QUIET JANUARY DEAL TURNING INTO PATS SEASON-SAVER
Former Blades captain Sloboshan a key playoff performer as injuries set in
If not for one transaction, the Regina Pats would likely be lamenting inaction.
The deal, consummated Jan. 2, was not a headline-grabber at the time. Pats head coach and general manager John Paddock had acquired centre Wyatt Sloboshan and a third-round selection in the WHL’s 2017 bantam draft for wingers Rykr Cole and Riley Woods.
“Sloboshan adds skill and leadership to our club,” Paddock said in an early-January media release. “He will be a valuable contributor on our team down the stretch.”
That said, Paddock could not have envisioned how valuable the former Saskatoon Blades captain would prove to be.
The arrival of Sloboshan gave the Pats an embarrassment of riches at centre. They were three deep down the middle — thanks to Sam Steel, Adam Brooks and Jake Leschyshyn — before adding Sloboshan.
“We were getting him to be the 10th forward on the team,” Paddock noted on Monday after the Pats defeated the Swift Current Broncos 5-1 in the seventh and deciding game of an Eastern Conference semifinal.
The centre-ice depth chart began to change Feb. 3, when Leschyshyn suffered a seasonending knee injury.
Brooks also injured a knee in Game 2 of the Swift Current series, a setback that put his season — and that of the Pats — in peril.
Suddenly, an area of strength loomed as a glaring weakness. Against a stubborn Swift Current team, Regina was without a 130-point scorer (Brooks) and a potential high pick in the 2017 NHL draft (Leschsyhyn).
The Pats did have Sam Steel, who amassed a league-high 131 points (including 50 goals) en route to earning Eastern Conference player-of-the-year honours. But, beyond Steel, there were questions as to the Pats’ centreice depth.
Sloboshan to the rescue.
In timely fashion, he developed a rapport with Brooks’ linemates — Austin Wagner and Filip Ahl. That trio delivered a monster performance on Saturday, when Regina shook off a 3-1 deficit and won 5-3 in Swift Current to extend the series to a seventh game.
The Sloboshan-Wagner-Ahl troika had another strong game on Monday as the Pats advanced to the Eastern Conference final. The best-of-seven series is to begin Friday, 7 p.m., when the Pats play host to the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
After the series-ending victory over Swift Current, Paddock was asked: “What if you hadn’t traded for Wyatt Sloboshan?”
“Hmmm,” he said, pondering the hypothetical question. “What if Jake Leschyshyn hadn’t gotten hurt? Or Brooksie? There are ifs and buts.
“But I do believe that if you have a chance, you never have enough centremen and you never have enough defencemen. Centremen can play wing. Wingers can’t play centre. That’s something that will always be in the back of my mind when you have opportunities. There’s always a line drawn in the sand for how much you pay for certain things.”
It is safe to say that the Pats would now be paying handsomely, and likely dispersed across Western Canada, if Paddock had not swung the deal for Sloboshan.
“Stuff happens,” Paddock said, “and now he’s playing in the top six.”
The Pats’ bench boss was also quick to laud other unheralded contributors, such as forwards Robbie Holmes, Bryan Lockner and Jeff de Wit.
“These guys have grown and given us a little bit more all the time, and we need that,” Paddock noted. “We need Brooksie back so we can start to play four lines sometimes, because there were a lot of miles on our top six guys in this series.”
The Pats were miles ahead of the Broncos after Sloboshan, Wagner and Ahl began clicking on Saturday.
“In Game 6, they picked it up,” Paddock said. “Sam’s line lost basically the battle that night to the (Glenn) Gawdin line. (The Sloboshan line) picked it up huge.
“Wyatt’s finally getting rewarded for all the hard work. His game has been very, very consistent throughout the playoffs for 11 games, but he doesn’t have the numbers to show for it. These last two games were super-important.”
So, in hindsight, was the trade for Sloboshan.
“He’s a very versatile player,” Wagner said. “He’s a very skilled player and a very good player, and he works hard. You see that every night. I’m happy to have him on my line.”
If not for Sloboshan, the Pats might have faced the end of the line.
Centremen can play wing. Wingers can’t play centre. That’s something that will always be in the back of my mind.
The addition of centre Wyatt Sloboshan has made a huge difference for the Regina Pats at a crucial juncture of the season.