If Brett Cote is saving his best for last, the Red Deer Rebels could still win the May trade that brought the 20-year-old defenceman to the WHL’s Eastern Conference club.
“Last season our team did really well. We had a really good team in Victoria but I thought I kind of didn’t have my best year,” the former Victoria Royals rearguard said Thursday, following a main camp practice during the opening sessions of the Rebels training camp at the Enmax Centrium.
“But I get another crack at it and hopefully I can help this team.”
Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter, fully aware that he had to upgrade his back end particularly in regards to mobility and puck movement, coughed up a second-round pick in this year’s bantam draft for Cote, a Royals veteran.
“I was a little shocked. I spent three years in Victoria and it was tough to leave such a good situation,” said the six-foot, 207-pound native of Oakbank, Man. “But I’m glad to be here in another great situation. It’s nice to feel wanted. There’s not many 20-year-olds here and I’m just glad to be one of them.”
Cote, who joins fellow blueliner Devan Fafard and forward Brooks Maxwell as the three overage players in camp, clearly has some offensive abilities as evidenced by the six goals and 28 points he garnered last season. His numbers — eight goals and 41 points — were even better in the 2012-13 season.
“I’d say I’m a two-way defenceman. I’m not completely offensive, but I’m (also) not a liability defensively,” he said.
Cote will use his final WHL season to hopefully advance his game to the point that he can land a pro contract next year. He’ll certainly get every chance to showcase his skills with the Rebels.
“I’m looking forward to being one of the older guys and a leader here. I’ll try and play in every situation and be the best I can,” he said.
Sutter is confident Cote can be a top-four and even a top-pairing defenceman with the Rebels.
“He’s excited about being here. He’s been through some good playoff series and as a 20-year-old we expect leadership from him both off and on the ice,” said the Rebels boss.
“He’s a good player, a real solid guy who’s good on the power play . . . he moves the puck well. He doesn’t go out of his way to make hits, but he’s not a shy guy. He’s just a real solid player and that’s going to be huge for us.”
While Cote has no qualms about delivering a thump here and there, he racked up only 42 penalty minutes last winter and 35 the season before.
“He’s a disciplined player. He knows how to play the game,” said Sutter.
Perhaps most importantly, Cote is capable of head-manning the puck to his forwards.
“That’s what we wanted. That was something we wanted to improve on,” said Sutter.
“We also want guys who are going to be real solid for us, who won’t shy away when things get tough or throw pucks away when they’re under pressure.”
• Defenceman Josh Mahura was nothing short of dominant during the first two rookie camp sessions, rushing the puck with aplomb and getting back in time to take care of his defensive duties.
Other players who were front and centre included forwards Austin Pratt of Lakeville, Minn., and Jake Leschyshyn of Grasswood, Sask., both 15.
“Those are top players. You expect them to stand out,” said Sutter, who admitted he was particularly impressed with 16-year-old Mahura, the club’s second-round pick in the 2013 bantam draft and a virtual lock to play full time with the Rebels this season.
“No question, Josh is just a really, really good player and he’s got some bite to his game.”
Mahura, a St. Albert native who last winter played at the Okanagan Hockey Academy, appears to be a star in the making. He scored the winning goal for Team Burgundy in a 2-1 defeat of Team Grey in the morning session and was again the best player on the ice during the afternoon scrimmage.
Drayson Skulmoski of Moosomin, Sask., a camp invitee, scored the other Team Burgundy goal Thursday morning. Bronson Littlechilds of Edmonton, another invited player, notched the lone Team Grey.
Team Grey, with Pratt scoring once and adding an assist, prevailed 5-2 in the later scrimmage. Leschyshyn, Josh Logel of Calgary, Luke Farrell of Bruderheim and Chase Stevenson of West Kelowna also tallied for the winners, with Caleb Riess of Rocanville, Sask., and Jack Langenhahn of St. Albert replying in a losing cause.
While Mahura, Pratt, Leschyshyn and 16-year-old forward Reese Johnson of Saskatoon showed enough to be moved into main camp today, Sutter also liked Littlechilds and fellow invitees Seth Benson of Moorhead, Minn., and Farrell, among others.
Defenceman Boo Grist of North Saanich, B.C., suffered a suspected concussion after being ran into the boards in the afternoon scrimmage.
Today — Main practice Group A, 8-8:45 a.m.; rookie scrimmage, 9-10:30 a.m.; main practice Group B, 10:45-11:30 a.m.; alumni pro skate, 12-1:30 p.m.; rookie scrimmage, 3-4:30 p.m.; main game, 5-6:30 p.m.
Saturday — Main practice Group B, 8-8:45 a.m.; rookie scrimmage, 9-10:30 a.m.; main practice Group A, 10:45-11:30 a.m.; alumni pro skate, 12-1:30 p.m.; main game, 4:30-6 p.m.
Sunday — Pre-game skate Team Black, 8:30-9:15 a.m.; pre-game skate Team White, 9:30-10:15 a.m.; Black and White game, 5 p.m.
Main camp roster (includes year of birth and hometown)
Goal — x-Taz Burman, 1997, Vancouver; Rylan Toth, ‘96, Saskatoon.
Defence — Alex Pernitsky, 1996, Unity, Sask; x-Kayle Doetzel, ‘96, Rosetown, Sask.; Josh Mahura, ‘98, St. Albert; Brett Cote, ‘94, Oak Bank, Man.; Hugo Jansons, ‘97, Riga, Latvia; x-Nick Charif, ‘95, Edmonton; Mario Grman, ‘97, Topolcany, Slovakia; Austin Shmoorkoff, ‘97, Edmonton; Austin Strand, ‘97, Calgary.
Forwards — x-Evan Polei, 1996, Edmonton; x-Conner Bleackley, ‘96, High River; x-Brooks Maxwell, ‘94, Raymond; x-Meyer Nell, ‘97, Boissevain, Man.; x-Presten Kopeck, ‘95, Medicine Hat; x-Wyatt Johnson, ‘95, Saskatoon; x-Grayson Pawlenchuk, ‘97, Ardrossan; x-Adam Musil, ‘97, Delta, B.C.; Mason McCarty, ‘97, Blackie; x-Devan Fafard, ‘94, Carlyle, Sask.; x-Scott Feser, ‘95, Red Deer; x-Cole Chorney, ‘96, Beaumont; x-Kirk Bear, ‘95, Whitewood, Sask.; Brayden Burke, ‘97, Edmonton; x-Kolton Dixon, ‘95, Red Deer; Reese Johnson, ‘98, Saskatoon; Austin Pratt, ‘99, Lakeville, Minn.; Jake Lechyshyn, ‘99, Grasswood, Sask.
Rookie camp (includes year of birth and hometown)
Goal — Colby Entz, 1998, Churchbridge, Sask.; Linden Boulet, ‘99, Clairmont.
Defence — Carson Sass, 1999, Melville, Sask.; Cale Chalifoux, ‘98, Edmonton; Kyle Sargent, ‘98, Carlyle, Sask.; Tylor Ludwar, ‘99, Regina; Matthew Kasowski, ‘99, St. Albert; Austin Wagner, ‘99, Medicine Hat.
Forwards — Josh Logel, 1998, Calgary; Chase Stevenson, ‘99, West Kelowna; Quinton McAndrews, ‘98, Edmonton; Brayden Labant, ‘99, St. Paul; Bronson Littlechilds, ‘98, Edmonton; Tanner Sidaway, ‘99, Victoria; Zachary Gladu, ‘98, Medicine Hat; Cruz Cote, ‘99, Falher; Luke Farrell, ‘99, Bruderheim.
Goal — Dawson Weatherill, ‘99, Red Deer; Alex Geddes, ‘99, Yorkton, Sask.
Defence — Boo Grist, ‘99, North Saanich, B.C.; Ethan Sakowich, ‘99, Athabasca; Max Salpeter, 1998, St. Albert; Wyatt Arndt, ‘99, Weyburn, Sask.; Carter Brown, ‘98, Edmonton; Malcolm Thakurdeen, ‘99, Saskatoon.
Forwards — Chance Adrian, ‘99, Dalmeny, Sask.; Shane Sherban, ‘98, Lanigan, Sask.; Akash Bains, ‘99, Delta, B.C.; Tyler Kirkup, ‘98, Virden, Man.; Caleb Riess, ‘98, Rocanville, Sask.; Seth Benson, ‘99, Moorhead, Minn.; Austin LeDuc, ‘98, Okotoks; Jake Langenhahn, ‘99, St. Albert; Mason Issel, ‘99, Prince Albert, Sask.; Drayson Skulmoski, ‘98, Moosomin, Sask.