For every Western Hockey League player who gets drafted into the NHL and enjoys a long, successful career at the top, there are many more who barely get their toes wet in the world’s premier league before toiling in the minors or overseas.
And then there are many who don’t even see the light of day in the NHL. The Red Deer Rebels aren’t immune to that fact, with at least 17 former players — including 10 from the ‘90s — having heard their names on NHL draft day only to have it become a pipe dream.
The list of players drafted out of the Rebels organization since 2000 and 2009 (players drafted later could still get their shot) who have yet to appear in a single NHL regular-season includes Justin Weller, a six-foot-two, 205-pound defenceman who was taken by the Phoenix Coyotes in the fourth round — 105th overall — of the ‘09 entry draft.
Weller graduated from the junior ranks in 2012 and played two full seasons in the ECHL with the exception of three outings with the AHL Portland Pirates last winter. The Daysland native is now enrolled at the University of Alberta and will suit up with the Golden Bears next season.
Also on the list:
Jared Walker (Chicago, 7th round, #223 overall, 2004)
Walker scored only 11 goals in his draft season but his size — 6-3, 210 pounds — made him at least an outside pro prospect. He was dealt to Prince George the following year and then played a little over four seasons at the University of Manitoba before turning pro in 2012 with Bloomington of the CHL. The left winger is currently with Wichita of the ECHL.
Joel Stepp (Anaheim, 3rd round, #69 overall, 2001)
A member of the Rebels 2001 Memorial Cup championship team, Stepp racked up 53 points — including 27 goals — the year after his draft season but injuries halted his development and he played only 36 games — including 12 in the playoffs — the following winter. Still, he earned an NHL contract, but never got beyond the AHL over the next three years. The centre, now 31, last played in 2007-08, with Pensacola and Stockton of the ECHL.
John Flatters (Philadelphia, 6th round, #174 overall, 2005)
Flatters, a rugged, six-foot-one, 217-pound rearguard, was dealt to the Vancouver Giants early in the 2005-06 season and also played with Prince Albert and Saskatoon. He moved directly from the WHL to the university ranks and was a member of the UBC Thunderbirds for two seasons. Now 27, Flatters has no record of playing anywhere since the 2009-10 season with the T-Birds.
Morgan Clark (Vancouver, 7th round, #191 overall, 2008)
The six-foot-one goaltender posted a 3.70 GAA and .884 save percentage during his draft season. He was traded to Swift Current the following campaign and also suited up with Prince George for two games before clearing WHL waivers and moving to the QMJHL in 2010. He then attended St. Francis Xavier for three seasons and last blocked shots for the Axemen in 2013-14.
Ladislav Kouba (Phoenix, 7th round, #216 overall, 2002)
Kouba saw limited action during the Rebels’ ultra-successful playoff run in the spring of 2001, then returned to score 16 regular-season goals in his draft year.
The Czech import and left winger, a physical load at six-foot-three, 210 pounds, spent the following season with the Rebels and split the 2003-04 campaign between Red Deer and the minor pro ranks. There is no record of Kouba playing beyond 2008, following two seasons in the CHL.
Tommi Koivisto (Carolina, 7th round, #208 overall, 2009)
The Finnish blueliner was with the Rebels just one season, scoring once and adding 22 assists in 65 games. He played the next two years in his home country, then returned to North America in the fall of 2012 and appeared in 65 regular-season games split between Florida of the ECHL and Charlotte of the AHL. Koivisto returned home last year and is currently in his second season with Ilves Tampere.
Shane Bendera (Columbus, 6th round, #169 overall, 2000)
A year after being drafted, the Edmonton native was the WHL playoff MVP in the spring of 2001, back-stopping the Rebels to the league title and ultimately the Memorial Cup championship.
Despite posting a 2.28 GAA and .918 save percentage in 20 games the following season, Bendera was dealt to the Kelowna Rockets when Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter was convinced that current Carolina Hurricanes netminder Cam Ward was ready to handle the load as a 17-year-old. Bendera played two seasons in the ECHL between 2002 and ‘04 before retiring, and is now residing in Edmonton.