There was a time, not so long ago, when Rhyse Dieno was in the ‘best-kept-secret’ category.
My, how times have changed.
Since arriving in Red Deer in mid-November, the 19-year-old forward has sniped 21 goals and collected 40 points in 34 WHL games. He trails only captain and linemate Turner Elson in team scoring and has in every way proven to be a bargain for Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter, who lured the native of Davidson, Sask., to Red Deer with a phone call and gave up nothing for his services.
“It seems like just the other day that I drove into Red Deer,” Dieno said Tuesday at the Centrium, where the Rebels will entertain the Prince George Cougars tonight. “I remember coming into town and going to the wrong rink. I had the Kinex typed into my phone. I didn’t know what this rink was called and when I showed up at the Kinex I realized it couldn’t be the main rink.
“Time has gone by quickly and I really enjoy being here.”
This isn’t the first WHL rodeo for Dieno, who played 16 games with the Kamloops Blazers as a 16-year-old before spending the 2010-11 season at the junior A level with the SJHL La Ronge Ice Wolves, with whom he had 12 goals and 30 points in 36 games.
Dieno went on to join the Medicine Hat Tigers and after starting last season on the third line, moved up to the top unit with Emerson Etem and Dylan Bredo when Hunter Shinkaruk suffered a concussion. That’s when he took off.
“When I was playing with Etem and Bredo I had something like nine points in six games,” said Dieno, who then endured a shoulder injury in January and was lost for the remainder of a season in which he picked up a total of 11 points (4-7) in 50 games.
“I was finally starting to hit my stride when I took a weird hit from (Alex) Gogolev in a game against Calgary and my shoulder popped out,” said Dieno. “I could have returned if we had won the fourth game against Moose Jaw (in the playoffs). I trained hard all summer and was looking forward to having a good year with the Tigers, playing a lot and being a point a game player.”
Instead, Dieno got his pink slip last fall as Medicine Hat decided to go with a younger lineup and the five-foot-nine, 170-pound winger headed back to La Ronge.
“I was pretty frustrated,” he said.
His play didn’t show that, as Dieno struck for 12 goals and 21 points in 15 games with the Ice Wolves and on Nov. 1 was one of just two SJHL players named to Team Canada West for the World Junior A Challenge in Yarmouth, N.S., where he scored once and added four assists in four games as Team West settled for silver.
It was also on Nov. 1 that Dieno got a call from Sutter, who expressed great interest in bringing the talented forward to Red Deer.
“I checked my voice mail and there was a call from Brent Sutter that kind of made my day,” said Dieno. “I was excited about coming back to the Dub.”
Dieno wondered if Sutter wanted him right away, but the Rebels boss insisted that he compete in the World Junior A Challenge before reporting to the WHL club.
“Brent gave me another chance to play in the league and things have worked out,” said Dieno. “It’s gone way beyond what I thought it would. If you would have told me last fall that I’d have 21 goals in half a season in the WHL, I wouldn’t have believed it.”
Upon his arrival in Red Deer, Dieno was thrust on to the top line with Elson and Brooks Maxwell and the unit has had very few so-so outings.
“It’s definitely been going well and I’d love to be with the Red Deer Rebels next year too,” said Dieno. “This is a great place to play hockey. The fans are unreal.”
Sutter will certainly welcome Dieno back with open arms next fall.
“He’s been a real good player for us and he’s another example of a player who has developed at a later stage,” said Sutter. “I had never seen him play but Randy (Rebels director of scouting/player development Peterson) and Shaun (senior scout Sutter) did some research and then went and watched him.
“They told me he was the type of player I was looking for and I agreed to give him a look, give him a shot. I didn’t care if he was 18 or 19, it didn’t matter to me. He had played in the league before and sometimes a player can change dramatically just by being one more year mature. He’s now our leading goal-scorer and is averaging more than a point a game.”
Impressive, considering Dieno didn’t cost Sutter more than a phone call.
“He’s been a great find for us,” said Sutter. “It’s exciting to have him here and it’s going to be exciting to have him here next year as a 20-year-old, too. Hopefully, if things continue to progress we can get him a shot at playing pro hockey. He’s worked for it this year.”
Sutter said Dieno wasn’t a perfect player when he joined the Rebels and is still learning how to play away from the puck, although his progression in that department has been impressive.
“He had a lot to learn coming in, he had to learn how to play without the puck and be responsible that way,” said Sutter. “That’s been a learning curve for him, but the great thing is he’s been willing to do it and he wants to do it . He also knows that there’s a lot I put on his shoulders that is impactful for us in a good way. I want him to be responsible and be a leader on our team and he has the skill set to be the difference in a game. He’s scored some big goals this year.”
l Former Rebels netminder Darcy Kuemper made his NHL debut with the Minnesota Wild Tuesday against the host Vancouver Canucks.