The latest Portland Winterhawks addition Chaz Lucius with the Manitoba Moose (Photo: Jonathan Kozub)

The Portland Winterhawks made one of the best acquisitions of the WHL Trade Deadline with Chaz Lucius and, best of all, didn’t have to part ways with any assets.

On Monday afternoon, the Winnipeg Jets announced that they had assigned their 2021 first-round pick, Chaz Lucius, to Portland. The Winterhawks subsequently announced that Lucius had been signed to a WHL Standard Player Agreement. Per the team, Lucius will report to Portland after the team gets back from their road trip through the East Division, which will see the Winterhawks heading to Prince Albert for the first time since the 2019-20 season on Tuesday night.

Lucius was originally drafted by the Winterhawks in the 2018 WHL Prospects draft, selected in the fourth round at 78th overall. However, Lucius opted to enroll at the University of Minnesota, but the Winterhawks retained his rights. In a trend among NHL general managers following the conclusion of the 2023 World Junior Championships (where Lucius and Team USA won the bronze medal), Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff announced that Lucius, along with Manitoba Moose teammate and 2022 first-round pick Brad Lambert, would be reassigned to the WHL, with Lambert joining the rival Seattle Thunderbirds.

One of the best pure goal-scoring threats of his draft class, Lucius adds even more offensive firepower to a Winterhawks team that has been incredibly well-rounded, despite not having the pure star power that teams such as the Thunderbirds, Winnipeg ICE, and now the Kamloops Blazers have. Paul Zuk of Smaht Scouting raved about Lucius’ offensive game: “Not only can he score, he has one impressive set of hands. His shot release is incredibly fast, and he can make the opposing teams pay from the blue-line in.”

The Lucius signing advances Portland’s philosophy this year of developing homegrown talent and, aside from acquiring Diego Buttazzoni from the Medicine Hat Tigers, not looking for outside help from around the league. Yet, despite losing key overage players to the professional ranks, this team has managed to improve on the successes of last year’s team.

While the scoring has been led by the usual suspects, such as Robbie Fromm-Delorme, Gabe Klassen, and James Stefan, they’ve also been getting contributions from younger players and rookies like Marcus Nguyen and Josh Zakreski. Rookie Carter Sotheran made the Opening Night roster and hasn’t looked back. He may very well be a mid-round pick in this upcoming NHL draft. The fourth line has primarily featured three rookies (Buttazzoni, Nicholas Johnson, Aidan Sotas), and in his first season in North America, Jan Špunar has settled in well, currently fourth in save percentage for all WHL rookie goalies.

Robbie Fromm-Delorme of the Portland Winterhawks takes a shot on net during a game against the Spokane Chiefs
Robbie Fromm-Delorme of the Portland Winterhawks (Photo: Keith Dwiggins/Portland Winterhawks)

Bringing in Lucius undoubtedly makes this Winterhawks team right now better. Of course, it comes with the fact that he may not be a Winterhawk past the end of the season, but instead of swinging for the fences and paying a steep price for a high-end player, the Winterhawks simply stuck to their guns to build this team. A team that currently sits at 26-6-2-1: they looked from within to find talent, something that makes this team stand out in a crowd of teams that have declared their season to be Ed Chynoweth Cup or bust.