Red Deer Rebels general manager/head coach Brent Sutter went into Wednesday’s Canadian Hockey League import draft with the hopes of improving his blue line.
Based on size and potential. . . mission accomplished.
The Rebels selected a pair of defencemen with the 27th and 87th picks — which were upgraded due to the fact a number of teams passed in either the first or second round, or both — and snared 16-year-old Eduards Jansons of Latvia and 17-year-old Slovakian Mario Grman.
“This was something we keyed in on. We certainly felt we needed to upgrade our defence,” said Sutter. “We want to be a team with a back end that moves the puck and both these guys fit that role.”
From what Sutter has been told from various sources and from what he’s seen on video, both rearguards are mobile and possess fine puck skills. And both have good size, with Jansons, who turns 17 in September, checking in at six-foot-two and 190 pounds, and Grman, who celebrated his 17th birthday in April, coming in at six-one and 185 pounds.
“These kids are good, puck-moving type defencemen who can skate. Another thing we like about them is they both get involved physically,” said Sutter.
Jansons played with SK Saga 18 in the Latvia U20 league last winter, scoring eight goals and garnering 25 points and racking up 26 penalty minutes in 23 games. He also suited up with his country’s squad in the world under-18 division 1A championship, collecting four points (2-2) in five games, and in 12 international games has three goals and nine points in total.
“He really stood out at the (division 1A worlds) and his agent, Igor Larionov, absolutely loves the player. Igor thinks he’s going to be a real good pro,” said Sutter.
Larionov, of course, was an outstanding player with the Russian national squad before heading overseas and embarking on a standout 15-year NHL career.
“Igor is not just a very well respected former player, but certainly a very well respected guy. You can trust him when he’s assessing talent,” said Sutter.
Grman, whose agent is Scott Russell of Toronto, played sparingly with Slovakia at the world under-18 championship, but fared well regardless.
“He was an underage kid in the tournament, just 16 at the time, but he looked really good against some tough teams,” said Sutter, who conducted the Rebels’ import draft with the aid of assistant GM/director of player personnel Shaun Sutter.
“We’ve had to rely on a lot of information from their agents, pro scouts and Shaun’s contacts from when he played overseas,” said Sutter. “Everyone we’ve talked to has spoken pretty highly of both these players, but until they get here and you see the whites of their eyes, nothing is for sure.
“But we’ve been told by both of their agents that they’re coming, so you have to trust that.”
If both Europeans report and are as good as advertised, the Rebels will be younger on the back end during the 2014-15 Western Hockey League season considering 16-year-old Josh Mahura is a virtual lock to crack the roster.
“We’re certainly hoping both of them (Jansons and Grman) will be with our team,” said Sutter.
“We feel we have lots of depth up front and if we can add these two players and Mahura to our lineup, it will help give us a puck-moving type of defence, which is the way we want to play.
“We just felt that at times last season we got hemmed in our own end too much because we just couldn’t make those plays.”
The Rebels — as was the case with most CHL teams — went with 1997-born players in the draft due to the fact the top-end 19-year-old Europeans have pro contracts and — in Red Deer’s case — there was a shortage of promising 18-year-old defencemen this year.
The potential advantage of picking younger players, however, is obvious.
“If they are what we’ve been told they are and from what we’ve seen on video, they could be three-year guys for us,” said Sutter.