At six-foot-two and 212 pounds, he’s a man among fellow Western Hockey League rookies, but like his peers Austin Pratt is still adjusting to the major junior game.
“It took a bit to get into the (pace of) the league,” the Red Deer Rebels right winger, who last season played midget hockey at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Faribault, Minn., said Thursday. “The players are a lot bigger, faster and stronger and there’s a lot more hitting.
“So far, I feel like I’ve done pretty well, although everyone can always do better. But it’s been a good adjustment to a difficult league.”
Pratt has recorded three goals and two assists through the first 17 games of his rookie WHL season. Respectable, for sure, but numbers he feels could be better, particularly after scoring 20 goals and collecting 52 points in 55 games last winter.
However, as Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter noted …
“He’s developed at the (pace) we thought he would,” said the Rebels bench boss.
“It’s a big jump from triple A midget in our country to major junior, and when you come from playing where he did last year, at Shattuck’s and on their under-16 team … it’s a big jump for him. But his size has allowed him to do it and his shot has allowed him to do it.”
Sutter, though, would like to see the Lakeville, Minn., native — selected in the fourth round, 75th overall, of the 2014 WHL bantam draft — utilize his size on a more consistent basis.
“Obviously there are things he has to work on,” said Sutter. “With him being a big guy, we certainly want him to continue to work on becoming more of an engaged player, as well as continue to work on his skating.
“But he’s kind of right where we expected him to be in the middle of November.”
Pratt knows he can use his bulk to his advantage as the season progresses. That was, he suggested, part of his game while coming up through the minor ranks.
“That’s something I definitely have to start doing more of,” he said. “We’re quite a few games into the season now and I can start getting back to my game and getting really into it.”
The 16-year-old, regarded as a top prospect for the 2017 NHL entry draft, got his first glimpse of the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Ocean during the Rebels’ four-game B.C. Division road trip in mid-October.
“That was really cool, I’d never been out there,” he said. “It was my first time being on a ferry and all the sights were awesome. We had two bad games but we came back to win the last two, so that part went OK. All around, it was just a great experience.”
As he noted, Pratt will focus on improving from game to game while becoming more and more accustomed to the calibre and the speed of the major junior game.
“I just have to keep my feet moving and get faster and stronger. I have to work down low in the corners and play my game,” he said.
“I knew this was going to be a big, strong and hard league. Everything I expected has come true and now it’s time to get going.”
The Rebels host the Saskatoon Blades tonight, the game being their first in six days. Red Deer will be more active next week, with road games in Cranbrook and Medicine Hat and a pair of home-ice contests versus the Regina Pats.