Kelowna Rockets have acquired defenceman Jake Lee as part of a series of roster moves on bantam draft day for the WHL on Thursday. (Contributed)

Rockets make big moves at WHL draft

The Rockets originally held the 5th overall pick at the start of the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft

The Kelowna Rockets were a busy franchise Thursday morning at the WHL Bantam Draft.

Kelowna went into the draft with the fifth overall selection, but with the Memorial Cup tournament coming to Kelowna in 2020, the Rockets were believed to be shopping the pick in order to find roster players who will make an immediate impact for the team.

The Rockets’ first move of the morning was trading the pick to the Brandon Wheat Kings and acquiring the 10th overall pick and defenceman Sean Comrie’s contract rights.

But the team wasn’t done trading. Soon after, the Rockets acquired defenceman Jake Lee, forward Dillon Hamaliuk and goalie Cole Schwebius from the Seattle Thunderbirds for a package that included forward Conner Bruggen-Cate, the 10th overall pick acquired in the trade with Brandon, a 2021 second round pick and a 2022 first round pick.

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“This trade will have a big impact on our team,” said Rockets’ general manager Bruce Hamilton. “Lee is a strong defenceman, he always has an influence when he is on the ice. He is a top prospect who will hear his name called alongside fellow Rockets’ defencemen Kaedan Korczak and Lassi Thomson at the NHL draft.”

Hamilton called Hamaliuk another top player, one who was having a great start to the 2018-19 season before an injury ended it.

Schwebius is a Kelowna product.

“He will give us the insurance that we need in net moving forward,” said Hamilton.

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As for Comrie, the Rockets GM said it was a good trade for Kelowna.

“Sean wasn’t happy with his situation this past season,” Hamilton. “He wasn’t happy with his minutes and role on the team. When we heard that he was available, it made sense for us to go after him. He’s a strong player and will give us more depth on the blue-line.”

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In the end, the Rockets turned the fifth overall pick in this year’s draft —and two future picks—into an addition of four new roster players the team feels will help it as it gears up to host the Memorial in 2020.

Lee was drafted by Seattle 18th overall in 2016, and had 24 points in 67 games this past season with the Thunderbirds. Hamaliuk was having an impressive season with 26 points in 31 games before an injury sidelined him for the remainder of the 2018/2019 season.

Both Lee and Hamaliuk were invited to the Sherwin-Williams CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, and were members of the 2017 WHL Champion Thunderbirds.

Goaltender Schwebius posted a 5-8-2-0 record this past season with the Thunderbirds.

In the later rounds of the draft, the Rockets drafted seven more players to the organization.

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