As the Red Deer Rebels build towards hosting the Memorial Cup next May, this weekend they will get a glimpse of the future.
The club’s top 24 recent draft picks and signings will be at the Penhold Regional Multiplex for the next three days for the Rebels’ annual prospects camp.
“It’s real nice for our coaching staff to get to know these players and to see them because obviously their focus is on the present club during the winter,” said Rebels assistant general manager and director of player personnel Shaun Sutter. “It’s a chance for them to get to know some of the players and to forge some relationships with them. Also for (owner, general manager and head coach) Brent (Sutter) … it’s an opportunity for him to see some of these prospects and how they’ve improved from last year to this year or even the recently drafted kids what they look like.”
The camp will include eight of this year’s nine bantam draft picks who will be getting their first taste of the WHL life and 16 other players from the previous two draft years who will be looking to make inroads into the club this year.
Headlining that second group is Lakeville, Minne., forward Austin Pratt who spent the last two years with the famed Shattuck St. Mary’s hockey program. The six-foot-two, 205-pound forward was a fourth round pick in 2014 by the Rebels, sliding in the draft due to teams being unsure about Americans willingness to sign or go the NCAA route. After inking his commitment with the Rebels in April, he’s likely the best bet to make the big club as a 16-year-old this fall.
His emergence made it easier to part with 2014 first round draft pick Jake Leschyshyn in their January trade for Regina Pats forward Connor Gay.
“We’re excited to see where he’s at and we expect him to be here in the fall and play a role on our team that fans can be excited about,” said Sutter.
However, there’s a number of players from that category who will be doing what they can to impress, including a trio of blue-liners Ethan Sakowich, Carson Sass and Boo Grist.
Meanwhile in net, Red Deer goalie Dawson Weatherill could be pushing for a roster spot as a back up this year behind either Rylan Toth or Taz Burman.
However, forward Akash Bains out of Delta, B.C., the Rebels’ ninth round pick a year ago, could offer the most intrigue out of the returning group.
“He had a real good season last year playing midget at the Okanagan Hockey Academy,” said Sutter.
This will also be the first opportunity for the coaching staff to see most their 2015 picks together, including first round pick, defenceman Jacob Herauf. Other picks include forwards Eli Zummack, Chase Lowry, Brendan Budy, Brandon Cutler and Jake Mulder. On the blue line will be Jacob Thomson and Spencer McHardy.
“We drafted a couple of players that aren’t maybe big in stature, but are highly skilled players that play big,” said Sutter.
None of these players will be eligible to play with the Rebels as 15 year olds, but this weekend is about building them into the Rebels culture.
“It’s a process and you have to be patient and at the same time you have to see progress from the players and they have to be committed to being a player,” said Sutter. “For a lot of the kids it’s a good opportunity coming here just to know what is expected of them and what it’s going to take.”
The one player missing from camp that the Rebels would have liked to have seen is 2015 seventh round draft pick Jace Foskey. The Texas blue-liner could not make it work with his exam schedule to get up to Red Deer in time.
However, Sutter believes he is solid prospect for the organization, that he slipped to the seventh round for many of the same reasons Pratt did the previous year.
“He’s a player that has the ability of a top-two round player if he was a Canadian player,” said Sutter, adding Foskey will be at the team’s main camp in August. “You have to build a relationship with them and then they make a decision as things progress as to what they want to do.”
As a whole, Sutter likes what the organization has as a group of young players to build around. This also means that some may never suit up for the club and become potential trading chips as they load up for the Memorial Cup, though Sutter says their first priority is developing these prospects as future Red Deer mainstays.
“I think it’s a pretty balanced class,” said Sutter. “It’s not so much about something shiny right now, they’re going to continue to improve and get better and we want to work with all of the players.”
The camp gets under way today at 3 p.m and will run to 5 p.m., on Saturday camp runs from 3:45-5:45 p.m. and it will wrap up on Sunday with a 9-11 a.m. session. The two-hour time slots will be split in two with the first hour spent on drills and the second hour on more 3-on-3 and 4-on-4 scrimmaging.
Camp is open to the public to watch.