With the exception of the two goaltenders and hockey operations assistant Davis Claffey, Jordan DePape was alone on the Centrium ice Thursday.
But he’ll be skating alongside his new teammates as early as next week.
“I’m skating and shooting on my own until about the 21st, then I’ll start jumping in with the boys in practice. There will be no contact, I’ll just be doing the drills,” he said.
DePape underwent shoulder surgery in November and the 20-year-old forward was added to the Rebels roster on Jan. 10 when it became clear that he would be available for duty by mid-March.
The Winnipeg native was early into his third season with the Kamloops Blazers when he suffered a shoulder injury and was basically told his junior career was over. But he was on the operating table just a week later, giving him the time to heal and rehab and ultimately return to action this season.
DePape, who was dropped from the Blazers’ protected list last fall, should be ready to play in a month’s time.
“That’s sounds about right. I can start up with contact the first week of March and then hopefully a week or a week after than I can start playing,” he said.
Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter said that DePape will likely play the Rebels’ final two regular-season games — a home-and-home with the Edmonton Oil Kings March 15-16 — as preparation for the playoffs.
DePape should slot in as a top-six forward upon his return. He scored 21 goals in 54 regular-season games in 2010-11, put up 14 points (6-8) in 14 games last season before suffering a previous shoulder injury — which also required surgery — and contributed seven goals and 13 points in 11 playoff games last spring.
“It will be important for me to get at least a couple of games in (before the playoffs), if I can,” he said. “But I don’t want to risk it. I’m going to be skating here a long while and getting back into shape, so that shouldn’t be too much of an issue. But it will be important for me to get into those two games against Edmonton just to get my timing back and get ready for the playoffs.”
DePape arrived in Red Deer Sunday and immediately started to mix with his new teammates.
“I’m settling in a lot more quickly than I expected, actually,” he said. “I got in Sunday and started to gel with the guys. I’m still working on a few of the names and faces but it’s coming together pretty quickly and it’s a great organization.”
It so happened that DePape arrived on the same day that Kale Williams — the son of Rebels vice-president of marketing and sales Dean Williams and a close friend of the players — passed away at the age of 17.
“My sympathy goes out to everyone involved. That’s extremely tough,” said DePape. “I didn’t really know Kale, but from what I hear he was a great kid and just listening to some of the guys talk about him and tell stories . . . it brought tears to my eyes. But we’re going to get through it as a team and as a family. Even though I’m new to it, I’m still part of it.”
DePape was in the Centrium stands Wednesday as the Rebels defeated the Prince George Cougars 4-1. He enjoyed the view.
“I thought it was a great game. I thought we played a full 60-minute game, that we didn’t take a minute off,” he said. “We had a lot of chances in the offensive zone and the power play was really clicking. I already knew this team has a great penalty kill and you see that last night.
“When I was at home I watched a few games on TV and on my computer so I knew what some of the guys were all about. The team looks pretty good.”
DePape flew to Kamloops Thursday evening to take part in a fund-raiser today for juvenile diabetes research. He’ll be back in Red Deer Saturday.
“Being a diabetic myself, I’ve given back to the community the last few years in Kamloops,” said DePape, who was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at the age of 13.
“I became close to a lot of people with diabetes in the community. It’s really important for me to go back there one last time and say a final goodbye in a good way.”