The Red Deer Rebels bid adieu to 12 players following the Black and White intrasquad game Sunday and the vast majority will remain as prospects of the Western Hockey League club for the time being and beyond.
Among the reassigned players still in the Rebels’ plans is 16-year-old netminder Colby Entz, who will rejoin the Moose Jaw Generals and play No. 1 minutes with the Saskatchewan Midget AAA League squad.
“He’s a smaller sized goalie who keeps finding a way at every stage,” Rebels assistant GM/director of player personnel Shaun Sutter said Monday, in reference to the Churchbridge, Sask., native who was listed by the Rebels after being passed over in the 2013 WHL bantam draft.
“He’s played well at every level. There weren’t too many 15-year-olds playing goal in midget triple A last year and he was one of them. And he had really good numbers. We expect him to be the best goalie in that league this season and he gives us really good depth at the position.”
Defencemen Cale Chalifoux and Max Salpeter, both 16, will also play at the midget AAA level in 2014-15 and both are in the Rebels’ future plans.
“It’s so hard for kids to play in this league at 16 and with us remaking our defensive corps and bringing in the guys we did with (Brett) Cote, (Josh) Mahura, the two Europeans (Huge Jansons and Mario Grman), (Austin) Strand and (Austin) Shmoorkoff, there wasn’t room for Cale,” said Sutter.
“But he came a long way last year in terms of his development and we expect him to do the same this season and be knocking at the door here when he’s 17. He does a bit of everything but he’s not a flashy guy. He’s one of those guys you don’t notice because he’s good positionally and has good awareness. He’s close . . . he’s right there.”
Chalifoux will return to the midget AAA Edmonton Knights of Columbus.
Salpeter, Sutter suggested, needs a year of midget AAA seasoning after playing at the minor midget level last winter. The St. Albert native is expected to suit up with his hometown Raiders.
“It was going to be a bigger step for Max (to play in the WHL this season), so he has to get a year of midget triple A under his belt,” said Sutter. “As a big kid, his skating is still improving and that’s an area in which he has to improve to be at the WHL level. But he’s a committed kid so we know he’ll work on that.”
Ethan Sakowich of Athabasca and Carson Sass of Melville, Sask., were reassigned to midget AAA teams and the 15-year-olds are both highly-regarded by the Rebels coaching and scouting staffs.
“They both fared really well in training camp,” said Sutter. “They’re both among that new breed of defencemen we’re trying to build our team with. They’re both really smart, can move the puck well . . . they’re mobile and they’re going to be taller kids. There’s a lot of upside to these players. They just need to fill out and get stronger.”
Sakowich is slated to join the Fort Saskatchewan midget AAA Rangers and Sass will play at the same level with the Yorkton Harvest.
Boo Grist, a 15-year-old blueliner from North Saanich, B.C., is another potential future Rebel. He returned home after suffering a head injury during a rookie camp session Friday.
“He would have played in the Black and White game if he was healthy,” said Sutter. “He’s right there with Sakowich and Sass. We feel those are three guys we can plan our team around.”
Grist will suit up with the South Island Royals of the B.C. Major Midget League for the 2014-15 season.
Released outright was 18-year-old rearguard Alex Pernitsky of Unity, Sask., who attended Red Deer’s camp on an invitational basis. Pernitsky, who will join the Lloydminster Bobcats of the AJHL, simply didn’t do enough to distance himself from younger prospects.
“As an 18-year-old, it was make or break for him,” said Sutter.
The Rebels also reassigned ‘99-born forwards Brayden Labant of St. Paul, Chase Stevenson of West Kelowna, B.C., and Austin Pratt of Lakeville, Minn., along with 16-year-old forwards Bronson Littlechilds of Edmonton and Shane Sherban of Lanigan, Sask.
Labant, said Sutter, got stronger as rookie camp progressed and was a no-brainer pick to play in the Black and White contest.
“He took a couple of days to get going and once he did he was good,” said Sutter. “He took the puck to the net and played physical. Now he has to get a little quicker.”
Littlechilds, like Labant, was a camp invitee who excelled at the minor midget level last season.
“He’s gotten stronger and he can skate and shoot the puck,” said Sutter. “He’ll play midget triple A with Edmonton CAC and should be a primary player on that team.”
Pratt is a large forward with good wheels, great hands and a nose for the net. In short, he’s a can’t-miss prospect who looks capable of playing in the WHL this season but is a year away from being eligible and will join the Shattuck St. Mary’s top midget team.
“He’s in that elite category, a rare combination of power, strength and skill. And he’s smart,” said Sutter. “He’s got pro written all over him.”
Stevenson, despite his smaller stature, was a standout in rookie camp and didn’t look out of place competing against the older players.
“He has good character and showed that he belonged with the bigger guys,” said Sutter. “Some younger guys go up and get pushed around, especially if they’re smaller players, but he was fine.”
Sherban will play with the Saskatoon Blazers in 2014-15, while Stevenson (Okanagan Hockey Academy) and Labant (Fort Saskatchewan) will also compete at the midget AAA level.
Forward Tanner Sidaway of Victoria fell ill during camp and returned home. But he’s another player who will be listed by the Rebels in short order.
“He was really good in our camp and there’s a big upside to his game,” said Sutter, who said Sidaway is expected to join the major midget South Island Royals.
The 33 players remaining in camp resumed practice today at the Enmax Centrium in preparation for the team’s first two preseason games — Saturday and Sunday at St. Albert versus the Prince George Cougars and Swift Current Broncos.