The Red Deer Rebels didn’t have to look far to discover everything they needed to know prior to making their first pick in the WHL bantam draft Thursday.
The Rebels nabbed the player they wanted all along with the 14th overall selection in the draft. Welcome to the club, Jeff de Wit.
The six-foot-two, 178-pound centre fits the identity Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter wants his team to adopt moving forward. As an added bonus, he’s a Red Deer product with ties to the Rebels as a hired hand who once filled water bottles and did other odd jobs during various camps.
“When I was nine or 10 I asked Brent if I could help out when he brought the Canadian national junior team to Red Deer during the 2007 Super Series with the Russians,” said de Wit. “After that he asked me if I wanted to work their training camps and I did that. That’s how I got to know Brent.”
The big centre, who last season scored 18 goals, collected 42 points and racked up 30 penalty minutes in 26 games with the Red Deer Rebels Black, wasn’t convinced he’d ever play in the WHL.
He was considering playing at the junior A level to keep his U.S. college scholarship eligibility.
And then the Rebels came calling Thursday morning.
“I was thinking of keeping my options open, but when the Rebels drafted me today I was really happy,” said de Wit. “This is the team I wanted to play for. I’ve wanted to be a Rebel since I was a little boy. The work starts here and now I have to continue to get better.”
The Red Deer product sees himself as a physical pivot with various skills.
“I think I’m a big centreman who can makes the players around me better and can open up and create space for myself and my linemates. I also think I have good vision and a good shot,” he said.
Playing a bang-and-crash style isn’t something he shies away from.
“When it needs to be done I’ll go out there and be physical,” he said. “I can play a mean game, although I need to get better in that area. I have to learn and recognize that there are no friends (on the opposing team). I can definitely improve in that area.”
Considering the Rebels scouting staff had zeroed in on de Wit prior to the draft, they were clearly tickled by the fact he was available at No. 14.
“He’s a local kid who has kind of grown up with our organization,” said Rebels director of scouting/player development Randy Peterson. “He’s been around us for so long. We remember him as a little guy from a great family and he’s now a big, strong centreman with top-six skill and stats. We like the edge he brings. Brent wants to have kind of a miserable team to play against and he brings that.
“He also has that big, long reach that’s tough to defend and he shoots the puck very well. We think that with him and what we have up the middle now, with (Conner) Bleackley and (Adam) Musil, it sets us up pretty well for the future.”
With their second-round pick, 36th overall, the Rebels were able to nab a defenceman — Josh Mahura of St. Albert — whom they had rated as a first-rounder.
“We feel he’s a first-round talent and a player who is a very good skater, probably one of the best skating defenceman in the draft,” said Rebels senior scout Shaun Sutter. “He’s a guy who can do it all. He’s always been a guy who’s been a leader on his team and with all the background work we did on him, he’s a guy who regardless of what age group he’s played in, he’s been a good teammate and a leader by example.”
Mahura, six-foot and 165 pounds, was captain of the St. Albert Sabres major bantams and had 22 points — including nine goals — and 51 penalty minutes in 25 games this season.
“We really like the way he competes and battles and he’s also a player who has very good skill who can play and contribute on the power play,” said Sutter.
“We felt very fortunate getting him in the second round. He’s not a guy we expected to be there when we picked 36th. We’re really pleased.”
The Rebels, who didn’t have selections in the third and fifth rounds due to previous trades, reached into Saskatchewan for their fourth-round pick, taking forward Caleb Riess 70th overall.
The five-foot-11, 152-pound winger scored 26 goals and collected 56 points in 25 games with the Melville Millionaires of the Saskatchewan Bantam League this season.
“He can score. He has a good frame and he thinks the game a step ahead of a lot of kids at that level,” said Peterson. “He’s another forward with top-six ability, skill and sense, and his skating has really progressed through the year.”
Next season, Riess will suit up with the midget AAA Moose Jaw Generals, who will host the Telus Cup championship.
“He’s been recruited for that tournament so he’ll play long into the season and it will be good means of development for him,” said Peterson.
Here are the details regarding the Rebels’ sixth- to ninth-round selections (includes position, size, former team and 2012-13 statistics, if available, and capsule comments from Peterson and/or Sutter):
Nick Darling, D; sixth round, 113th overall; six-one, 165 pounds; Saskatoon Stallions tier 2 bantam AA; stats unavailable
“He’s a big kid and there’s a lot of size in the family. He’s just shy of six-two now and we think he’ll be a six-three, six-four kid, and he has the frame to put on weight. He skates really well for his size and plays with an edge. He’s mean and he’s a multiple-sport athlete; he’s a really good football player. There’s a real big upside with him. He has a heavy shot from the point and he’s mean and tough to play against.” — Peterson.
Cale Chalifoux, D; sixth round, 124th overall; five-10, 150-pounds; Edmonton K of C; 30GP,1G,9A,10Pts, 62PIM
“He’s a really good skater, a defenceman with a real good frame to grow. We think he’ll be a big kid. He thinks the game well and his awareness and positioning are really good. He moves the puck, he’s a guy who on the power play has good vision and a good shot from the point. He’s an all-around defenceman with good upside. With him, it’s just a matter of maturing physically and getting stronger. He’s not labelled as a stay-at-home or first-pass guy; he can do everything.” — Sutter.
Josh Logel, C; seventh round, 137th overall; six-one, 181 pounds; Calgary Northstar Sabres; 29-13-14-28-86
“He’s a big guy who likes to bang bodies. We targeted guys like that, but he’s also a guy with some pretty good skill, too. He needs to work on his skating but has good size and really likes to play the body. He likes to run into people a lot. We feel that be brings a physical presence we want to have up front.” — Peterson.
Max Salpeter, D; eighth round, 168th overall; six-two, 156 pounds; St. Albert Sabres; 31-1-1-2-49
“He’s kind of a big, rugged stay-at-home defenceman who kind of had to reel in his physical play a bit this season so he wouldn’t be in the penalty box (as much). We’re expecting him to be a big guy who’s tough to play against and tough to go around. He’s a guy with a big stride who has to work at getting stronger. He’s a guy we see as a developmental player who if he keeps training hard will put himself into a good position moving forward.” — Sutter.
Tyler Kirkup, C; ninth round, 190th overall; five-11, 139 pounds; Southwest Cougars, Man.; 29-10-7-17-12
“He’s a bit of a sleeper pick but we really like the skill and sense that he has. He makes plays and has the frame to grow. He’s a very good two-way player who needs to get stronger. He has a bit of a slight build but we feel he’s a real good sleeper puck where we got him.” — Peterson.
Kyle Sargent, D; ninth round, 195th overall; six-foot, 150 pounds, Estevan Bruins; 17-3-3-6-32
“He the captain of his team. He has a good shot and is a puck mover with good feel and mobility. He has some edge to him and we see him as a kid who can develop into a good WHL player.” — Peterson.