Birch Hills product Rhett Ravndahl enjoying new opportunity with Brandon Wheat Kings

Perry Bergson/Brandon Sun. Birch Hills' Rhett Ravndahl is back playing closer to home after being dealt to the Brandon Wheat Kings at the WHL trade deadline.

Rhett Ravndahl was going to go on a day hike when he received a phone call that turned his plans into a drive of more than 2,100 kilometres.

The defenceman in his 18-year-old season, who hails from Birch Hills, was a part of a major WHL blockbuster trade at the league’s trade deadline last month.

The Brandon Wheat Kings traded 19-year-old forward Nate Danielson, who was drafted 9th overall by the Detroit Red Wings in the 2023 NHL Draft, to the Portland Winterhawks in exchange for Ravndahl, forward Nicholas Johnson, a fifth round pick in 2026, and Portland’s first round selections in 2025 and 2027.

Wheat Kings head coach and general manager Marty Murray says the trade will benefit Brandon in both the short and long term.

“We didn’t actively shop Nate. We received calls on him starting probably in the fall about what we were going to do with him. We didn’t pursue it real hard and then things got a little more aggressive as the trade deadline approached. (It was) a real difficult decision, Nate’s a great player and a great leader for a hockey team. We felt long term it was an opportunity to remain really competitive now and at the same time really strengthen our position down the road here.”

Ravndahl found himself lower on the depth chart in Portland after the Winterhawks bolstered their roster with the addition of Tyson Jugnauth from the Kamloops Blazers earlier in the season.

Murray says the Wheat Kings are hopeful Ravndahl will play big minutes for the team down the final stretch of the regular season and into the postseason.

“Rhett’s a decent sized player, I think that it’s an opportunity for him to really come out and make an impact on our team and become a player that’s relied on every night. He’s still kind of finding his way a little bit, but he’s getting through that kind of honeymoon phase with us, and hopefully he can be a pillar on the back end down the stretch.”

The trade was one of the last deals announced on trade deadline day, which was January 10. Ravndahl says he wasn’t expecting to be on the move so it was a very hectic period for him to pack up his life and get on the road to Manitoba.

“It came a bit as a surprise, kind of came out of nowhere about a few minutes before the deadline was ending. I heard that I was getting traded so it was just a big scramble at the time, just trying to get my stuff ready and make that long drive from Portland to Brandon.”

Ravndahl was originally selected in the fourth round of the 2020 WHL Prospects Draft by the Winterhawks, 83rd overall. The pick used on Ravndahl was acquired by the Winterhawks from the Medicine Hat Tigers in exchange for forward Nick Perna.

Ravndahl, alongside teammate Nicholas Johnston would load up into their vehicles and begin the trip that takes nearly 22 hours in optimal conditions, according to Google Maps.

Ravndahl says he took full advantage of the time on the road to reform connections and listen to music.

“A lot of podcasts and music. I don’t even know. I think I zoned out for half the time. I took some time to just call some people and talk to some people I haven’t talked to in a while and took some time to catch up with some people while I was driving, just to keep me occupied over that long drive.”

Ravndahl adds that he would not have been able to make the full trip to Brandon by himself and was glad to have Johnson along for the ride.

“Making that drive by myself and everything, I don’t think I would have been able to do it without Nick. We’re really good friends. We did all this together, and it’s just been awesome having him around.”

At the time of publishing, Ravndahl has skated in eight games for the Wheat Kings since the trade and recorded one assist against the Edmonton Oil Kings back on Jan. 28.

Having spent his entire WHL career in the Western Conference prior to the trade, Ravndahl says he has experienced an adjustment period familiarising himself with new competition.

“I think the biggest thing I have to say is the players in the Western Conference. I knew every guy on every team in the Western Conference because I played against them so many times. When I came over to Brandon, just playing against new guys. I got to get used to everyone now and know everyone’s game (and) who their top guys are. I think that was one of the biggest changes is just getting to know everyone in this conference, all the teams, what they play like.”

After being dealt for a player the calibre of Nate Danielson, Ravndahl says he has felt a bit of pressure to perform immediately upon arrival in the Wheat City.

“Brandon gave up their top guy, a top 10 NHL draft pick and they still want to be playoff competitive. So that puts a little bit of pressure on me coming in. I want to be able to help them push for a playoff spot and keep that playoff spot and hopefully go far in the playoffs.”

One benefit to the trade for Ravndahl is the opportunity to play much closer to his hometown of Birch Hills. Ravndahl and the Wheat Kings have three road dates against the Raiders at the Art Hauser Centre during the month of February, where Ravndahl during his U18 days for the Prince Albert Mintos.

Ravndahl says he is looking forward to playing in front of plenty of family and friends.

“My parents were pretty happy when I got traded considering that I’m a lot closer to home now. They’ll probably make the trip out to Brandon and come watch every once in a while. Whenever we’re in Saskatchewan and in Prince Albert, they’ll always be there.  That’s going to be pretty special just to come home to that home area and just be able to play in front of all my family and friends. That’s just awesome.”

Ravndahl and the Wheat Kings are in Prince Albert Saturday night at the Art Hauser Centre to take on the Raiders. Puck drops at 7 p.m.