Quality, not quantity, is the theme of this year’s Red Deer Rebels spring prospects camp set for Friday to Sunday at the Penhold Regional Multiplex.
The quality is in the form of 24 players — down from 32 last year, a number that included 17-year-olds — all of whom were born in 1998 and ‘99.
“The last two years we’ve had 17-year-olds at camp. This year we decided to stick with the 15- and 16-year-olds,” Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter said Wednesday.
As a result, the camp won’t include the likes of 1997-born forwards Brayden Burke and Mason McCarty and defenceman Austin Shmoorkoff, all of whom are expected to push for regular employment next season.
“Those kids have been through it twice already,” said Sutter.
“Yes, there are some (17 and 18-year-old) kids we’ve listed who have never attended the camp, but you can’t just invite one or two and not all of them, so we thought, ‘let’s just stick with our 15- and 16-year-olds this year’.”
Among the 24 players who will attend the camp are ‘98-born listed forwards Reese Johnson, Shane Sherban and Quinton McAndrews. Johnson and Sherban were at the Rebels’ main camp last fall.
The remainder of the field consists of drafted players, including the top two picks from 2013 — forward Jeff de Wit of Red Deer and defenceman Josh Mahura of St. Albert — and this year’s top two selections, forward Jake Leschyshyn of Saskatoon and goalie Dawson Weatherill of Red Deer. All of the ‘99-born players, in fact, were taken in the 2014 Western Hockey League bantam draft.
Sutter admitted that the Rebels coaching staff will keep close tabs on the likes of de Wit and Mahura this weekend.
“No question, they are 16-year-olds who we’re hoping will be on the team next season, so it will be nice to see where they’re at, where they’ve progressed to as far as their fitness,” said the Rebels boss.
“Both players have signed (WHL contracts) with us, but we also want to see where some of these other (‘98-born) players are at. These are kids we can sit down with over the next two to three months and determine if they have a legitimate chance to play with us at some point.”
Sutter is also anticipating the opportunity to evaluate the ‘99-born prospects.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing our 15-year-old kids, and there’s some very good players in that group,” he said.
The group includes two highly-regarded American players — forwards Grant Mismash and Austin Pratt, from Edina and Lakeville, Minn.
“I always look forward to this weekend because it’s good to see the kids and meet their parents,” said Sutter. “It’s a weekend where they can acclimatize themselves with the city and our organization.
“There’s no pressure, but we want the kids to be competitive on the ice and we want to do things the right way. But we also want it to be a learning experience and a good experience for everybody.”
The parents and players will attend a team barbecue Friday and on Saturday morning will tour Hunting Hills High School and will also be acquainted with the Centrium and the Rebels’ facilities.
“It will give the players some knowledge of how things work here,” said Sutter. “When they come back in August (for training camp) they’ll feel a little more comfortable, a little more settled. If they feel that way off the ice they’re going to feel better on the ice too.”
The prospects camp on-ice sessions are slated for 3 to 5 p.m. Friday, 3:45 to 5:45 p.m. Saturday and 9 to 11 a.m. Sunday.
“We’ll conduct skill and competitive drills and three-on-three and four-on-four scrimmages. We’ll also be working with the goalies,” said Sutter. “It will be good and it will work better with a smaller group.
“Last year we had 32 players and that’s a lot of kids on the ice to try and run real tight practices and drills. This year’s number is more workable.”
Players attending the Rebels prospects camp (including year of birth and hometown; x-listed player):
Goal — x-Colby Entz (‘98), Churchbridge, Sask.
Defence — Ethan Sakowich (‘99), Athabasca; Cale Chalifoux (‘98), Edmonton; Kyle Sargent (‘98), Carlyle, Sask.; Boo Grist (‘99), North Saanich, B.C.
Forwards — Josh Logel (‘98), Calgary; Jeff de Wit (‘98), Red Deer; x-Reese Johnson (‘98), Saskatoon; x-Shane Sherban (‘98), Lanigan, Sask.; Jake Leschyshyn (‘99), Grasswood, Sask.; Brayden Labant (‘99), St. Paul; Chance Adrian (‘99), Dalmeny, Sask.
Goal — Dawson Weatherill (‘99), Red Deer.
Defence — Nick Darling (‘98), Calgary; Josh Mahura (‘98), St. Albert; Carson Sass (‘99), Melville, Sask.; Max Salpeter (‘98), St. Albert.
Forwards — x-Quinton McAndrews (‘98), Edmonton; Tyler Kirkup (‘98), Virden, Man.; Caleb Riess (‘98), Rocanville, Sask.; Chase Stevenson (‘99), West Kelowna; Grant Mismash (‘99), Edina, Minn.; Austin Pratt (‘99), Lakeville, Minn.; Akash Bains (‘99), Delta, B.C.