With training camp less than 10 days away, the Estevan Bruins are suddenly without the services of their leading scorer from last season.
Right winger Dylan Smith has left the team to join the expansion Connecticut Oilers of the Eastern Junior Hockey League, a Tier 3 Junior A league based in the northeastern United States.
Smith, 20, led the Bruins with 37 goals and 74 points last year, although only 14 of those points came after Christmas. In three years with the Bruins, he tallied 79 goals and 167 points.
Smith could not be reached for comment on Monday.
Bruins head coach and general manager Keith Cassidy said Smith feels he will receive more exposure to NCAA schools by playing on the eastern seaboard.
"This coming about is certainly not a shock to myself or the organization. We were certainly prepared for it at the end of last year. He made his desires very well-known throughout last year in terms of where he wanted to be," Cassidy said.
"I think it's been something that's been ongoing over the summer. His wish to find better exposure, in his mind, was something he thought a lot about and I guess he decided that in Connecticut he would receive that."
Cassidy said the team had been trying to find Smith a home elsewhere in the Canadian Junior A ranks, but the Big River native decided to head south.
"We actively tried to find him a place where he would feel comfortable. This is what it's come to, I suppose."
The EJHL is not generally regarded as a high-calibre junior league and Cassidy said the Bruins gave Smith opportunities to move on to college hockey.
"In terms of level of play, I don't think the EJHL is anywhere near what the SJHL is, but I think from his point of view he's looking at it as he's playing on the eastern seaboard and there's lots of schools there.
"He certainly got his fair share of looks here and we certainly talked to a lot of scouts about him."
The Bruins will receive $4,000 in return, which is the standard compensation fee when a Canadian junior club loses a player to an American junior team.
Smith's departure leaves room for several players to increase their offensive output, including the likes of 20-year-old Tyler Paslawski and sophomores Taylor Reich, Tanner Froese and Matt Brykaliuk.
"This will certainly provide someone with an opportunity to step up and we feel very confident that we can replace that kind of scoring," said Cassidy.
Meanwhile, Cassidy is expecting 19-year-old defenceman Austin Yano to return to the team.
Yano was drafted by the Lincoln Stars in the United States Hockey League draft earlier this summer and had been unclear about whether he would get an opportunity to play there.
Cassidy said he spoke with the offensive rearguard recently and got the impression that "he's ready to come back and is excited about it."
The Bruins had two trades in the works Monday that had not yet been completed. One involved the team acquiring an American defenceman and Cassidy described the other as a "minor trade."
Check out estevanmercury.ca for more information on the trades when they are official.