The Trail Smoke Eaters got a season-opening boost with the addition of Jesse Knowler to the team.
The 18-year-old Castlegar native was released from the Western Hockey League’s Prince Albert Raiders on Tuesday and headed home
The Smokies were hoping to have Knowler on last year’s roster but the skilled five-foot-nine left-winger earned a spot with the Raiders, where he collected one goal and six points in 57 games.
Despite spending his first junior season in Saskatchewan, Knowler should feel quite at home returning to the West Kootenay to play with the Smokies.
He joins a quintet of former Kootenay Ice teammates from the B.C. Major Midget League.
Knowler captained a 2010-11 squad that included current Smokies Jake Lucchini, Braeden Krogfoss, Joren Johnson and Scott Davidson.
Knowler potted 18 goals and collected 35 points in 32 games with the Ice that season. He also caught scouts eyes with his speed, which netted him “Fastest Skater,” honours during the 2010-11 All Star Game.
In his first midget season he was also a teammate of Adam Wheeldon with the Ice in the 2009-10 campaign.
The other Ice link for Knowler will be Smokies assistant coach Brent Heaven, who also held that role with the midget team in 2010-11.
Knowler’s Trail hockey links go back further when he played with the Rossland-Trail Bantam Reps prior to moving up to the Major Midget League.
The Smokies also unloaded forward Travis Stephens in a deal with the Cowichan Valley Capitals.
In return, Trail acquired six-foot-two forward Luke Sandler.
The 19-year-old Chicago native had a goal and three points in four games this season in Cowichan.
Not only does Sandler bring some size and skill to the lineup, head coach and general manager Bill Birks moved a player off the roster that didn’t want to be here.