The Kelowna Rockets overhauled their over-age players this season, claiming 20-year-old defenceman Matt Barberis from the Vancouver Giants ahead of the WHL’s trade deadline on Thursday.
To make room for Barberis, the Rockets released 20-year-old forward Lane Zablocki, who had previously been acquired from the Victoria Royals on Sept. 28 for two bantam draft picks (four-rounder in 2021 and seventh-rounder in 2019).
In 22 games with the Rockets, Zablocki had four goals, 12 points and 31 penalty minutes.
On Wednesday, Kelowna also landed Schael Higson from the Brandon Wheat Kings for Braydyn Chizen in a swap of 20-year-old defencemen. The Rockets shipped out a fifth-round pick for 2019 as part of that deal.
The Rockets previously acquired Dalton Gally, another 20-year-old defenceman, from the Medicine Hat Tigers for a conditional 10th-round pick in 2020 at the over-age deadline on Oct. 10.
Earlier this season, Kelowna released 20-year-old forward Ryan Bowen, who was acquired from Lethbridge at last year’s trade deadline.
Thursday’s roster moves leave the Rockets with three over-age defencemen for the rest of this season in Gally, Higson and Barberis.
Barberis was originally drafted 20th overall by the Giants at the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft. The Surrey product has produced 85 points (21 goals, 64 assists) in 168 WHL games. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound blueliner has been an assistant captain for the Giants over the last two seasons.
“It wasn’t an easy decision to release Lane,” said Rockets general manager Bruce Hamilton. “The way our hockey club is today, we had the chance to pick up a really skilled over-age defenceman that will help us give our young guys more and more ice time. I think it’s important that (Kaedan) Korczak, (Devin) Steffler, (Lassi) Thomson and (Cayde) Augustine get to play more and with one of the three over-age defencemen all the time. They’ll get a chance to improve their game and play in situations that they don’t get to all the time.
“Barberis is a skilled, great skating player. He has had a tough year injury-wise, but he’s cleared to play, and we’re excited to get him into our lineup. He probably won’t play until next weekend.”
The Rockets (17-19-3-1) are in Prince George for back-to-back games against the Cougars (14-22-1-2) tonight and Saturday.
“There are a few things we need to do to be effective,” said Gally. “We have to play as a five-man unit in all three parts of the ice, we have to get pucks deep, we have to work high to low and get shots to the net. We need to get in front of the goalie and take away his eyes.”
This weekend’s games will be the seventh and eighth of nine meetings between the two teams this season. Prince George has won four of the six games to date, but Kelowna has managed a 2-2-1-1 record. The teams will wrap up the regular-season series at Prospera Place on Feb. 8.
The Rockets are coming off a 4-2 loss to the Western Conference-leading Everett Silvertips on Wednesday night at Prospera Place.