overtime game last Friday. Since then, the Raiders have lost twice to Regina and once to Moose Jaw. They also traded away Friday’s overtime hero James Bettauer to Medicine Hat. That’s the good news for the Broncos… the bad news? They added point per game forward Kellan Tochkin in return. I’m curious to see how the Raiders line-up when we see them tomorrow. They have four right-handed shots that should all be top 6 guys in McNeil, Herrod, Maylan and Tochkin. Burns also shoots right and was in their top six when we saw them last week. Will they spread the scoring out or will all those righties have to co-exist?
The Broncos will be fresh after a long break. A full week of practice should have them sharp and ready. Both teams are staring up the standings at the four other East Division teams right now. Just as it was last week, this is an early four point game. No matter what time of the season it is you don’t want to get too far behind.
Speaking of getting too far behind… the Broncos have given up the first goal in eight straight games. They have been down at least 2-0 in five straight games. I love their poise and battle level no matter the situation. However, they could sure make life easier on themselves with a better start.
Next on the schedule, the Medicine Hat Tigers pay their first visit of the season on Friday. The Broncos then head to Med Hat on Saturday. Reasons to come out to Friday’s game in particular? It’s Living Sky Casino Vegas night, you can win a trip to Las Vegas, early bird tickets (before 5pm) are only $10 for adults and $25 for a family of four… oh and Tigers F Emerson Etem might be the most dynamic player in the league. There aren’t many chances left to watch him do his thing. Last but not least, Medicine Hat sends more fans to Swift Current than any other team. Do you want the visitors to drown out the home fans? It’s been a couple of weeks since the Broncos were at home and everything is lining up for a good night at the rink.
Our broadcast starts at 6:30pm Thursday and Friday nights. The broadcast in Medicine Hat starts at 7pm on Saturday.