© Herald photo by Perry Bergson
Prince Albert Raiders overagers Collin Valcourt and Graeme Craig, seen in the Art Hauser Centre on Wednesday, didn’t expect to be traded down the highway by the Saskatoon Blades.
Collin Valcourt and Graeme Craig knew their seasons were unlikely to end as members of the Saskatoon Blades.
But a couple of surprises were in store for the two 20-year-old Red Deer products even after Blades GM Lorne Molleken told them they might be on the move.
“I knew there was a chance obviously so the only surprising thing was that it was to Prince Albert,” Craig says. “(The Raiders) had already made a trade for Valcourt and that doesn’t happen that often with one trade, let alone two, with a rival like that. That caught me off-guard but I’m happy to be here, for sure.”
“It was a little weird when I got told that I was going to P.A.,” he says. “I was a little shocked. You don’t usually get trades between rivals. And this year there has actually been a few.”
It was unlikely either player would have predicted that they would remain teammates after their trades.
On Dec. 28, the Raiders acquired Valcourt and Ryan Coghlan for Dylan Busenius, a second round pick in 2014 and fifth rounder in 2014.
On Jan. 8, the Raiders made a second deal with the Blades, picking up Craig, a seventh rounder in 2014 and a fifth rounder in 2016 in exchange for MacKenzie Johnston, Tyler Dea, a third rounder in 2015 and a fifth rounder in 2015.
In Valcourt, the Raiders picked up a big, tough winger who can score. In his fifth season in the league, the 6’2”, 216-pound winger has 63 goals, 76 assists and 365 penalty minutes in 237 games with the Blades and Spokane Chiefs.
Craig, a 6’5”, 202-pound defenceman, has posted 10 goals, 55 assists and 355 penalty minutes in 305 games with the Blades and Swift Current Broncos.
The pair made an immediate impression on their new teammates.
“They’ve been nothing but good for us,” Raiders forward Reid Gardiner says. “Collin coming in after Christmas, he really made an immediate impact. He scored a couple of goals for us in the first couple of games and he’s a big wide presence. He’s a physical guy but he’s also a really nice guy of the ice who is easy to talk to and pretty funny,”
“Graeme Craig, from what we’ve heard and seen, he seems like an awesome guy. I know a couple of guys from the Blades and they’ve said nothing but good things about him. He seems like he’s a good two-way defenceman and it seems like that’s what we needed to get us over the hump.”
Josh Morrissey had his first chance to play with them during a two-game visit to Brandon last weekend. The Raiders captain was returning from his stint with Team Canada at the World Junior Championship.
“They’re quality people, quality individuals and they fit in really well and it’s been a short time,” Morrissey says. “You can see already that they are going to help our team. When you look at them, Craigers is a great two-way guy with a big body who is steady on the back end. Vally up front can put the puck in the net, plays a tough game and goes to the hard areas.”
While Valcourt and Craig are quick to mention how warmly they’ve been received by the players, staff and billets, they are adapting to a new system.
Craig says that it’s a matter of tweaking things like breakouts -- “Everyone throughout the league kind of plays the same way” -- while Valcourt says the system is very close to one he learned in Spokane.
Another nice surprise for Valcourt was learning who his new linemates would be. He is skating on the first line with Dakota Conroy and Leon Draisaitl, the team’s leading scorer who is forecast to be a top pick in the next NHL draft.
“Coming and playing with Leon (Draisaitl) now, it’s been fun,” Valcourt said. “He’s a great player with a ton of skill and I think that we can do a lot for each other in the second half.”
Craig, meanwhile, said he is thankful for the second chance he is getting to his WHL season.
“When you get into a losing circle it’s almost tough to keep the motivation going, as bad as that is to say,” Craig admits. “Getting traded here you see the light at the end of the tunnel. The playoffs should happen with the team that we have. We have the team to go pretty deep I think. That’s always exciting.”
He compares the team to the Blades’ Memorial Cup team with its depth. It’s a theme that Valcourt also likes.
“This team has a ton of skill, a lot of depth, good D, good goalies and if anybody does get hurt I feel we have the depth to still make a push coming down the stretch,” Valcourt says.
The two former Blades get their first chance to face their former teammates on Friday when the Raiders travel down to Saskatoon for the first of three games they play on the weekend.
Local fans will get their first look at Craig in a Raiders jersey on Saturday when the Regina Pats visit the Art Hauser Centre, while the Swift Current Broncos play here on Sunday.
Game time on both nights is 7 p.m.
Craig will be happy to finally have the support of the faithful at the Art Hauser Centre.
“It always sucked coming here and getting heckled. We didn’t really like them but to be on the other side is going to be a little better.”