The Western Hockey League's Winnipeg Ice acquired veteran forward Jackson Leppard Saturday afternoon, sending a package of players and draft picks to the Prince George Cougars to complete the deal.
The 19-year-old Leppard is expected to play centre in Winnipeg, which had only one natural centre (Owen Pederson) on its current roster with all-star Peyton Krebs in the midst of a lengthy recuperation from surgery to repair a partially torn Achilles tendon.
In return for Leppard, the Ice sent 19-year-old defenceman Marco Creta, 18-year-old forward Holden Kodak, a third-round pick in the 2021 bantam draft, a third-rounder in 2022 and a conditional fifth-rounder in 2020.
Ice GM Matt Cockell admitted experienced players with Leppard's attributes are difficult to obtain, hence the hefty price to obtain him. The North Vancouver, B.C., product was en route to Winnipeg Saturday night and Cockell anticipated he would be able to play against the visiting Blades Sunday night.
"He's played close to 200 games in the league," said Cockell. "He's 6-2, big-bodied. In this league, your top-six forwards are typically 19 and 20. So we've gotten a little bit stronger up front and down the middle. He's a real hard worker. Plays a 200-foot game. There's certainly some offensive ability there as well and just a real complete player."
Leppard was the eighth-overall choice in the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft. The 200-pounder has one goal in five games this season but had been sidelined for two weeks earlier this month with a lower-body injury.
In 67 games during 2018-19, Leppard had 10 goals and 29 points in 67 games.
"We thought it was important to get some guys in more natural spots up front and give (head coach) James Patrick a few more options with these lines and we feel made our team better today," said Cockell.
"We're certainly very happy with the work of the guys that have been playing (centre). When Peyton comes back, we'll be that much stronger up the middle but I think that we wanted to add some depth to the top half of our forward group."
The departure of Creta, an Oak Bluff product, reduces the club's defensive group to seven and should provide more playing time for rookie blue-liners Ben Zloty and Anson McMaster.
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.
Updated on Saturday, October 19, 2019 at 11:28 PM CDT: Fixes typo