There’s a lot to like about the Red Deer Rebels’ latest acquisitions, GM/head coach Brent Sutter insisted Monday.
In fact, centre Luke Philp, who was obtained Sunday from the Kootenay Ice, and winger Adam Helewka, who came over in a deal with the Spokane Chiefs two days earlier, are similar players, Sutter suggested.
“He’s an exceptional 20-year-old,” said Sutter, in reference to the five-foot-10, 180-pound Philp. “He reminds me a lot of a smaller — in stature — Adam Helewka. He’s a 200-foot player who’s strong on pucks. He knows the game, he makes, plays and he’s skilled.
“And what’s impressive with Luke is he’s continued to get better every year and in big games be plays big. He’s been exceptional in the playoffs the last two years. It was intriguing in every aspect to be able to acquire him.”
Philp, who underwent ankle surgery in November and won’t return to action until later this month, watched his new teammates practise Monday morning at the Centrium. He stayed behind as the Rebels left a short time later for a brief two-game trip that includes games tonight and Wednesday at Prince Albert and Saskatoon.
“That was a good practice, they’re looking good right now,” said Philp. “They had a big night the other night (a 10-0 whipping of the visiting Brandon Wheat Kings Saturday).
Philp was fully aware of the fact he was almost certainly going to be dealt by the Ice at or near this Sunday’s WHL trade deadline. As an overage player who last season put up 82 points (30g,52a) in 71 regular-season games and 12 points (5-7) in seven playoff contests, he was an extremely marketable player for the rebuilding Ice.
“I wasn’t surprised I was traded,” he said. “Jeff (Kootenay GM Chynoweth) was good with me throughout the whole process. We kind of mutually agreed that they were going to try and move me.
“It wasn’t a surprise that I got traded but I wasn’t sure where I was going. I was very happy to hear that I was coming to Red Deer. I’m excited and now I’m just trying to work hard to get into the lineup.”
Philp, who scored 13 goals and added 16 assists in 22 games this season before undergoing surgery and was still Kootenay’s leading scorer at the time of the deal, couldn’t pinpoint exactly when he’ll be cleared to play.
“There’s no specific date for my return right now,” he said. “I’m just trying to get better and improve my range of motion every day.”
If the Rebels are hoping Philp will provide offence, they won’t be disappointed, said the Canmore native.
“I’m an offensive-minded player. I can make plays and that’s what I want to bring to the team,” he said. “I’m not going to try and be something I’m not. I’m going to bring offence to the team.”
While he’s new to the club, Philp — as a fifth-year WHL veteran — is familiar with the Rebels’ style of play.
“Red Deer is always a hard team to play against. They always come out hard and finish hits,” he noted. “They’re physical but also skilled and fast and they can put the puck in the net. I’m really excited to be a part of it.”
Helewka, a six-foot-two, 200-pound power forward with soft hands, enjoyed an impressive debut with the Rebels Saturday, scoring once and adding three assists while skating alongside Ivan Nikolishin and centre Jake DeBrusk.
In short, he was as advertised.
“It’s the type of player he is. He’s a game-breaking type of guy,” said Sutter.
“He can make plays and he’s strong on pucks. He does thing that others have a harder time doing.
“He’s big and strong and we wanted to add some more size to our team. By adding him and (six-foot-four forward Taden) Rattie (acquired from Portland last week) it gives us two bigger guys and also gives us some speed and a high level of skill.”
Sutter said the Helewka/DeBrusk/Nikolishin line will stay intact for the games in Prince Albert and Saskatoon.
“Obviously when you get a line that can play at that level it’s huge for you, but we’ll see how it goes once we get everybody back and healthy,” said the Rebels boss.
“We’ll have a better feeling of where we’re going to be come the third week of January.”
Defenceman Haydn Fleury, a member of the Canadian team at the world juniors in Helsinki, will rejoin the Rebels tonight, while forward Michael Spacek, who suited up with Team Czech Republic at the worlds, will be back for Friday and Saturday home games versus the Lethbridge Hurricanes and Vancouver Giants.
The Rebels are also missing forward Adam Musil and defenceman Josh Mahura. Musil, out with an upper-body injury, is expected back by the weekend, while Mahura ·(lower body) has missed nearly the entire season and might not return to the ice until March.
“At the end of the day we feel that we’ve added to our team, that we’ve improved our team,” said Sutter, who kick-started his acquisitions of elite forwards by getting DeBrusk from the Swift Current Broncos Dec. 27. “Now it’s comes down to how we respond on the ice.”
Sutter admitted the Rebels will miss the leadership provided by former captain Wyatt Johnson and fellow overage forward Presten Kopeck, both dealt away over the past few days. But he noted that the incoming players will provide their own form of guidance.
“When you lose guys like Wyatt and Presten you’re taking strong character and leadership out of your room,” said Sutter. “But we knew what we were getting back with these (new) guys, we know what they provide for leadership.
“You put guys like that in your lineup and it raises everyone else’s level of play.”