With as many as 17 veterans set to register for Red Deer Rebels training camp Saturday at the Centrium, the list of available jobs for the 2011-12 Western Hockey League season is indeed short.
A handful of ‘94-born players will have the inside track on perhaps four of the six to seven berths up for grabs.
The contingent in question includes forwards Mason Burr and Brooks Maxwell, who skated in the Alberta Midget League last winter, Chase McMurphy, who played in the AJHL with the Calgary Mustangs, and Joel Hamilton from the Edge School near Calgary.
Also in that age category are defenceman Davin Stener, a member of the AJHL’s Drumheller Dragons last season, and Manitoba midget AAA rearguards Danys Chartrand and David Heath, all of whom will get a long look in camp and possibly during the preseason.
While he has high expectations for his top 17-year-old prospects, head coach and vice-president of hockey operations Jesse Wallin has invited a few ‘darkhorse’ candidates to main camp. And he fully expects all of the invitees to push for employment.
“That’s the beauty of having a small camp,” Wallin said Wednesday, in reference to the 36 players who will participate in the main camp sessions and the 37 who will be enrolled in rookie camp.
“We don’t have to invite a lot of guys because we feel we have a strong bunch of listed kids coming in, and we feel that the kids we’ve invited can challenge as well.”
The invitations were issued to forwards Trace Elson and Kyle Oleniuk, goaltender Steven Klein and defenceman Stephen Hak.
Elson, 17, is the younger brother of third-year Rebels forward Turner Elson, and appeared in four games with the St. Albert midget AAA Raiders last season, scoring twice.
Oleniuk, 18, finished sixth in Saskatchewan Midget AAA League scoring with 27 goals and 64 points in 44 games with the Moose Jaw Generals while centering a line with Cory Millette, who was the league’s top rookie scorer and is expected to earn employment with the Rebels as a 16-year-old.
Klein, an 18-year-old from Saskatoon, posted a 4-15 record, 4.84 goals-against average and .862 save percentage with the lowly Nipawin Hawks of the SJHL, and Hak, 17, potted three goals and collected nine points as a rookie with the Steinbach Pistons of the MJHL.
“Turner Elson was a camp invite a couple of years ago who has become a pretty big part of our team,” said Wallin.
“If you can have guys like that pop out every now and then it makes you better. Hopefully, one of these guys can do that.
“I think this is going to be a real competitive camp. We have some kids who have been on our list for a while and this is a big year for them. The guys who are coming back will be expected to take another step and I think some of these younger kids will push them. There’s going to be some good competition in a lot of different areas.”
Millette and defenceman Kayle Doetzel are the front-runners to make the club as 16-year-olds, with local forwards Scott Feser and Scott Ferguson not far behind.
“Kids like Feser and Ferguson have come a long way, but given where we’re at it might be a bit of a stretch for them to make our team this season,” said Wallin. “Not that they couldn’t, but we have some other kids (17-year-olds) who are a little closer to crunch time.”
• Netminder Patrik Bartosak, selected by the Rebels in June’s CHL import draft, arrived in Red Deer Tuesday, as did third-year Swedish forward John Persson.
According to Wallin, language will not be a problem for Bartosak, who is a nephew of former NHL forward Radek Bonk.
“He speaks much better than average English,” said Wallin. “Apparently he’s been over here a few times to watch his uncle play.
“The biggest thing for us will be getting him outfitted. His (former) team in the Czech Republic kept all of his gear so we have to suit him up from head to toe.”
• Second-year defenceman Mathew Dumba will be eased into training camp after performing at a high level over the past few weeks. The 2010-11 WHL rookie of the year was the captain of the gold-medal winning Canadian team at the Ivan Hlinka under-18 tournament in the Czech Republic and also participated in the recent NHL Research, Development and Orientation camp in Toronto, a gathering which showcased top prospects for the 2012 entry draft.
• Rebels training camp opens Sunday at 8:30 a.m. with a 90-minute rookie session that will feature forward Conner Bleackley and defenceman Haydn Fleury, the team’s top two picks in this year’s bantam draft. Both have signed WHL education contracts.
Main camp sessions will follow at 10:15 and 11:30 a.m., followed by a goaltender session at 1 p.m. and rookie scrimmages at 2:30 p.m. The main camp players will be back on the ice from 4:30 to 6 p.m.
Camp concludes Tuesday, at which time roughly 40 players will be retained for the McDonald’s Black and White intrasquad game Wednesday at 7 p.m.
• The Rebels will open their exhibition season at St. Albert, meeting the Prince George Cougars at 11 a.m. on Sept. 4 and the Swift Current Broncos at 3 p.m. the following day as part of the Edmonton Oil Kings tournament.
Red Deer will also meet the Lethbridge Hurricanes Sept. 9 at Innisfail, will travel to Calgary to face the Hitmen 24 hours later, and will conclude preseason play with games against the Oil Kings and Medicine Hat Tigers Sept. 16 and 17 at Lacombe and Stettler.
The Rebels’ regular-season opener is Sept. 23 versus the visiting Kootenay Ice.