There’s no question being traded can leave a player feeling discarded and thrown away. That pretty much sums up how Kootenay Ice centre Dylan Stewart initially felt when he was traded by the Prince Albert Raiders in October.
“I feel like I have something to prove with these guys,” said the 18-year-old prior to practice Thursday afternoon at Western Financial Place. “When you get traded, it’s never a good feeling. You feel like you’re not wanted. But I’m thankful the Kootenay Ice have seen something in me and want me here.
“Every team you go to there are going to be different systems and rituals. I feel used to it now. The rest of the season, I can take advantage of that and finish off strong compared with how I’ve been playing the last couple games.”
Stewart will get a chance to prove his point Friday (7 p.m.) when the Raiders (25-14-3-1) visit the Ice (8-33-3-0) in Western Hockey League action at Western Financial Place.
Like any young player, Stewart has had his share of ups and downs since coming to the Ice Oct. 21 in exchange for Drew Warkentine and a conditional fifth-round pick in the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft.
From scoring on his first shift in his first game with his new team Oct. 23 to playing his 100th career WHL contest on New Year’s Eve, there have been memorable moments since the native of Edmonton came to Cranbrook.
In 38 games this season, Stewart has collected four goals and 10 points.
But there have also been struggles.
The 6-foot-1, 187-pound pivot missed five games through the month of December after suffering a concussion and since returning to the lineup, he’s battled to get back into the swing of things.
In a 7-1 loss at Lethbridge Saturday night, Stewart registered a team-worst minus-4 rating before starting Tuesday’s game on the fourth line.
“Dylan has been battling some injury stuff, but he’s just trying to find something consistent in his game that he can bring,” said Luke Pierce, head coach of the Kootenay Ice, Thursday prior to practice. “Everybody goes through these stretches. Right now, he’s just struggling a little bit to find things. But he’s no different than a lot of players.
“What is our fourth line at this point? It’s hard to identify it. The problem isn’t identifying your fourth line, it’s identifying your second and third. That’s where we need to find more consistency from everybody.”
One thing Stewart can definitely bring Friday is a deep knowledge of the upstart Raiders.
After going 31-37-2-2 and finishing fifth in the WHL’s East Division at the conclusion of the 2014-15 campaign, the Raiders have 25 wins through 43 games in 2015-16.
The turnaround has seen Prince Albert in a never-ending back-and-forth dog fight with the Brandon Wheat Kings (26-12-2-2) for first place in the East Division, a drastic improvement from last season.
Having spent 80 games with the Raiders prior to arriving in Cranbrook, Stewart suggested the about-face in Prince Albert boils down to a few simple factors.
“They’re a really close group and they want to have success,” Stewart said. “They’re really good in the offensive zone and they have a lot of secondary scoring that can put the puck in the net.
“Marc Habscheid has done a good job changing the culture there. Before, it was different. Then he came and he got everyone thinking, ‘We want to win a championship, not just make the playoffs.’”
Habscheid took over the head coaching duties from Cory Clouston in Prince Albert Nov. 1, 2014, guiding the club to a 24-28-2-2 mark to finish the 2014-15 campaign.
In 2015-16, his squad is certainly in position to make the playoffs, if not win the East Division.
Friday’s tilt marks the second outing on a three-game road trip for the Raiders, who opened the Central Division swing with a 3-1 victory over the Edmonton Oil Kings Wednesday night.
After meeting with the Ice, the Raiders head back east, wrapping up the trip Saturday against the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
“They’re a big team and a strong club,” Pierce said of the Raiders. “They play hard and they play physical. I think we’ve played pretty well against good hockey teams. They’re another real good team that’s in a heck of a battle with Brandon and Moose Jaw. We know they’re going to be real hungry for points.
“We’ve just got to get back to the way were [playing] last week and find the consistency in our effort level.”
After starting the 2016 portion of the calendar with points in three consecutive games, the Ice hit a bump in the road, dropping back-to-back games to the Hurricanes and Saskatoon Blades (5-1, Tuesday).
Still, the success of consecutive wins is fresh and Stewart knows what his team needs to do to get back to that.
“We can’t rely on the first line to do all the scoring or even just the little things,” Stewart said. “Everyone needs to find their role. If you’re not a scorer, you need to hit guys and get the forecheck going. We can’t rely on Alfaro, Zborosky and Zaharichuk to do all our scoring.
“The last two games we kind of stepped back a little bit. But I’ve got a feeling we’ll have a good one on Friday. I’m very excited for it.”
Stewart and the Ice are home for a pair of contests this weekend, beginning with the Raiders Friday and rounding out Saturday (7 p.m.) when the Medicine Hat Tigers come to town.