The trade deadline is one of the busiest times in an OHL season with fans, players, and team staff all eagerly waiting to see who will do what.
But many general managers prefer to make their additions earlier in the season.
Kitchener Rangers GM Mike McKenzie would add his name to that category.
In the off-season, the team added Los Angeles Kings prospect Jacob Ingham, as well as Liam Hawel, who was coming off an OHL championship with the Guelph Storm.
In those moves, the Rangers added one of the league’s better starting goaltenders and plenty of experience up front, for a far lower price than if they had waited until the trade deadline.
“The week leading up to the deadline is usually a bit of a frenzy, but I think there is something to be said to make some moves early,” McKenzie said on the Around The OHL Podcast.
“You look at what you gave up compared to what those guys would have fetched at the trade deadline when teams are a little more desperate and the stakes are ramped-up a little bit.”
Ingham’s 21 wins this year is third most in the OHL, while his save percentage and goals against average are also among the OHL’s best.
“You have to be a little bit careful. You need to be willing to gamble and have a pretty good sense of what type of team you have because you don’t want to be adding and using up valuable assets in years where maybe you aren’t quite good enough.”
McKenzie points to the 2017-18 season when the team added Logan Stanley and Kole Sherwood earlier in the season, which put the club in a position to make some more big moves at the deadline.
“There’s an enormous benefit to having those guys for an entire season, they are there right from the start of camp.”
His game plan this year was similar, as one of the league’s hottest teams coming into the deadline, the team added Florida Panthers prospect Serron Noel from the Oshawa Generals. It’s a trade that McKenzie says likely wouldn’t have come together if it wasn’t for the earlier acquisitions.
“You want to bank as many points as you can early on and make sure you’re in a good spot, so at the trade deadline you’re able to go out and acquire a Serron Noel or someone else of that caliber.”
This is McKenzie’s third deadline as the Rangers’ general manager, but his first as head coach. He took over behind the bench on an interim basis after the team parted ways with Jay McKee earlier this season.
“It gives you an extra look at ice level, you are right there, you can see how they play, how they respond, how they act on the bench, all of these are things that you don’t see from up top.”
McKenzie is no stranger to the Rangers’ bench, having served as an assistant coach with the club prior to taking over as general manager in 2017.
He says being closer to the ice gives you a much different perspective than watching games in the press box.
“I’ve been guilty of it, and I’m sure a lot of other guys are as well, but the game looks real easy from up top sometimes and you can forget that. Then you get back down there you realize how fast it is, how physical it is, and it gives you a lot of insight into your team and players as a whole.”
The Rangers currently sit first place in a very tight Western Conference, just a single point up on the Windsor Spitfires. The top four teams in the west, Kitchener, Windsor, London, and Saginaw, are separated by just four points.