PENHOLD — Forward Conner Bleackley and defenceman Haydn Fleury were the Red Deer Rebels’ top two picks in the 2011 Western Hockey League bantam draft for a reason.
The big-bodied skaters are oozing with upside, as they demonstrated during the three-day Rebels spring prospects camp which concluded Sunday morning at the Penhold Multiplex.
“They’re both guys you would expect to stand out and both of them had a very good camp,” said GM/head coach Jesse Wallin. “They’re bigger and stronger and they gained a lot of experience during their time with our team last year, especially Bleacks who played 16 games with us.
“I thought that experience was evident this weekend, with Haydn as well. Haydn is skating very well, he’s big, he’s strong and he’s a horse. Both guys showed real good signs this weekend and how they have to come into training camp with the mentality that they’re not just going to play here next season, but be impact players at 16 because they’re both capable of that.”
Fellow 16-year-old Vukie Mpofu also showed plenty of promise with his smooth stride and passing skills from the back end.
“That what we expect out of him,” Wallin said of the diminutive Saskatoon product, “He’s a guy who has to play that way to be effective. If you want just a safe, defensive guy, then there’s probably a six-foot-two guy out there who can do that.
“Vukie has to bring that part of his game where he can be a dynamic offensive defenceman. That’s what he was known for when he was drafted and that’s what he has to bring . . . he has to be a guy who can skate the puck when needed and be a guy who runs a power play at this level and really provides you with an offensive boost.
“He showed signs of that at spring camp. Now he has to bring that into training camp (in late August).”
In terms of blueliners, Wallin also liked 2011 draft pick Jake MacLachlan of Fernie, B.C., and Calgary native Austin Strand, taken in this year’s bantam draft.
“MacLachlan has come a long way over the past year, he’s shown probably as much improvement as anyone who was in our spring camp last year,” said the Rebels bench boss. “He’s made big strides. He’s gotten bigger and stronger and his skating looked real good this weekend.”
As for Strand . . .
“He’s a big kid who’s raw, but he has a lot of ability,” noted Wallin. “He’s confident with the puck and his skating is only going to get better as he gets stronger. And he’s got an edge to him.”
Up front, Wallin wasn’t able to get a good read on 2012 first-round bantam pick Adam Musil of Burnaby, B.C., who suffered a broken thumb in April and therefore sat during out the scrimmages. The big centre, however, is clearly a keeper.
Meanwhile, rangy forward Earl Webb showed well, as did the likes of Brayden Burke and smallish forward Mason McCarty.
“Webb is a big guy who got into some exhibition games with us last fall. He’s a big-boned kid who’s only going to get bigger,” said Wallin. “He moves pretty well for a big guy and he’s got some skill. We’re hoping he can be a guy who not only brings size and can be a power forward and a physical presence, but can also chip in offensively as well.”
Besides Burke and McCarty, Wallin was impressed with forwards Meyer Nell and Sylvan Lake product Chase Thudium.
“Chase is another guy who has come a long way, but being a smaller guy he has a ways to go yet,” said Wallin. “The thing with Chase is he competes so hard. He’s coming off a strong season and showed some promise this weekend.”