Wild focus on reload as WHL trade deadline draws near

Conor Geekie handles the puck during a game against the Prince Albert Raiders in 2023. -- Photo by Darren Steinke.

So who would have had Kenta Isogai being the face of the Wenatchee Wild a year ago on their bingo card as being a thing in the WHL?

The 19-year-old left-winger Nagano, Japan, is playing through his first year in the WHL leading the Wild in scoring with 56 points coming off 20 goals and 36 assists to go with a plus-23 rating in the plus-minus department. Entering play on Tuesday, he sat ninth in the overall scoring race for the circuit.

Isogai is not a rookie junior. He played the last nine seasons with the Youngstown Phantoms of the United States Hockey League helping the Phantoms win the USHL title last season.

The Wild claimed Isogai’s CHL rights by selecting him in the first round and 60th overall in the CHL Import Draft held on July 5, 2023. The Phantoms proceeded to allow Isogai to be released to the Wild.

Of course, the Wild franchise in the WHL was formerly the Winnipeg Ice, who fell in last year’s WHL Championship Series to the Seattle Thunderbirds. The Ice were sold to David and Lisa White of the Shoot the Puck Foundation, who owned the junior A Wenatchee Wild franchise that has played in the British Columbia Hockey League since 2015.

With those developments, the history of the Wild franchise moved up from junior A to major junior and most of the team’s personnel made the jump too including general manager Bliss Littler. The Wild operated with the player roster of the now former Ice franchise.

The Ice during their last season in Winnipeg went all in trying to win a WHL title. On January 8, 2023 just two days before that season’s WHL trade deadline, the Ice acquired then 19-year-old left-winger and captain of the Vancouver Giants in Zack Ostapchuk. In exchange, the Giants received two roster players in 19-year-old right-winger Skyler Bruce, 17-year-old forward in Connor Dale, two 15-year-old prospects in Owen Brees and Hudson Lundmark, first round Prospects Draft selections in 2024, 2025 and 2026 and a fifth round pick in 2025.

Even with graduations from the major junior ranks, the Wild were inheriting a strong returning roster from the Ice, which could have been stronger had the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres returned 18-year-old left-winger Zach Benson to the WHL. With the Ostapchuk trade and the deals the Ice made earlier in the 2022-23 campaign, the Wild were looking at a bare cupboard when it game to top round selections in the upcoming WHL Prospects Draft.

At the WHL’s Christmas break, the Wild were leading the U.S. Division with a 21-11-3 mark. They still topped the U.S. Division on January 3 with a 23-13-3 mark after falling 6-2 to the Prince George Cougars.

While it would have been tempting to keep the band together to attempt a long playoff run, Littler elected to address where the team would be at going ahead in future seasons. On January 4, Littler parted ways with two players who were synonymous with the Ice posting a 166-49-6-2 record in regular season play in Winnipeg.

Centre Matthew Savoie, who turned 20-years-old on January 1, was dealt to the Moose Jaw Warriors. In return, the Wild received first, third and sixth round selections in the 2024 Prospects Draft, an eighth round pick in the 2025 Prospects Draft, a second round selection in the 2026 Prospects Draft and first and fourth round selections in the 2027 Prospects Draft.

Centre Conor Geekie, who is 19-years-old, was shipped to the Swift Current Broncos. In return, the Wild received 18-year-old defenceman Sam Ward, defenceman Josh Fluker, who turned 18-years-old on January 3, rookie 17-year-old left-winger Maddix McCagherty, first and second round selections in the 2025 Prospects Draft, a first round selection in the 2026 Prospects Draft and a seventh round selection in the 2027 Prospects Draft.

With the WHL trade deadline slated for Wednesday at 4 p.m. Saskatchewan time, the Wild could still make some more moves. At the start of the day on Tuesday, the last well-known holdovers from the Ice still on the Wild roster are goaltender Daniel Hauser, defencemen Karter Prosofsky, Graham Sward and Jonas Woo, and right-wingers Evan Friesen and Ty Fraser and centre Briley Wood.

 Prosofsky, Sward and Wood are all in their 20-year-old seasons and will graduate from the major junior ranks once the current campaign is complete. Prosofsky actually played two games as a 15-year-old call up in 2018-19, when the Ice were located in Cranbrook, B.C., and were known at the Kootenay Ice.

With the trades of Savoie and Geekie, it appears the Winnipeg Ice era won’t have a one-season curtain call in Wenatchee as the Wild.

Raiders appear done with moves, other notes

As the WHL trade deadline looms, it is possible the last trade the Prince Albert Raiders might have made for the 2023-24 campaign came this past October.

On October 11, 2023, the Raiders traded 17-year-old defenceman Seth Tansem to the Brandon Wheat Kings for a fourth round selection in the 2025 Prospects Draft. Since returning from the WHL Christmas break, the Raiders have made moves on the non-trade front.

They dropped 20-year-old netminder Chase Coward from their roster on Dec. 28, 2023 and added 18-year-old Nathan Preston that same day. Preston had been playing junior A with the Princeton Posse of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League.

The Raiders added 20-year-old left-winger Turner McMillen from the junior A Estevan Bruins of the SJHL as an associate player call up and moved him to the team’s active roster on Monday. McMillen played two seasons with the Prince Albert Mintos under-18 AAA team from 2018-2020.

He fit back into life in “Hockey Town North” fairly easily. He scored the Raiders regulation goal in their 2-1 victory after a tiebreaking shootout against their archrivals and WHL Eastern Conference leading Saskatoon Blades on Saturday at the Art Hauser Centre.

For the Raiders, they likely don’t need to make any moves and should evaluate how much their younger roster grows and plays as the games gain more meaning during the second half of the season. Entering play on Tuesday, the Raiders sat eighth overall in the Eastern Conference with an 18-18-0-2 record.

If Raiders general manager Curtis Hunt can find a 17-year-old or 18-year-old player that might not be getting the ice time they should on one of the other 21 WHL teams and that player could add to what the Raiders have, Hunt will likely be looking at that type of move.

That was the type of situation that happened last season on December 31, 2022 when the Raiders dealt then 19-year-old right-winger Carson Latimer to the Ice for centre Aiden Oiring, who was 17-years-old at the time. The Raiders also got a third round selection in the 2024 Prospects Draft and a conditional third round selection in the 2025 Prospects Draft.

Of course as the 4 p.m. Saskatchewan time trade deadline nears, the potential of something else happening is always there.

  • On Tuesday, the Edmonton Oil Kings dealt 19-year-old right-winger Mason Finley to the Tri-City Americans for an eighth round selection in the 2026 Prospects Draft. Finley had three assists in 33 games this season with the Oil Kings.
  • Just a reminder the upcoming Memorial Cup tournament that determines a CHL champion runs from May 24 to June 2 in Saginaw, Michigan. The OHL’s Saginaw Spirit are the host team.
  • In the CHL Top 10 rankings that were released on Tuesday, the Saskatoon Blades were rated second, the Prince George Cougars were placed third and the Portland Winterhawks came in at eight.