The Kelowna Rockets were already part of the conversation as serious contenders for a Memorial Cup berth in the spring of 2015.
With the addition this week of all-star defenceman Josh Morrissey, the Western Hockey League leaders should be even better equipped to push their season deep into May.
As part of a four-player deal with the Prince Albert Raiders, the Rockets acquired Morrissey, 19, and forward Gage Quinney, 19, in exchange for defenceman Jesse Lees, forward Austin Glover and a pair of bantam draft picks.
Morrissey, a first-round NHL draft choice of the Winnipeg Jets, is considered one of the elite defenceman in all of junior hockey and will suit up for Canada’s national junior squad this Christmas for the second year in a row.
“We are getting arguably the best defenceman in the WHL in Josh Morrissey,” said Rockets’ president and general manager Bruce Hamilton. “He’s been playing very well for Prince Albert and he made a strong point in Winnipeg’s training camp this year. I think we’ve done something very good for our hockey club.
“We’ve lost a couple of really good players in the deal but I just thought we needed to add something to our young defence.”
Along with captain Madison Bowey, the Rockets now have arguably two of the top rearguards in the WHL.
Morrissey, the older brother of Rockets’ backup goalie Jake Morrissey, played for St. John’s in last season’s AHL playoffs and very nearly made the Jets’ roster out of training camp this fall.
The Calgary native led all WHL defenders in scoring last season with 28 goals and 73 points and was first-team Eastern Conference all-star. This season, Morrissey has seven goals and 21 points in 26 games.
Morrissey will join the Rockets in the new year, following the World Junior Hockey Championship in Montreal, while Quinney will join the Rockets this weekend in Alberta.
As for the departure of Lees and Glover, Hamilton said it’s always tough parting company with players who have been key contributors to the organization.
“We don’t make a lot of trades and when this came up we knew we would have to give up good players,” said Hamilton “We gave up two high quality players and people in Jesse and Austin. I think they are going to a team that will be very competitive and they are counting on them to go in and help bolster the lineup.”
Rocket Shots…The Rockets (25-4-3-0) continue their five-game tour of Alberta tonight with a game in Medicine Hat against the Tigers…Kelowna opened the trip Wednesday with a 4-3 victory over the Lethbridge Hurricanes. Rookie Dillon Dube scored twice in regulation, while Nick Merkley netted the winner in a shootout…The Rockets will Calgary Sunday and Edmonton on Tuesday, before wrapping up their pre-Christmas trip next Wednesday in Red Deer.