In a stunning move Thursday night, the Tri-City Americans traded veteran forward Connor Rankin to the Calgary Hitmen in exchange for defenseman Josh Thrower, 17.
“To get a quality player, you have to give a quality player,” said Tri-City general manager Bob Tory. “We are giving up an offensive player, but it’s not like we were lighting up the lamp. I have seen enough of the team and it was time to make a change.”
Rankin said he did not see the trade coming.
“It was definitely a shocker,” Rankin said. “It is a feeling of mixed emotions after being here for four years, but I’m going to a good organization. I wish them nothing but the best here.”
Back in 2009, Tory traded an extra third-round pick to Prince George to move up 12 spots to seventh to make sure he could get his hands on Rankin in the WHL bantam draft.
“I stepped up and traded to get Connor,” Tory said. “We have done a lot for him as a player and a person. It’s one of those things. If you look at the trades and the prices that are being paid, we feel fortunate to acquire him (Thrower).
“We have a lot of young forwards in our system. We need them to step up and hopefully with more ice time, that occurs.”
A native of North Vancouver, British Columbia, the 6-foot, 200-pound Rankin, 19, has played 244 games in the Western Hockey League — all for the Americans. He has 82 career goals, 92 assist and 117 penalty minutes and has been an alternate captain the past two seasons. His totals this season include 13 goals and 20 assists in 41 games. In 30 playoff games, he has four goals and 12 assists.
“It’s sad leaving the guys,” Rankin said. “Like Marcus (Messier) — his is one of the first faces I’ve seen every day for the last four years. It’s exciting to go to Calgary. They are leading the East and I hope I can help out.”
The Hitmen believe he can.
“Connor was a player that was sought after by a number of teams leading up to the trade deadline,” Calgary general manager Mike Moore said in a news release. “He is a hard-working forward who has recorded a 30-goal season in the league, is effective on the power play and has playoff experience. He provides additional depth and flexibility to our lineup.”
The Hitmen lead the Central Division and the Eastern Conference at 29-8-2-3 (63 points), and have the second-best record in the WHL behind Western Conference leader Kelowna (33-5-0-2, 68 points).
Rankin left the Tri-Cities on Thursday night and drove the six hours home to Vancouver. He gets on a plane today for Regina, Saskatchewan, where he will meet up with his new team.
Thrower, from Squamish, British Columbia, has played 73 career WHL games before asking the Hitmen for a trade. He was at home when news of the trade come down.
“I kind of got the feeling I would be traded, but it happened so fast,” he said. “I get to go to such a good organization. It’s awesome.”
Thrower was with Calgary when they visited the Americans last season, but he did not play in the game. He will jump into the Americans’ lineup tonight in Everett.
“We got a good young player,” Tory said. “He’s an elite player in the (1996) group that we thought was a little weak on our end. He’s a physical defenseman who plays in all situations. He will be a big part of our team moving forward.”
Thrower knew of Rankin, who played bantam hockey six years ago with his older brother, Dalton Thrower, the captain of the Vancouver Giants.
“He’s a really good guy,” Thrower said of Rankin. “Getting traded for each other was ironic.”
— Annie Fowler: 582-1574; email@example.com; Twitter: tchicequeen