Not getting caught up in the rankings

That Red Deer Rebels forwards Jeff de Wit and Brandon Hagel are on the Central Scouting radar for June’s NHL entry draft is all fine and well, GM/head coach Brent Sutter stated Tuesday. However …

That Red Deer Rebels forwards Jeff de Wit and Brandon Hagel are on the Central Scouting radar for June’s NHL entry draft is all fine and well, GM/head coach Brent Sutter stated Tuesday.

However …

“It’s the Central Scouting rankings. We’ve seen this before, where players have been ranked and nothing materializes come June,” said Sutter, in reference to the CS mid-term list released earlier in the day which has de Wit as the 98th-ranked North American skater and Hagel at No. 114.

“Take it for what it’s worth. The biggest thing for me is that the players not get caught up in it. Yes, it is a ranking, one of many that are always out there, but sometimes it can work for you and other times it can work against you. In the past we’ve had players ranked and they really let it go to their heads. Their game dropped off.”

Sutter is in full agreement that both players have the potential to play for a living down the road, however he stressed that both are still relatively raw.

“There are areas in which both of these young players have to improve, there’s a lot of work that has to be done to get them to the next level,” said the Rebels boss. “And yet there’s a very good upside with both of them.

“The important thing right now is getting them to the level that we need to have them at on a consistent basis, that’s going to be the most important thing from here to the end of May. What happens in June will take place in June and their play until then will determine that.”

Hagel and de Wit, both 17, took different routes to the Western Hockey League. Red Deer native de Wit, who is six-foot-three and 189 pounds, was selected by the Rebels in the first round of the 2013 bantam draft and is in his second season in the league. Hagel, who checks in at six-foot, 165 pounds, is a listed player who started the current campaign with the junior A Whitecourt Wolverines before bringing his act to the Rebels in late September.

“Brandon, to be quite honest, was one of our most consistent players on our recent road trip,” said Sutter, whose team hosts the Moose Jaw Warriors tonight at the Centrium. “When you look at where he was and where he is now … obviously coming here has helped him a lot.

“It’s just a higher level of play and he’s brought his game to another level. He’s matched the intensity and emotional level needed to play here.”

That wasn’t always the case, Sutter noted.

“He came in and after the honeymoon thing was over his play dropped off back to where he was when we recruited him,” said Sutter. “We went through it with him and explained that there’s an emotional level you need to play at and a certain work ethic you have to show.

“He rose to the challenge and his game has taken off again. Certainly he’s pushed himself to be one of the four top left wingers on the team and he can play on the right side if needed. We also use him on the point on the power play just because he’s smart and can see the ice.

“He has to work on his strength to play at the next level, but certainly it’s an encouraging sign to see that there’s (NHL) interest in him out there.”

Sutter and his coaching staff have also worked with de Wit in an effort to bring out the passion in his game.

“In a lot of circumstances, because you’re a bigger guy there are higher expectations,” said Sutter. “That being said, Jeff has to understand that if he wants to be a pro player he has to compete at a high level night in and night out.

“He has great hands, he sees the game well and he’s an intelligent player. But what hurts him at times is he lets a certain level of softness creep into his game and he can’t allow that to happen. He has to continue to push through that.”

Sutter hasn’t let up on de Wit, reminding him time and again that there’s a “switch” he has to throw whenever he goes out the door of the dressing room and on to the ice.

“Jeff is going to be a very, very good player in this league and he will be a very good pro if he shows that want and will and burning fire all of the time.”

Rebels defenceman Josh Mahura is not ranked by Central Scouting due exclusively to the fact he’s been out of the lineup basically the entire season after undergoing ankle surgery.

Still, Sutter would be shocked if Mahura, who is expected to be cleared for action in March or April, doesn’t hear his name at the entry draft.

In fact …

“Josh will likely be our highest player taken in the draft, just because of his talent,” said Sutter. “The scouts saw how he progressed as a 16-year-old last season.

“When we get calls from NHL scouts, he’s the first guy who gets brought up just because people are aware of his talent. He hasn’t played this season but some teams are going to want to grab him because they know what he is.”

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