The Red Deer Rebels will be ready to add another franchise puzzle piece Thursday at the WHL Bantam Draft.
After missing out on the first round fun in 2016, the Rebels will select last, 22nd overall in the opening round in Calgary.
The Rebels originally didn’t have a first round pick this year, until on Jan. 10, trade deadline day when they acquired a first rounder from the Regina Pats in the Josh Mahura trade. Red Deer will select 9th in subsequent rounds except the sixth when they don’t have a selection.
Drafting at the bottom of the opening round will have its challenges, according to Rebels Assistant GM/ Director of Player Personnel Shaun Sutter, which means mainly playing the waiting game while the picks fall ahead of them.
“In that position you have to take best player. I don’t think you can fixate on a position,” Sutter said.
“I don’t think we’ll look at taking a goalie in the first round. That’s the only thing we probably do know. But from there, we look at best player. We want a player that’s going to be committed to playing in Red Deer that we can build our team around.”
Red Deer has selected forwards in the first round of the WHL Bantam Draft in three of the last five years.
While the Rebels look set on defence with the majority of their blueline returning next season and relatively thin on forward with several top players moving on, Sutter explained guys selected on Thursday really aren’t looked at as having an impact for another few years.
“Realistically we can’t expect them to have any impact till probably three years down the line when they’re 17-years-old,” he said. “That never plays into it, where your team is at now. You think about the age groups around it.”
The Rebels did get somewhat of an impact from 2015 first round selection Jacob Herauf this season, as the defender played in 35 games, some of those at forward.
Sutter said it’s common to get a player of Herauf’s calibre in on forward, just to give him minutes at the WHL level.
“Some guys, high picks don’t even pan out, let alone play,” Sutter said.
“We’ll just be looking at best player and I wouldn’t classify it as a deep draft, so you have to make sure you focus on the guys who can play at the top of your lineup. That’s the focus, you have to look at the things that probably aren’t going to be there when you go to pick later.”
Things that won’t be there later for Sutter includes high-skill players, individuals that later in their career will likely contribute on the power play or be a top six forward for the club.
He noted this year more than others, at the top of the draft there are a lot of undersized forwards, which is becoming a trend in the WHL. He referenced the league’s leading scorers to emphasize that trend, but also noted looking at the Memorial Cup last year, most of the teams that played there had a lot of size in their lineup.
“Typically you get more skill earlier in the draft. Skill and vision. As it goes along, this is a different draft in the sense that a lot of the good players are small guys,” Sutter said.
“You have to be careful not to be focused on size. But, as you’ve seen our team the last couple years, even the Memorial Cup years, all those teams playing in the Memorial Cup were big teams. It’s something that you can’t discount either.”
After the Alberta Cup ended Sunday, Sutter and the Rebels scouting staff complied a short list of players from each province that they hope to select in the draft.
“It’s a community effort with our scouting staff to collaborate as we go province to province and build a list to make sure everyone is comfortable with the order,” he said. “You have to go by what you’ve seen all year and you have to go with the people’s opinions who have seen those players the most.”
The Alberta Cup was the final one of four provincial tournaments where the top under 16 age group players gather for scouts to watch. Each of B.C., Manitoba and Saskatchewan held their provincial tournaments earlier this spring. Sutter said the Alberta event is one of the most competitive of all the provinces but wouldn’t be a determining factor for the players they select.
“Always have to be real careful with the end of the year events as you go across the provinces because you’ve been watching these guys throughout the season and you have some players you have as many as 30 plus viewings on. You don’t want to put too much stock in two or three days,” Sutter said.
Sutter added that in terms of local talent, defenceman Ronan Seeley from Olds, who played for the Bantam AAA Rebels will likely be the first Central Alberta player selected. Alberta Bantam Hockey League MVP Noah Danielson is another name from the area that will be selected in the draft, along with teammate Brett Meerman.
The Prince Albert Raiders will select first overall, with the Kootenay Ice picking second then Vancouver, Edmonton and Saskatoon to round out the top five. Speculation around the league is that six-foot-one defenceman Kaiden Ghule will be selected first overall, Ghule was named an all-star at the Alberta Cup. Connor McClennon out of the Pursuit of Excellence Academy in B.C. has also been mentioned in the first overall conversation.
Overall, barring no trades between Wednesday and the draft Thursday, the Rebels will pick in all 13 rounds except the sixth.