The Regina Pats are building around Connor Bedard — the widely assumed first-overall pick-to-be in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft — and the Lethbridge Hurricanes are their latest trading partner.
On Wednesday, the Hurricanes sent Lethbridge product Zack Stringer to the Pats in exchange for the 10th-overall selection in the 2021 Western Hockey League Prospects Draft.
The 18-year-old was selected eighth overall by the ‘Canes in the 2018 WHL draft, and since then has recorded 52 points in 79 regular-season games with the club.
“He’s been a contributor to our hockey club for basically two-and-a-half years, he joined us in the playoffs as a 15-year-old,” said Hurricanes general manager Peter Anholt.
“We had the opportunity to move up in the draft and this year’s draft is a real strong draft.
“We’ve got the 17th pick now, and that opportunity to pick 10th, it was something I couldn’t pass up.”
For Stringer, it was a whirlwind day with some mixed emotions after he got the news from Anholt in the morning.
“My first reaction was kind of sad — just leaving Lethbridge — but I’m pretty excited to go over there and try and win a championship,” Stringer said.
The 18-year-old says he talked to all of his teammates and has already said most of his goodbyes. He also spent the day reflecting on what his hometown organization has meant to him and his family.
“It’s been amazing. From fans to family members to teammates and people that work at the rink, you know it’s been a ride, and I was very excited to have my first three years in Lethbridge and stay at home,” he said.
But Stringer says he’s also excited for a new opportunity and the new experiences that will come with the Pats.
“It was good for my family and good for myself, but it’s time to leave. I’m 18, time to leave home.”
Anholt says he believes the trade is a win-win for all sides involved, including for Stringer, who will have the opportunity to play with a top-notch talent in Bedard.
“I think with Zack, he’s going to a good spot and he’s going to have a chance to play with Bedard — who is a real good player, as everyone knows — and Zack has that ability to play with those kind of players,” Anholt said.
“Regina knew what some of our other offers were and they just stepped up.
“They need players to play with Bedard and they know Zack is one of those guys; he’s an 18 year old so he fits into their wheelhouse.”
Stringer says the chance to play alongside a player like Bedard is not lost on him.
“Just seeing him throughout the years, he’s a really good player as everybody knows, and so going over there, I’m going to try to make the most of it,” Stringer said.
Anholt shot down questions about whether or not the Hurricanes — who went 9-12-3 over the 24-game 2021 WHL season — were in a rebuilding mode, saying that the team’s depth allowed them to take advantage of the offer from Regina.
“It was a doable situation for us this year, maybe in other years it wouldn’t have been, but this is a year that it works for us to do it,” Anholt said.
“We always feel that we would like to be good all the time, and I think with our returning group that we have, we have a veteran group, an older group this year.”
This year’s WHL draft has been pushed to Dec. 9, in order to allow scouts more time to watch under-15 players in action; Anholt says the later draft bodes well for the ‘Canes, who will have two picks in the first round.
“Because the draft is in December, that player can almost parachute into your team quicker and we could have them possibly in our lineup at the Christmas break.”
“So there’s a lot of good positives to this, to how I look at this, and when you look at our players coming back I think we’ve got a strong group.”
With picks number 10 and 17, the Hurricanes join the Brandon Wheat Kings, Swift Current Broncos and Edmonton Oil Kings with at least two picks in the first round.
The Hurricanes open training camp for the 2021-2022 WHL season on Sep. 9, and begin their regular-season schedule against the Calgary Hitmen on Oct. 1.