Bob Tory knew if the Tri-City Americans wanted a chance at another long run in the postseason that he would have to bring in another top-end defender.
He did just that Thursday, trading a 2011 third-round bantam draft pick to the defending WHL champion Calgary Hitmen for overage defenseman Zak Stebner.
In the process, the Americans general manager was forced to part with overage forward Mike Brown and overage goalie Alex Pechurskiy to bring the team down to its limit of three 20-year-old players.
"To challenge the top teams in the league, we need to be able to compete," Tory said. "We needed to address our needs on the blue line and we were able to get (Stebner) for a good price. It's hard to trade for a defenseman. We wouldn't have been able to get Zak if he wasn't 20. This year, there's an abundance of 20-year-olds and not many spots. A lot of kids in the league got waived today that deserve to play."
Stebner arrived in the Tri-Cities late Thursday afternoon after his original flight was delayed. He is expected to be in the Americans' lineup Tuesday when Calgary comes to town.
"It's not like I had anywhere to be," Stebner said of the delay. "I'm excited to come to the team here. If I had to go somewhere, this would be it."
The 6-3, 205-pound Stebner is a native of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. He began his career with the Red Deer Rebels, then moved on to Prince Albert and then to Kamloops before being traded to Calgary in January. In 218 WHL games, Stebner has 25 goals, 55 assists and 294 penalty minutes.
"He was an assistant captain in Calgary and he has Memorial Cup experience," Tory said. "His presence will add tremendous depth to our blue line. He gives us size and experience."
Stebner did not play Wednesday against Portland, having to sit out with the rotation of the overage players.
"With four 20s, it was my turn to sit out," Stebner said. "I didn't see this coming. They gave me a leadership role and then shipped me off. That hurt. I had some great times in Calgary. The Memorial Cup was pretty cool. Coming from Kamloops and going to the top team in the league, that was nice."
Stebner said he is looking forward to playing with instead of against defensemen Tyler Schmidt, Zach Yuen and Brock Sutherland.
"They are solid three guys on the back end," Stebner said. "Hopefully I can help those guys out a bit."
Stebner will have a familiar face in the Tri-City locker room at practice today, having played midget AAA with Kruise Reddick.
"It definitely helps coming into the dressing room knowing someone," Stebner said. "This is different for me, this is the first time I have played in the U.S. Division. I've already asked him for a few pointers around here."
Brown and Pechurskiy played important roles for the Americans during their run to the WHL finals last season.
Tri-City picked up Brown at the January trade deadline from the Swift Current Broncos. Through eight games this season, the 6-2, 210-pound native of Calgary had three goals, three assists and a plus-3 rating.
"This is a day that has had mixed emotions," Tory said. "Mike is a well respected guy and he worked his tail off to be part of this team. When we get (Mason) Wilgosh, (Brendan) Shinnimin and (Kruise) Reddick back, that pushes Mike down the line. At that point he'd be a 20-year-old role player."
Pechurskiy, who arrived in the Tri-Cities from Russia after the Christmas break, took up two spots on the roster -- as a European player and as a 20 year old. A fifth-round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2008, Pechurskiy played in 27 games last year, posting a 13-10-0-1 record with a 2.61 goals against average and a .912 save percentage. He had four shutouts.
"Alex took up two spots and he would have been a backup goaltender," Tory said. "He had a chance to make a statement to be the clear cut No. 1 and he didn't do that. This will give us a chance to develop Chris Driedger."
Neither Brown nor Pechurskiy were taken Thursday afternoon in the 20-year-old cut-down draft, making them both free agents.
The Americans also released Belarusian defenseman Nikita Kardashev, 18, and reassigned rookie defenseman Riley Guenther, 16, to the Calgary Northstars (AA midget).
The moves bring the Americans' roster down to 24 players -- 2 goalies, seven defensemen and 15 forwards.