At one time torn between pursuing a U.S. college scholarship and playing at the major junior level, Akash Bains now has eyes only for the Red Deer Rebels and the Western Hockey League.
The 16-year-old Delta, B.C., product decided once and for all in July that performing with the Rebels was the best development route for him, signing a standard WHL education contract along with four potential future teammates.
“The more and more I thought about it, I realized that this is where I want to play,” Bains said Thursday, prior to a practice session preceding tonight’s 7 p.m. preseason engagement with the Edmonton Oil Kings at the Centrium.
“Coming here to Red Deer a few times, I’ve kind of fell in love with the city. After rookie camp finished (in June), I talked to Shaun (Rebels assistant GM/director of player personnel Sutter) and made my decision then.
“Signing was super exciting for me. I want to play here. It’s a great organization and the (players) are great. Hopefully I can make the team this season. It’s my dream to play here.”
Earning full-time employment this season might be difficult. Bains is one of nine forwards remaining on the Rebels preseason roster, but the club is awaiting the return of six up-front skaters from NHL camps and it’s unlikely that GM/head coach Brent Sutter will carry more than one 16-year-old this winter, with Austin Pratt being that guy.
But nothing is written in stone and Bains has enjoyed a successful exhibition run with the Rebels with one goal in three games and a break-even zero in the plus/minus category.
“It’s been a lot of fun. Obviously the games have been a lot faster than what I’m used to, but I’m getting accustomed to the pace.”
Rebels associate coach Jeff Truitt is confident that Bains has a future with the club.
“In development camp in June he kind of stood out to me because he’s pretty efficient with the puck. He did some good things and you could tell he’s a smart player,” said Truitt.
“He’s become a little quicker and he’s continued to do the same things in exhibition that he did in development camp just by managing the puck the right way. He’s adapted to the speed and the checking that’s come with it, and he’s an intelligent player, which is good to see at such a young age.”
Bains was selected by Red Deer in the ninth round of the 2014 WHL bantam draft after scoring 31 goals and collecting 57 points in 59 games with the Okanagan Hockey Academy bantam prep team.
He suited up with the OHA white midget prep squad last winter and scored six goals and added 14 assists in 28 outings.
“I have to work on my offensive game a bit, start putting the puck in the back of the net a bit more,” said Bains.
“Other than that, I feel that I can compete at this level.
“I think I’m a two-way forward, I really pride myself on playing good defence. I think from good defence comes good offence.”
Truitt can see Bains wearing Rebels silks in the not-too-distant future if he doesn’t make the club this season.
“Who knows how it’s going to shake out here, but he’s got a lot of attributes to his game right now,” said Truitt. “We’ll see what goes on after this weekend, but it’s been great to see him progress from game to game.”
l Brent Sutter signed Brandon Hagel to a standard WHL contract Thursday and the six-foot, 165-pound forward will likely play in tonight’s game versus the Oil Kings and possibly Saturday’s final preseason outing against the Medicine Hat Tigers at Stettler.
Hagel, as a 16-year-old, was third in Alberta Midget Hockey League scoring last season with 23 goals and 51 points in 34 games with the Fort Saskatchewan Rangers.
The Morinville native collected three points (1g,2a) in two games with the junior A (AJHL) Whitecourt Wolverines this fall.