PENHOLD — Living up to a program’s legacy is never easy for a 15-year-old.
When that legacy is producing defencemen selected in the first round of the NHL draft, it’s even more daunting.
That list of blue-liners includes the likes of Dion Phaneuf, Mathew Dumba and most recently Haydn Fleury, taken seventh overall in 2014 by the Carolina Hurricanes.
Red Deer Rebels first round selection from the 2015 WHL bantam draft Jacob Herauf, is taking the challenge on by the horns.
“When (assistant general manager/director of player personnel) Shaun (Sutter) drafted me, he compared me to a Mathew Dumba and it was an honour,” said Herauf on Saturday at the Rebels annual prospects camp at Penhold Regional Multiplex. “I knew all of the guys that had played here that developed and had gone on to play pro hockey, and that’s what I want to do and I hope I can develop as a player like that.”
The comparison to the Minnesota Wild’s blue-line stud is not far off.
Though Herauf is currently only five-foot-10 and 170 pounds, his dad is six-foot-three and his 17-year-old brother is six-foot-four. With the width of his shoulders, there is definitely going to be some growing in his future.
Most importantly he is a terrific skater with good offensive skills but defensive-first instincts.
“I see myself as a two-way defenceman that can jump into the play and contribute on the offensive side, but before I do anything past the red-line … I’ve got to make sure the pucks out of my end, I don’t want to be on for a goal (against).”
Owner, general manager and head coach Brent Sutter liked what he saw out of Herauf at the camp.
“He skates, he moves the puck well, he’s heady, and he’s got bite to his game,” said Sutter. “He’s a player that loves the physicality part of it, too.”
Size will likely remain an issue until he actually does grow into his family’s shoes.
Though Herauf was mainly playing against 15 and 16 year-olds, he did meet the broad side of six-foot-three, 218-pound Austin Pratt several times on Saturday. But he always bounced right back up, often joining in the rush back the other way.
Getting bigger is at the top of his priority list over the next 12 months. He has been training in Sherwood park with Kevin Douglas and 20 other young hockey players as he prepares for this next season’s tryouts with the Sherwood Park Kings of the Alberta Midget AAA Hockey League.
“He pushes us to the max we can go,” said Herauf. “I feel if I keep training the way I am I can develop as a player and get a lot bigger and stronger.”
The group he’s training with includes Vancouver Giants 2014 second round pick, defenceman Dylon Plouffe and a teammate of Herauf’s. Instead of looking up to NHLer’s Herauf just looks to Plouffe.
“He’s a great guy, he’s great on and off the ice and he’s great with the kids too, he helps out a lot in the community,” said Herauf.
Last year with the Sherwood Park Flyers bantam AAA team, he scored 23 points (six goals, 17 assists) in 33 games. In one call-up game with the Sherwood Park Squires minor midget team, he picked up three assists.
It did not take long for Herauf to start preparing for his hockey future after the Rebels took him 16th overall.
“That whole day I was thrilled and couldn’t stop thinking about it,” he said.
“But the next day I woke up with a new attitude and I knew that it was a new day and I needed to forget about it and get to work.”
Sutter thought highly of the entire 2015 draft class that also included Eli Zummack (2nd round), Chase Lowry (3rd), Brendan Budy (4th), Jacob Thomson (6th), Spencer McHardy (8th), Brandon Cutler (9th) and Jake Mulder (10th).
“It’s a really good group of kids, there’s a lot of skill here, they’re all good skaters, there’s greasiness with some of them,” said Sutter. “I’ve been very pleased with this camp and with this group.”
The Rebels are gearing up for hosting the MasterCard Memorial Cup next year, and while that likely means some trades take place involving prospects, Sutter says he is not looking at this camp with those intentions. He is looking at these players as Rebels first and only as Rebels.
“Our focus with all of these young kids, hopefully they can all push to play here in Red Deer,” said Sutter. “We’re not going about business with our young players any different than we always have. It’s about the process, it’s about developing … our mind set doesn’t change.
“But are we hosting the Mem Cup, do we have to have a high-level team in order to participate in that? absolutely. Yet we think we’re right there. Is there the odd one or two pieces we may have to add along the way? yes. But it’s not something we’re looking at these young kids as they’re going to maybe be a part of acquiring that [piece] from somewhere else.”
Up next for the club is the Canadian Hockey League’s import draft on June 30.