It was a sequence of events that certainly charted a course for both teams involved, it just didn’t set each club on the path many expected.
The Saskatoon Blades and Brandon Wheat Kings were frequent trade partners in the first half of the 2010s, headlined by blockbuster swaps in 2011 and 2013 that sent career Wheat Kings’ stars and future NHLers Brayden Schenn and Micheal Ferland to Saskatoon in hopes of delivering an ever-elusive Memorial Cup to the Bridge City.
Though the marquee players performed well in their time in blue and gold, in the end, the bold deals did not get the Blades close to a title of any kind, and the prices paid to get the deals done in the form of future assets left them scrambling in the seasons to come.
Brayden Schenn from Brandon
To Blades: C Brayden Schenn, third-round bantam draft pick (2011)
To Brandon: First & second-round bantam draft picks (2011), first-round bantam draft pick (2012), first-round CHL Import Draft pick (2012), C Tim MacGauley, D Ayrton Nikkel
Roughly a decade before he became a mainstay in the middle of the ice and raised the Stanley Cup for the St. Louis Blues, Schenn honed his craft in the Western Hockey League for three seasons with Brandon (2007-11).
The Saskatoon product increased his offensive output each season in Brandon, highlighted by his 34 goals and 99 points he put up after being named Wheat Kings’ captain in 2009-10. That season followed his fifth overall selection to the Los Angeles Kings in the 2009 NHL Draft.
For his Wheat Kings career, Schenn scored 94 goals with 258 points in 195 games before he was acquired by his hometown Blades following his tournament MVP performance at the 2011 World Junior Championship. He had begun the 2010-11 season in the NHL, playing eight games with the Kings, before he was sent to the American Hockey League for a short stint prior to the World Juniors where he scored eight goals and 18 points in seven games for Canada, who were stunned by a comeback from Russia in the gold medal game.
After the World Juniors, the Kings sent Schenn back to junior and days later, word came down of the massive trade that would send the game-breaking centerman to Saskatoon. The price was extreme, but the Blades deemed the opportunity worth the risk.
“We feel that Brayden Schenn is a player that can help us achieve our goal which is to become WHL champions and ultimately Memorial Cup champions,” said then Blades head coach and general manager Lorne Molleken about the trade. “Over the last number of years, we’ve been building toward this, ultimately we want to win a championship and we feel we have the team for it this year.”
On the flip side, Brandon was tied for last in the division at the time of the deal and were trying to recoup assets they traded away prior to hosting the 2010 Memorial Cup.
“This trade is a very important trade for our franchise,” said Kelly McCrimmon, then-Wheat Kings head coach and general manager. “We felt that it was important to recover from some of the moves we made to build our team for last season’s Memorial Cup.”
In the final major move Brandon made in preparation for the 2010 Memorial Cup, they had sent three draft picks, including two first-rounders and defenceman Dallas Ehrhardt to the Moose Jaw Warriors for blueliner Travis Hamonic.
The regular season returns for the Blades were strong. Schenn scored 21 goals and 53 points in just 27 games after the trade and Saskatoon won the Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy as the WHL’s top regular-season team with 115 points on the strength of a franchise-record 56 wins. Unfortunately, the Blades faltered in the playoffs, being swept by the eventual league champion Kootenay ICE in the second round.
That summer, Schenn was involved in another large trade, this time being dealt by the Kings to the Philadelphia Flyers along with forward Wayne Simmonds in exchange for Mike Richards and a prospect.
The Flyers did not return Schenn to junior for his 20-year old season in 2011-12, starting him in the American Hockey League for a brief period before he was called up and became a regular in the NHL.
After six seasons with the Flyers, Schenn was dealt to the St. Louis Blues where he would play a role in ending the Blues’ Stanley Cup drought in 2019.
The 2011 draft picks sent to Brandon were used on goaltender Jordan Papirny and centerman Jayce Hawryluk.
Papirny was a three-year starter in goal for the Wheat Kings, and Hawryluk, currently an Ottawa Senator, led the 2015-16 squad with 47 goals and 106 points before going on to make his NHL debut with the Florida Panthers in 2018-19.
The Wheat Kings eventually included Saskatoon’s 2012 1st-round bantam pick in the package they sent to the Victoria Royals at the 2012 trade deadline in exchange for overage center Kevin Sundher.
With the Blades’ first-round CHL Import Draft pick in 2012, Brandon selected Czech winger Richard Nejezchleb. He scored 44 goals and 83 points in 103 games in Brandon before he was traded to the Tri-City Americans early in his overage season in 2014-15.
MacGauley scored 102 goals and 258 points in 271 games with the Wheat Kings, highlighted by his team-leading 42 goals and 105 points as a 19-year old in 2014-15. Nikkel skated in 102 games with Brandon before being traded to the Everett Silvertips during the 2012-13 season.
The disappointing outcome of the Schenn acquisition didn’t scare the Blades away from continuing to do business with Brandon. The teams connected on a pair of notable trades the next season, including another pivotal move for the Wheat Kings at the 2012 bantam draft, sending overage winger Brendan Walker to Saskatoon for a package of picks and the option to swap first-round selections with the Blades in 2014.
Brandon took that option when the Blades ended up with the first pick and used it to select future leading scorer and captain Stelio Mattheos.
Micheal Ferland from Wheat Kings
To Blades: LW Micheal Ferland
To Brandon: First-round bantam draft pick (2013)
The Blades were buyers once again at the 2013 trade deadline, looking to bolster their roster as host of the 2013 Memorial Cup, and they connected with the Wheat Kings again on the deal that landed Brandon’s leading goal scorer from the 2011-12 season.
The 2010 fifth-round pick of the Calgary Flames brought an enticing combination of size, grit and scoring ability, and was coming off a 47 goal, 96-point season in his third campaign with the Wheat Kings in 2011-12. In his career with Brandon, the current Vancouver Canucks forward scored 80 goals and 181 points in 189 games.
“Micheal is a player who really generated some interest after being sent back to the WHL recently,” Molleken said at the time of the acquisition. Ferland had started the 2012-13 season in the AHL and then the ECHL for a short time before being returned to junior in January. “He’s a big, power forward who we are really familiar with. He comes from a great program in Brandon and we think he can be a big difference-maker for our club down the stretch and looking ahead to the playoffs. He’s really a well-rounded kid who can do a ton of things on and off the ice.”
As Molleken eluded to, Ferland was dealt by a struggling Wheat Kings team shortly after being re-assigned to junior by the Flames in January 2013.
Just like Schenn before him, Ferland had a strong stretch run for the Blades, collecting eight goals and 29 points in 26 games. Unfortunately for fans in the Bridge City, the team also had similar results come playoff time, with the Blades losing in four-straight, this time in the first round to the Medicine Hat Tigers who featured 2013 Canucks first-round pick Hunter Shinkaruk up front.
After the resulting layoff, the Blades again fell mostly flat in the Memorial Cup, finishing with one win in four games, ending with a disappointing 6-1 defeat in the tiebreaker game against the Ontario Hockey League champion, London Knights.
The Blades only win in the tournament, oddly enough, was a 5-2 victory over the eventual champion Halifax Mooseheads, and tournament MVP Nathan MacKinnon.
Following his Memorial Cup appearance with the Blades, Ferland spent parts of two seasons in the AHL before he debuted with the Flames in 2014-15, and made a name for himself in that season’s playoffs.
After three-and-a-half seasons in Calgary and one with the Carolina Hurricanes, Ferland is now in his first season with the Canucks. THW’s Matthew Zator wrote that Ferland is healthy and ready to go, which could make him an ‘X’ factor in Vancouver’s qualifying round series against the Minnesota Wild.
The early playoff exit and lacklustre Memorial Cup appearance in 2013 preceded the start of a prolonged dry spell for the Blades, who would miss the playoffs in each of the next five seasons and would not win 30 games again until 2017-18.
In contrast, Brandon, led by Papirny and Hawryluk, went on to reach the WHL finals in consecutive seasons beginning in 2015, and won the Ed Chynoweth Cup in 2016, earning themselves a trip to the Memorial Cup.
The 2013 Memorial Cup was Molleken’s last appearance as head coach of the Blades. One season later, after the Blades’ first of five straight seasons out of the playoffs, Molleken and the Blades agreed to part ways.
It was certainly an unfortunate way for the well-respected Blades’ coach and executive to finish his time in Saskatoon. In 13 seasons as Blades’ bench boss split between two tenures (1991-95, 2004-13), Molleken won 562 games for Saskatoon. In 2013, the former Regina Pats head coach (2000-01) and Moose Jaw Warriors co-coach (1989-91) became just the second coach in WHL history to win 600 games.
Molleken returned to the bench as head coach of the Vancouver Giants in 2015-16 but was let go near the end of the season as the Giants struggled to a last-place finish in the WHL’s Western Conference.
It is hard to blame Molleken for his belief in a deep and talented 2010-11 Blades team that led him to make the trade for Schenn. Similarly, the deal for Ferland is typical of moves made at the trade deadline by approaching Memorial Cup hosts.
Unique to Saskatoon is the pressure that may exist to end the team’s streak without a league or Memorial Cup championship, which stretches all the way back to their inception in 1964. This may create a slightly greater willingness to absorb the downside of deals in hopes of being the team that ends that streak.
Wheat Kings Load Up at Draft
After selecting center Nolan Patrick fourth overall in 2013, Brandon traded the first-round pick acquired from Saskatoon in the Ferland deal to the Lethbridge Hurricanes at the draft as part of a deal that brought back the sixth overall pick from Lethbridge. They then used that pick on future Kings and 2017-18 Team Canada World Junior defenceman Cale Clague.
Patrick would star with the Wheat Kings for three seasons and became the second overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft by the Flyers.
Had one or both of the Schenn and Ferland trades resulted in a WHL or Memorial Cup title for Saskatoon, they almost certainly would have gone down as iconic moves that were among the final steps to the first title or titles in the Blades long history. As it played out, neither of those teams held up their end of the equation on the ice.
From a Blades’ perspective, one combined playoff series win with the acquired players and a single win as Memorial Cup host surely is not enough to make these trades remotely palatable when the aftermath of the deals played a large part in ushering in five seasons with no postseason action at the SaskTel Centre and contributed to a WHL championship for the Wheat Kings.