Early season trades quickly paying off for first-place Saskatoon Blades

Through four seasons in the Western Hockey League, Easton Armstrong has quickly added a number of licence plates to his collection — from starting his career in Saskatchewan with the Regina Pats, to reaching the 2023 WHL Finals with the Winnipeg ICE, to moving with the team to Washington State with the Wenatchee Wild, to being dealt back to Saskatchewan in his 20-year-old season.

Armstrong now calls himself a proud member of the Saskatoon Blades, a team which had caused him fits his entire junior career.

“I don’t think I ever played a good game in this rink it felt like sometimes,” said Armstrong. “It’s just such a hard team to play against, so it feels good to be on this side of it.”

With his nose for the net, Armstrong has become a major piece of the Blades’ top-six forward group since being acquired in a trade with Wenatchee in October for a pair of draft picks.

Torching the competition with nine points in four games to begin the year with the Wild, Armstrong has since racked up five goals and nine points in 14 games as a member of the Blades.

Click to play video: ‘Stone Cold’ Austin Elliott running with Saskatoon Blades starting goalie job

On the same day, Saskatoon also added to their blueline by bringing in smooth-skating, right-handed defenceman Grayden Siepmann from the Calgary Hitmen.

“Just getting used to all the new systems and style of play they have,” said Siepmann. “I feel like the last three or four games I’ve been pretty comfortable here and I’ve finally found my game. I feel pretty dialed in with the systems.”

Acquired in exchange for defender Fraser Leonard and a trio of draft picks, the former Hitmen first rounder has established himself firmly in Saskatoon’s top-four blueliners and is up to five assists in a dozen games.

Since mid-October, Armstrong and Siepmann have helped kick off a spree of trades from Blades general manager Colin Priestner to help solidify the team’s depth as they sit atop both the East Division and the Eastern Conference with a 15-6-0-0 record.

That included a move on Oct. 30 to bring in Edmonton Oil Kings captain Rhett Melnyk and a conditional sixth-round pick in exchange for second-year Blades forward Smyth Rebman.

“We got four lines that we can roll and four lines that can play with any team’s lines,” said Melnyk. “That’s obviously a great attribute for us and we’re very good at utilizing that.”

While Blades head coach Brennan Sonne has had the chance to interact with both Armstrong and Siepmann on an extended basis, he said he’s still getting to know Melnyk as the pair didn’t get much face time while Sonne was coaching Team Canada White to gold at the recent World U17 Hockey Challenge in PEI.

Incorporating new players into his system isn’t something that’s new for Sonne or the Blades, however he added it is always a careful balancing act.

“You try to not overload while trying to give a lot of information at the same time,” said Sonne. “It’s the same balance anytime you acquire new players. It’s trying to give as much information that’s still intelligible to the player.”

Rounding out the Blades’ additions so far was Thursday’s deal bringing in Pats blueliner Carter Herman in exchange for a seventh-round pick in 2026, a player who made his Saskatoon debut on Saturday night against the Swift Current Broncos.

According to Armstrong, the reception from more established players in the Blades locker room has been warm and is excited to see the direction his new team is taking.

“We’ve done a good job of adding great players and great things,” said Armstrong. “It seems like it’s not just adding guys, it’s putting players into the team and being comfortable right away.”

That cohesiveness is coming at an opportune time for the Blades, as they begin a two-week tour through the United States against the WHL’s U.S. Division with seven road games on the horizon before their next home game on December 8.

“At the start of the year, [Saskatoon] was known as the top dog in the East at least,” said Siepmann. “Adding a bunch of good players is just a huge building part and hopefully we can make a run this year.”

The Blades begin their first U.S. road trip since 2019 on Tuesday visiting Wenatchee before taking on the Everett Silvertips the following night.

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