Trade for Canadian offensive lineman Kyle Saxelid boosts Ticats’ 2022 CFL Draft haul

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

Seven years ago the Hamilton Tiger-Cats entered the draft coming off back-to-back Grey Cup losses and were looking to put the final pieces in place to finally end their championship drought.

Seven years ago the Ticats swung a pre-draft trade that netted them an in-his-prime, all-star calibre offensive lineman in exchange their first and third-round draft picks.

Seven years ago that player was Ryan Bomben and the team they traded with was the Montreal Alouettes. While Bomben’s arrival in Steeltown did not lead to a Tiger-Cats championship parade it did make the Tabbies the league’s best team in 2015 until disaster struck.

Fast forward to 2022 and while the players are obviously different, and the team they made the deal with isn’t the same, the Ticats made a similar move when they sent their first and third-round picks to the Edmonton Elks in exchange for Canadian offensive lineman Kyle Saxelid and Canadian linebacker Grant McDonald along with swapping first-round picks in this year’s CFL Global Draft.

The trade, which netted the Ticats a potential left tackle for this season and Chris Van Zeyl’s potential replacement in the future, needs to be taken into account when discussing Hamilton’s draft haul.

The Ticats did select an impressive list of players — Queen’s defensive end Anthony Federico will be an excellent special teamer and provide depth behind Mason Bennett should the former 2020 first-round pick fulfil his potential and snag a starting spot this season — but it is the trade that makes Hamilton one of the winners of this year’s draft. When you add a day one starter and one of the league’s up-and-coming special teamers you had a productive draft.

Using draft capital to acquire veteran players is a solid move, especially in a draft many considered lacking in depth. Knowing what we know of Saxelid and McDonald, if they were the two players picked with the selections the Ticats traded away many would consider them steals.

Saxelid started 10 games at three different positions for the Elks a season ago. He started two games at left guard, three games at right tackle and five games at left tackle. The Ticats have an open spot at left tackle following the departure of Jordan Murray to the Indianapolis Colts and it is entirely possible, and maybe even likely, that Saxelid will be given first crack at making that spot his own.

McDonald is a special teams ace, recording 16 special teams tackles in 14 games in 2021, fifth most in the league. With the team opting not to bring back stalwart special teamers like Mike Daly the Ticats were in need for some help on that side of the ball. Enter McDonald, who could be one of the league’s top special teams coverage men in 2022.

Acquiring both Saxelid and McDonald made what the Ticats did on draft day almost secondary. They may have found the answer to their left tackle question, and if the price of that was a pair of picks then the price was worth it. There are no guarantees with draft picks, and when teams select a player they hope they turn into guys like Saxelid and McDonald. The Ticats knowing what they now have and not having to worry about projecting makes the price of acquiring both more than worth it.

Despite the focus being rightfully on the trade, the Ticats didn’t make out badly with the new players coming into the league that they selected. Federico has impact potential as a rookie, while draft pundits raved about Hamilton’s selection of Guelph linebacker Jared Beeksma in the fifth round.

Kiondre Smith, son of former CFL player Adrion “Pee Wee” Smith, comes with a solid CFL pedigree thanks to his father. The elder Smith spent 12 years in the CFL, mainly with the Toronto Argonauts, where he was a three-time CFL all-star at defensive back and three-time Grey Cup champion with the Argos. The younger Smith played three seasons at Guelph as a receiver, but also contributed as a returner for the Gryphons. Some do wonder if he will be able to translate his return game to the pros.

Rounding out Hamilton’s selections were a pair of defensive backs in Concordia’s Khadeem Pierre and UBC’s Jaxon Ciraolo-Brown along with Laval offensive lineman Nicolas Guay.

The Ticats have done a good job of acquiring and developing Canadian talent over the years — their 17 roster players from the five previous drafts are the most of any team in the CFL — so heading into the draft their needs were few. Using two of their draft picks to acquire a starting calibre player in Saxelid and a great special teams player in McDonald bumps up their draft haul significantly.

Seven years ago, looking to find the final piece to solve their championship puzzle, the Ticats used the draft to take one final big swing before the season started.

The Ticats repeated that same strategy this week.

Only time will tell if it will pay off.

Josh Smith has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.