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T-Birds deal 2 to Swift Current for 4th-round pick

Andrew Johnson, acquired at last season’s trade deadline, is on the move again. (Seattle Thunderbirds photo)

By Tim Pigulski

The Thunderbirds cleared some roster space Thursday morning when they traded wing Connor Sanvido and center Andrew Johnson to the Swift Current Broncos for a fourth-round selection in the 2014 Bantam Draft.

Sanvido was the T-Birds’ first pick in the 2008 Bantam Draft, selected 14th overall. He will be 20-years-old this season, meaning he would have occupied one of the team’s coveted overage spots. The team is now down to the league maximum of three, currently filled by wings Mitch Elliot and Seth Swenson and defenseman Jesse Forsberg.

While he has produced slightly more offensively than Elliot during his time in Seattle, Sanvido had trouble living up to the expectations placed on him as a high draft choice. Those difficulties came to a head at the end of the 2011-12 season when Sanvido was sent home by the coaching staff in an effort to refocus him.

Last year Sanvido had career highs in points (29), goals (15), and assists (14) while playing in all 72 regular season games. He added one more goal in seven playoff games, and while his continued improvement was promising, the team didn’t have an easy choice as to which 20-year-old they were going to let go.

It’s possible the team may seek to move one of their three remaining overage players in an effort to make room for a veteran goalie. One potential target could be Kelowna’s Jordon Cooke, who the T-Birds know well after their thrilling playoff series last season. With an impressive backup in 18-year-old Jackson Whistle and a number of talented 20-year-olds of their own, it seems that Cooke could be moved for the right package if Whistle plays well for the Rockets early on.

Including Johnson in the package was a bit more surprising, as he spent only half a season with the team after being acquired at last season’s trade deadline. Seattle general manager Russ Farwell spoke highly of Johnson at the time, saying that he was a “highly touted guy” who “plays with a lot of energy” — something the T-Birds sorely needed at times last season — and had just gotten “bogged down” in Moose Jaw. The Thunderbirds actually dealt a fourth-round choice to the Warriors last season in exchange for Johnson, so it may seem to be a bit of a loss as they dealt both Johnson and Sanvido to regain a choice in the same round, but opening Sanvido’s roster spot is valuable in itself.

The willingness to deal Johnson proves the confidence that the team has in its two new young centers — 16-year-old Mathew Barzal and 17-year-old Scott Eansor. Both will be playing their rookie seasons in the WHL, but each comes highly touted with expectations for an immediate impact.

With the loss of Johnson, the T-Birds have now lost three of their four centers since the offseason began with the graduations of stalwart Luke Lockhart and Adam Kambeitz, who was also acquired at last season’s trade deadline. Alex Delnov was impressive in the middle last season and will be returning, and the team also features a few other players who could spend time at center, including 19-year-old Justin Hickman and import Roberts Lipsbergs, who played the position in Latvia but looked best playing wing last season when he was among the league leaders in rookie scoring.

With training camp quickly approaching and both drafts in the books, many teams will begin making moves in the coming weeks as they look to solidify their roster before the season begins. This is likely the first of a few for the T-Birds, who still have more players, especially on defense, than they have roster spots for.

Follow Tim on Twitter @tpigulski