Mpofu enjoying switch to forward for Rebels
He’s a defenceman by trade, but Vukie Mpofu is also a willing convert.
If the 16-year-old Saskatoon product sticks with the Red Deer Rebels for the upcoming Western Hockey League season, it will be as a forward, a switch that he’s been more than eager to accept.
“I’m still making the adjustment, but I’m starting to get used to it and I’m starting to really enjoy it,” he said on Thursday, following a practice session at the Penhold Regional Multiplex.
Mpofu, who stands five-foot-eight and a bit and carries 170 pounds, was moved up front during the Rebels training camp and played two exhibition games as a winger last weekend, collecting a pair of assists with his deft puck-handling ability. And, for the most part, that’s where he’ll stay if he plays in Red Deer this season.
“With the type of player he is and the guys we have here already, we just didn’t see him playing here as a defenceman this season, yet with his skating ability and his skill level we felt that we could use those attributes up front,” said Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin. “We thought he’d be better suited as a winger so we approached him with that during training camp and he was open to it, and he’s played really well up there.”
The Rebels’ fourth-round selection in the 2011 WHL bantam draft will do whatever is asked of him to earn a spot on the regular-season roster.
“For sure, when you have someone like Brent (GM Sutter) and someone like Jesse who is trying to help you out and make you a better player, it’s something you embrace with open arms,” said Mpofu. “If this (playing on the wing) is going to make me a better player and give me a better chance to make this team and play at this level, then it’s a no-brainer.
“It’s a really good opportunity for me to use my speed in a different manner, but probably more often. It’s a good chance to use my skills and get involved in the play and at the same time still be able to play well as a defensive forward in our zone.”
Mpofu played regular minutes as a rookie rearguard with the midget AAA Saskatoon Contacts last season and helped the team capture the West (Saskatchewan/Manitoba) title and then a bronze medal in the Telus Cup — national championship — tournament in April at Leduc.
“It was a great experience playing against the best guys and best teams in the country. It was a long season for me but it really got me ready for this (Rebels’) camp,” said Mpofu.
“I felt a lot more comfortable in camp this year and I’m also becoming more familiar with the on-ice and everyday life of a Rebel. It’s starting to come together for me.”
Wallin likes the fact Mpofu can play both as an attacker and a defender.
“Whether it’s this year or down the road, we see him as a guy who can bring that element of versatility . . . be a forward for us and also a guy you can use on your back end on the power play,” said the Rebels bench boss.
“It’s always nice to have a guy up front who you can move back if need be.”
Mpofu will be back in the lineup tonight when Red Deer takes on the Calgary Hitmen at the Winsport Arena at Canada Olympic Park and on Saturday when the Rebels face the Lethbridge Hurricanes at 7 p.m. at Innisfail.
Wallin will insert his younger prospects into both games and the veteran forward lines of Adam Kambeitz/Turner Elson/Brooks Maxwell and Charles Inglis/Colten Mayor/Tyson Ness will each play one game, as will defencemen Mathew Dumba and Kayle Doetzel.
Either Bolton Pouliot or Grant Naherniak will start in the Red Deer goal tonight, with Patrik Bartosak getting the call on Saturday.