Blockbuster Deal in USHL Includes Top Draft Prospect, Questions

The big news in the prospect world over the last few weeks has been the flurry of trades occurring in Junior hockey. Most of the trades were going down in the Ontario Hockey League, with the biggest being top American goaltender Jack Campbell getting shipped out of Windsor to the Soo Greyhounds.

Monday, however, the United States Hockey League had a megadeal of its own when Sioux City sent its best player and top 2012 NHL Draft Prospect, Jordan Schmaltz, to the Green Bay Gamblers in exchange for David Goodwin, Andy Ryan, Dan Molenaar and USHL affiliate Jacob Montgomery.

Ryan S. Clark of Slightly Chilled, the blog you simply must read if you have any interest in the USHL and/or prospects from that league and/or song-title headlines, broke down the deal splendidly here.

This is an important deal in the USHL for a number of reasons. More after the jump…

First and foremost, it is not often you’ll see a team’s best player get traded. It just doesn’t happen much in the USHL. No matter how bad that team might be, they’ll ride the big name for all he’s worth. If you’re not going to be overly competitive, you might as well hang on to the player that will bring the most exposure to your organization. That exposure is a big factor in recruitment.

It’s also important to note that the USHL is a league that typically tries to avoid trades as much as possible. Since it is a league mostly made up of high school-aged players, most teams in the league hope to avoid uprooting a player in the middle of a season and throwing him through a potentially difficult situation. Not to say it doesn’t happen, because it does, but there’s not an overwhelming amount of movement within the league.

The Schmaltz trade is different from most deals within the USHL. Similar to what Clark reported late last week, a source with knowledge of the situation informed me that Schmaltz wanted out of Sioux City, a team that has struggled out of the gate (currently 3-7-0). The 2012 Draft prospect was unhappy enough to demand a trade, but he wouldn’t go just anywhere. My source informed me that Schmaltz specifically wanted to be dealt to either Dubuque or Green Bay, the two teams at the top of the USHL standings.

Well, it appears that Schmaltz got his wish (more on this in a bit), and Green Bay gets a key piece in its quest for another title run.

So the rich get a heck of a lot richer, as Green Bay adds one of the USHL’s best players in Schmaltz. While the deal is outstanding for the Gamblers, it may prove to be even more beneficial for Schmaltz and his draft stock.

In Sioux City, Schmaltz was the focal point of the team. He didn’t have a ton of supporting pieces on the Musketeers, which has struggled in the decidedly weaker Western Conference.

Schmaltz might have had a little too much to do for the Musketeers and it’s understandable why he’d want out. Another factor is that playing in the Eastern conference may actually provide more exposure. A large portion of the NHL scouting community lives in or around Michigan. With Muskegon, Team USA, Indiana, Youngstown and Chicago all short drives for scouts, Schmaltz may earn a little extra face time. It’s also important to note that Sioux City went through a coaching change in the off-season when Luke Strand left for a coaching job with the AHL’s Abbotsford Heat was fired after last season. That may or may not have played a role in Schmaltz’s desire to leave town, but the young defenseman had a lot of admiration for Strand.

Now Schmaltz goes to a deep team with some solid veteran players from last year’s Clark Cup finalist squad. One vet in particular could prove to be extra helpful to Schmaltz.

The offensive defenseman will join Anaheim’s 2011 third-round pick Andy Welinski, another one of the league’s better offensive-minded defensemen in Green Bay, providing a pretty formidable 1-2 punch on the blue line. The pair is currently playing for the U.S. Junior Select Team at the World Junior A Challenge and may get a chance to develop some on-ice chemistry. That tournament began Monday night for Team USA with a shocking 1-0 loss to Sweden (Side note: Schmaltz turned over the puck leading to what turned out to be the game-winning goal, which was scored with six seconds remaining in regulation. Tough break. You can watch Team USA take on Canada West live on FASTHockey.com, for free, Wednesday at 10:30 p.m. ET. All you have to do is register for a free FASTHockey account. Check back Thursday for a complete recap of the WJAC prelim-round.)

There’s also the boost a player gets from being part of a competitive team. Schmaltz jumps right into one of the top three teams in the league, one that should be part of a season-long battle for the Anderson Cup (USHL regular-season championship) and could be poised for a deep playoff run. When a player is part of a winning team, he gets to experience different situations, like playing in big games and key situations in those big games. Those types of experiences can have a serious impact on one’s Draft resume.

With having less responsibility, but the opportunity to be a key component of a competitive team, perhaps Schmaltz has alleviated some of the pressure on himself. He won’t have to be a guy that has to do it all on Green Bay. He can just play.

Also, adding a little bit extra, the Gamblers have brought Jordan’s younger brother, Nick Schmaltz, into the mix.

Nick is one of the top 1996-born players in the United States and will become the youngest player to play in the USHL when he steps on the ice for Green Bay this season. It is unclear whether the younger Schmaltz will stay beyond this season, considering he will be a highly-coveted forward prospect for both the National Team Development Program and the Ontario Hockey League. Nonetheless, the Schmaltz brothers, natives of Verona, Wis., will have the chance to play together for at least one season before Jordan heads to North Dakota. That’s what we call sweetening the deal.

This deal is important for one other reason in that it has potential to be a precedent-setting trade in USHL.

As mentioned earlier in the post, the USHL is not a trade-happy league, but this is an instance of a high-profile top prospect demanding a trade to better his situation. It’s not necessarily a criticism of Schmaltz. Most players in his exact situation would probably feel the same way.

Now that the trade has happened, will this open the floodgates for similar players to follow this same path in the future if they are unsatisfied with what their current team is doing for them?

It isn’t unprecedented for a player to request a trade in the USHL. It happens plenty during the off-season, particularly with players who are entering their first year in the league. However, it’s very rare to see something like this in season.

It’s always a delicate situation when speaking of trades in Junior hockey. After all, these are essentially kids. That said, in this ever-evolving landscape for hockey prospects, the amount of leverage these kids hold is pretty incredible.

I’m not sure if anything can, or even should, be done, but situations like this should be examined closely by the USHL for future reference. Giving players enough leverage to potentially dictate their own trades could be a very slippery slope, particularly for some of the weaker teams in the USHL. This may be an isolated incident, but it becomes slightly more dangerous if it becomes a trend and alters the competitive balance within the league.

At the end of the day, Sioux City got what appears to be fair value for its best player, while Schmaltz goes to a team that may help him improve his draft prospects. On the surface, it looks like everybody wins, but as with all trades, only time will tell if that’s true.

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About Chris Peters

Editor of The United States of Hockey. Contributor to CBSSports.com, USA Hockey Magazine and more. Former USA Hockey PR guy. Current Iowan.
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2 Responses to Blockbuster Deal in USHL Includes Top Draft Prospect, Questions

  1. Anonymous says:

    Luke Strand was fired from SC. He didn’t leave to take the AHL job. He got that job after he was canned.

    And Schmaltz is entirely overrated.

  2. JoePa says:

    Schmaltz overrated? Thank god Mr. Anonymous at 10:59am isn’t a scout.

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