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NHL career never a certainty


For major junior players, the National Hockey League entry draft is the opening to the fastest route towards earning a major-league pay cheque.

And yet, for every player who gets to the world’s top league via the draft, there are so many more who never play a game in the NHL despite hearing their name called on draft day.

There are clearly no guarantees that players plucked in the annual lottery will ever set foot in an NHL arena, with the exception of the vast majority of first-round selections.

The Red Deer Rebels have had their share of promising players who were seen as potential NHL prospects, but never got there.

Some never will, others still have a chance.

Here is a list of prominent Rebels who have been plucked in the draft over the past 10 years but have yet to live their dream for even a single NHL regular-season game.

Landon Ferraro — The 32nd player picked in the 2009 draft, the six-foot forward has so far been shunned by the Detroit Red Wings. Ferraro may not be that far off, however, as he showed plenty of big-league promise last season while scoring 24 goals and collecting 47 points with Grand Rapids of the AHL.

The 22-year-old has seven goals and 18 points in 33 games with the Griffins this season.

Justin Weller — The big (six-two, 205 pounds) and rugged defenceman was a fourth-round selection of the Phoenix Coyotes in 2009. He graduated to the pro ranks in 2012 and so far the 22-year-old has played 85 games with the Gwinnett Gladiators of the ECHL, accumulating 3 goals, 15 points and 59 penalty minutes.

Byron Froese — The Winkler, Man., native was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks (fourth round) in 2009 and a year later was dealt to the Rebels by the Everett Silvertips. Froese, now 22, was a solid two-way player in Red Deer and scored 43 goals as a 19-year-old.

His best pro season to date was 2012-13 with Toledo of the ECHL (12-21-33 in 38 games) and this season he has garnered five points — all assists — in 26 games with Rockford of the AHL.

John Persson — The ultimate WHL power forward, Persson was a force during his final two seasons with the Rebels, scoring 33 goals in 2010-11 and 23 the following winter. The six-foot-two, 215-pound winger was selected by the New York Islanders in the 2011 NHL draft and has since suited up exclusively with the team’s AHL affiliate — the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

The product of Ostersund, Sweden, has produced 26 goals and 43 points in 94 AHL games.

Tommi Kivisto — The Finnish defender played just one season with the Rebels, but the Carolina Hurricanes were impressed enough to take him in the seventh round of the 2009 draft. Kivisto returned to North America for the 2012-13 season to play a combined 65 games with Florida of the ECHL and Charlotte of the AHL, but is back in his home country this winter, with Ilves Tampere of the Finnish League.

Kirill Starkov — The Russian native was drafted (sixth round) in 2005 by the Columbus Blue Jackets while playing overseas. He was with the Rebels one season (2006-07), scoring 34 goals and collecting 71 points.

After refusing to rejoin the Rebels as a 20-year-old, he never played a single NHL game and instead played in the ECHL, CHL and AHL until 2009.

He then skated in Russia, Denmark and Sweden until last winter and there is no record of him playing anywhere this season.

Jordan Knackstedt — A second-round bantam draft pick of the Rebels in 2003, Knackstedt never lived up to lofty expectations and was dealt to the Moose Jaw Warriors part way through the 2006-07 season, his third in with the Rebels.

Knackstedt found his stride in Moose Jaw and was picked by the Boston Bruins in the seventh round of the ‘07 draft. The Saskatoon native, now 25, played three years in the AHL and two more in Italy and Sweden before suiting up with the Bakersfield Condors of the ECHL this season.

Knackstedt has eight goals and 18 points in 30 games with the Condors.

l Stretching back to the early years of the last decade and even back into the ‘90s, the number of Rebels who failed to get even a sniff of regular-season NHL action includes the likes of Joel Stepp, Shawn McNeil, Frank Mrazek, Shane Bendera, Brent McDonald, Kyle Kos, Lloyd Shaw, Chris Ovington, Jon Zukiwsky and Chris Wickenheiser.

 
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