On Friday, Robert Thomas won a gold medal with Team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championship. On Monday, he joined a team that has made it very clear they want to take a run at winning a Memorial Cup.
The London Knights have traded Thomas to the Hamilton Bulldogs for 16-year old forward Connor McMichael, a second-round pick in 2021, three conditional second round picks in 2020, 2025 and 2026 and a conditional third-round pick in 2022.
McMichael was the eleventh overall pick in the 2017 OHL Priority Selection and has found ways to stand out on a Bulldogs team that has been acquiring more and more veterans as the 2017-18 season has rolled along.
Knights’ general manager Rob Simpson says McMichael is a player that London is excited to have.
“He was a player that we were extremely interested in. Obviously you don’t know which way the first round is going to go… but we had him pretty high on our list last year. He’s got skill, he’s got very, very good hockey sense, he can make plays and score and he has a deceptive shot as well… and we are very happy to be able to bring him in and build around him and our other 2000s and 2001s as well.”
McMichael has five goals and five assists for 10 points as a first-year player and had a tremendous offensive showing at the Under-17 World Hockey Challenge, where he put up four points in six games while playing for Canada’s Team Red.
Hamilton was one of the first teams in the Ontario Hockey League to make moves to secure some veterans in what they hope will be a long playoff run when they acquired Nicholas Camaano and Ryan Moore from the Flint Firebirds for Connor Roberts and draft picks.
This is not the first time London has traded their captain at the trade deadline. The very first season that Mark and Dale Hunter owned the Knights, they moved Chris Kelly, who wore the “C” for London at the time, along with defenceman Dan Jancevski to Sudbury in a deal that brought Dennis Wideman and draft picks to the Knights. That move was the beginning of the build toward London’s first Memorial Cup championship.
In 2011, the Knights dealt captain Michael D’Orazio and Chris DeSousa to Mississauga in one of five separate trades made at the deadline. Each of them helped to re-stock a draft cupboard that helped to carry London through back-to-back OHL championships in 2012 and 2013. One of the draft picks from that trade was actually used to select Andrew Perrott in 2017. He is now part of that solid young core going forward as London hopes to repeat the kind of success they have put together after similar moves in the past.
Still, Simpson admits it is never an easy thing to do.
“It is the hardest part of the business,” says Simpson. “These players become like family to you and you get to know their families and you get to watch them grow up and mature… it’s never easy when you have to part ways. You want to be pushing for a championship each year so that you can go that together with the players you scouted and drafted.”
This is the third deal that London general manager, Rob Simpson has completed since Thursday. He acquired 17-year old Nathan Dunkley, a second-round pick and a third-round pick from Kingston on Thursday for Cliff Pu. Dunkley recorded a goal and an assist in his first two games with the Knights.
On Sunday, London made a second deal with the Frontenacs, sending Max Jones to Kingston for 17-year old Sergey Popov, a second-round pick and a third-round pick. Popov made his London debut on Sunday and had a game-high five shots on goal.
The Knights saw a four-game winning streak end on Sunday in North Bay, but have put together a 9-2-0-1 record over their past 12 games without three veterans who were away at the World Junior Hockey Championship in their lineup. According to Simpson, that played a role in some of the deals the Knights have made.
“I think we’re still in a great position in the standings. We have been playing without Max and without Robert for awhile now because of the World Juniors and we have been having success and still been winning games…by no means are we saying that this is a rebuild. We have a competitive team here that can win. We got a little bit younger for the future but we feel good about where our team is at now as well.”
London will host Kitchener on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Budweiser Gardens. Coverage begins at 6:30 on 980 CFPL. On Friday, Thomas and the Bulldogs will visit London at 7:30.