Red Deer Rebels assistant GM/ director of player personnel Shaun Sutter won’t be harbouring any partiality during the opening round of Thursday’s Western Hockey League bantam draft at Calgary.
“Where we are picking, at 16, we have to take the best player available or the player who projects the best,” Sutter said Tuesday. “There are some guys in the draft who are real good players now but may not have a lot of upside.”
In other words, he and Rebels director of scouting and player development Randy Peterson will not be targeting any particular position. In fact, they may even go off the board to nab who they feel is the premier prospect with their first-round selection, whether that player is a forward or a defenceman.
“From our perspective, we have to see what falls to us,” said Sutter. “You never know what can happen prior to your (first) pick, but at the same time we have our eyes on some guys who other teams may think we’re reaching on, but we believe in their skill set.”
Sutter said he and Peterson had their list pretty much set Tuesday.
“We’re almost done, we’re just doing some micro-managing at this point,” he said. “There are players in the middle to late rounds who are similar so we have to decide who we’ll take if two or more players like that are available when we pick.”
The Rebels will select a player in each round except the fifth, barring a trade or trades prior to the draft.
Sutter sees defencemen Ty Smith of Lloydminster, who this season played at the Delta, B.C., Hockey Academy, and Calen Addison of Brandon as the top two players in the draft.
“I think, at this point, those are going to be the top two kids taken,” he said.
Other top-end players of note include rearguards Jett Woo of Winnipeg, Ethan Cap of the North Shore Winter Club in Vancouver and Jonathyn Tychonik of Calgary, and forwards Riley Stotts, Luca Burzan and Jackson Leppard of the North Shore Winter Club, Carson Focht of Notre Dame and Tyler Popowich, a six-foot-four centre from the Okanagan Hockey Academy.
“There’s a consensus top group of 10 to 12 guys, then after that there’s a second tier,” said Sutter. “A large chunk of the high-end guys are from B.C. Manitoba is also strong this year, Alberta has good depth and Saskatchewan is weak.”
Regarding Central Alberta prospects, Sutter sees draft potential for at least three players.
“The first Red Deer boy taken will be Josh Tarzwell,” he said. “He’s a big (five-foot-11, 186 pounds) powerful guy who skates well and shoots the puck. He’s a real power forward.”
Sutter also likes defenceman Luke Bast of Red Deer and forward Joshua McNeil of Sylvan Lake.
“Bast is a bit of a wild card because I think a lot of teams are going to assume he’s going to do the same thing as his brother,” said Sutter, in reference to defenceman Gabe Bast who is with the junior A Penticton Vees and has secured a NCAA scholarship to North Dakota. “But he has a real good skill set.”
As for McNeil . . .
“He’s a kid who can really skate and he plays hard. He has some skill,” said Sutter.
The Rebels head talent evaluator doesn’t expect many puck-stoppers will be picked in the first two to three rounds.
“It’s not a great year for goalies,” he said. “Even the best ones will be drafted way higher than they should. Right now the goalies available look more like back-ups than starters.”
That being said, Donovan Buskey of the North Shore Winter Club is considered the best of the bunch and could be a first-round selection.
l The Portland Winterhawks’ first-round selection in the 2017 bantam draft has been reinstated by the league.
The selection was part of the sanctions imposed by the WHL in November of 2012 due to recruitment violations.
“It was important to the league that Portland demonstrate full compliance with WHL regulations and, as a result of their compliance, the 2017 first-round draft choice has been reinstated,” WHL commissioner Ron Robison said in a press release.
“I am not only satisfied the Winterhawks have been fully compliant but they are also committed to continue serving as good partners in the WHL.”