Sean Dooley hopes the end result of a complicated trade helps break the Nelson Leafs out of a month-long slump.
The Leafs general manager traded defenceman Austin Steger to the Osoyoos Coyotes in a three-way deal Monday involving former Nelson player Austin Anselmo, who is currently playing in Northern Ontario. Once the paperwork was signed, Dooley acquired forward Logan Wullum and defenceman Brennan Grocock from the Creston Valley Thunder Cats.
Dooley believes the new additions will kick start a team trying to recover from a seven-game skid that ended with Friday’s 4-0 win in Golden. One day later, however, the Leafs dropped 7-4 on the road against the Columbia Valley Rockies.
“We were hurting a bit during the skid, we were pretty shorthanded, and we figured we wanted to add a little bit of character, a little bit of energy into the lineup,” said Dooley.
The Leafs also sent goaltender Ben Kelsch to the Kamloops Storm on Tuesday in exchange for future considerations. The Nelson native had a 2-3 record with 3.51 goals-against average and a .872 save percentage in seven games this season.
There was nothing straightforward about the Steger deal.
Initially, the Leafs had agreed to send Steger to the Osoyoos Coyotes in exchange for forward Carter Shannon. That deal was scrapped, however, when Shannon indicated he didn’t want to play in a city where he had no family. So both teams went back to the drawing board.
Meanwhile, Creston Valley had interest in Anselmo, who is currently playing in Junior A for the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League. Osoyoos held Anselmo’s rights, so Dooley flipped Steger for Anselmo’s paperwork, which he then forwarded to Creston Valley in exchange for Wullum and Grocock.
The deal at first glance makes little sense, and Dooley acknowledged Creston Valley’s gamble trading for a player they may never see. The Leafs, he added, thought about keeping Anselmo’s rights but needed players in the locker-room.
“There’s the side that, why would he want to return to Junior B?” said Dooley. “But that’s the risk [Creston] is running. I would say in my talks with Austin it wasn’t a closed door in returning to Junior B.”
Steger, who led the Leafs’ defencemen in points with two goals and eight assists, was one of the team’s marquee acquisitions during the off-season.
But Dooley said the coaching staff, which includes head coach Mario DiBella and assistant coach Isaac MacLeod, didn’t think Steger was fitting in well with the team’s defensive corps.
“I think with Austin Steger, probably one of the most skilled defencemen to come through our program in a long time, but was he flourishing in Nelson? No, I don’t think he was. That’s something we had on our minds.”
His replacement, Grocock, was recently acquired from Golden where he also played last season. The 19-year-old has one assist in 17 games this season, and 13 points in 52 assists. Dooley said Grocock caught the team’s eye last season.
“He wasn’t putting up a ton of points but he’s a quick moving defenceman, makes a good first pass, he’s a heads-up player, he’s smart, he’s got a lot of skill,” said Dooley. “We thought in our lineup he would fit well with the guys we have on defence.”
Wullum, meanwhile, is in his third full KIJHL season. The 18-year-old has two goals and one assist in 12 games this season, and Dooley compared his hustle to Leafs forward Sam Weber.
“Logan’s someone we look to to add a little energy in the lineup,” said Dooley. “A guy who will pursue the puck. He’s physical, he’s not a huge guy but he just brings a kind of offensive spark to the team. We wanted another guy like that.
“Just looking at our record, we have all the pieces in our lineup. We’ve got guys who can score, we’ve got guys who are physical, we’ve got guys who grind it out. Some of the combinations just weren’t binding, so we wanted to add that little bit extra on our back end and up front to complete what we were looking for as how we want our team structured. So we’re pretty excited about those two guys.”