A little late getting some thoughts up on the last week of Eagles activity and games, but here we go. We'll begin with the flurry of activity that took place last Wednesday, as the team made a pair of moves to bolster their back-end.
If you haven't yet, you can get the full details on these moves from the official press release I typed up after the deals went down. But I'll say a little more about it here now that Chugg and Schartz have played a few games with the team (two out of three of which have been victories).
I don't think anyone can question the move to bring in Schartz, as the team essentially got a quality puck-moving veteran defenseman for absolutely nothing, sending only future considerations back to the Trail Smoke Eaters. (I patiently await the day a team announces they have traded for a player in exchange for "amicable feelings".) And as I mentioned in the official trade summary, it is something of a home-coming for Zane. Though he may be from Plano, Texas, Schartz played ten games with the Eagles last season, and was quite successful in that stretch going nearly a point-per-game, getting on the scoresheet nine times.
Speaking with people around the team who were here during Zane's first stint here, it sounds like he fell victim to the numbers game, as a team can only have so many import players on the roster. And that's likely why Schartz was able to come back without giving anything up as well, as he not only occupies an Import Player slot, but is a 20-year-old player in a league that only allows teams to have six. But he was a popular guy with those who knew him last year, and the club is glad to have him back.
The Chugg deal is more puzzling, at least from an outside perspective. Why is a team that has struggled offensively in the early-going of the season sending away a skilled forward for another sizeable, hard-nosed defenseman? Especially after Blanchard played easily his best game of the year against Prince George just days earlier?
Because while they lose a forward in the deal, it gives them the flexibility to put the rest of their players in a better position to succeed. This quote from Head Coach Blaine Neufeld, that I held out of the press release, speaks largely to that fact:
That's certainly true. And taking a deeper look at why Blanchard was successful in the Sunday game against Prince George, it seems even more obvious why the move was made. He played on a line during that game with Quinn Lenihan and Ty Westgard. Westgard leads the team in goals and is consistently one of the team's best, most noticeable players. Lenihan's size certainly opened up a ton of space for the diminutive Blanchard, but up until that game, the team had been using Quinn as a defenseman -- a position he had played until just a few years ago when, as his size developed, a coach thought he might be a bit more useful up front. He did well on D, earning three assists over four games on the back-end before that game, but clearly his skills can be put to better use elsewhere. Sam Chatterley had also spent a few games as a defenseman, and similar to Lenihan, had played the position in the past but came into camp this year as a forward.
Putting them on the back-end in a pinch, be it because the team was short a defenseman to injury or just short on D period, was not a bad thing necessarily. Both Lenihan and Chatterley showed well there, got good experience playing the position at the Junior A level, and give the coaching staff the comfort of knowing that should injuries mount up over the course of a lengthy season, they have guys who can ably fill in. But again, their talents are better served elsewhere.
With seven natural defensemen on the roster, the Eagles can not only slot Lenihan and Chatterley in up front, they have created internal competition as well. Intensity in practice has picked up from the entire D corps, as nobody wants to be the odd man out come game time. While the scratch has rotated between rookies Jeeven Sidhu and Nick Beck thus far, every defenseman must now bring their best every night lest they spend a game watching from the stands.
It also gives the Surrey defense a tremendous amount of size. Both Latrell Charleson and Nick Beck are 6'4", but so is Andy Chugg. Schartz is 6'1". In a league populated by small-bodied skilled forwards, a sizeable defense with sound mobility is a major asset. And mobility is not something you need to worry about with either of these guys. Schartz can skate like the wind, and used his speed to hustle back and negate a breakaway during Friday's action against Nanaimo. Chugg is quite the skater as well, particularly for a guy his size, and smooth skating is an even bigger asset when you play on an Olympic-sized rink like the Eagles do.
The results speak for themselves. Is it any wonder Surrey has finally rattled off some wins since making these additions? They've put players in a position to succeed.