Size does matter to the Red Deer Rebels, but so does tenacity and aggression.
While Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter will be looking to add some bulk to his team during Thursday’s Western Hockey League bantam draft in Calgary, the players selected by Randy Peterson, the club’s director of scouting and player development, and senior scout Shaun Sutter will also fit a certain identity.
That’s the plan, at least.
“Last year our focus at the draft was on players with skill and sense who could make other players better,” said Shaun Sutter. “We have a bit of a different identity now with Brent being GM and coach. We want to be an attacking, high-pressure team that plays on our toes and we want to be a team that’s tough to play against.”
That plan of attack would work nicely with larger players, but with 14- and 15-year-olds available in the draft, who knows how much they will grow over the next few seasons?
“The bantam draft is different that the NHL draft in the sense that we’re dealing with a lot of five-eight to five-10 players who could be six-two someday,” said the Rebels senior scout.
“We can’t just go out and pick all the biggest guys in the draft, we have to be sure that we’re finding guys who play big but are also skilled and can think the game,” he added.
“We feel with our first pick there’s going to be an elite player available at basically every position — at the wing, up the middle and on defence. We’ll be looking at multiple scenarios.”
The Rebels’ talent evaluators are confident they will land a quality player with the club’s first pick, 14th overall, and also in the second round with the 36th selection.
The Vancouver Giants have the first pick and will likely nab Edmonton Southside forward Tyler Benson, who shattered Ty Rattie’s Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League points record this season.
Defenceman Kale Clague of Lloydminster and Sherwood Park forward Sam Steel will almost certainly be among the top five picks, while Manitoba forwards Nolan Patrick and Brett Howden, rearguards David Quenneville of Edmonton Southside and Dante Fabbro of Burnaby are other highly-ranked prospects. The best pure goal scorer in the draft, Parker Aucoin of Calgary, should also be a top 10 pick.
Forward Tyler Steenbergen of Sylvan Lake, who this season suited up with the major bantam Red Deer Rebels White and led the Central squad in scoring at the recent Alberta Cup with three goals and five points in five games, is ranked 18th for the draft by the International Scouting Service.
“A very talented and intelligent offensive player, Steenbergen was a three-year bantam AAA player, something that does not happen often,” said the ISS in its evaluation of the five-foot-nine, 157-pound centre. “He has great hands, is strong and is an explosively quick skater who always seems to be able to find the right place to be at the right time. He was Mr. Everything for this team this year and was often their only shot at winning. Works well in both directions.”
The ISS has six-foot-two, 175-pound Rebels Black forward Jeffrey de Wit ranked 24th overall and offers this description of the centre/left wing: “A big, dominant and at times mean power forward who is an absolute animal on the ice. He powers his way into space but also possesses good quick edge control which makes him a danger to cut into lanes. Add to that a very good shot and you get an understanding for just how difficult it can be for opposing coaches to come up with an answer for this kid.”
There’s a handful of bigger players who might be available when the Rebels make their first selection, including de Wit, forwards Dylan Thiessen of Winnipeg, Tak Anholt of North Vancouver and Jake Kryski of Burnaby and defenceman Ryely McKinstry of Calgary. But as Shaun Sutter insisted, size will be just part of the equation at the draft table.
“You have to factor in the character part of it. There’s a fine line between just taking a bunch of big kids and taking a kid who wants to be a difference-maker and not just a guy who’s going to be big and tough to play against,” he said.
“We also want to be a team that plays an up-tempo style of game, so we’re not going to bypass players who have skill and sense for big guys who run around and hit people. We’ll be looking for a combination of style and strengths.”
The crop of players available in the 2013 WHL bantam draft is considered to be the deepest in years.
“There’s a lot of real good players . . . two to three rounds of very good players,” said Shaun Sutter. “After that, there’s a lot of if’s and or’s. There’s definitely some elite players who were going to go early in the draft and we feel we’re going to get two really good players at 14 and 36.”
The Kamloops Blazers own the Rebels’ third-round pick due to the trade that sent defenceman Brady Gaudet to Red Deer, and the Rebels have Everett’s fourth-round pick after sending Lucas Grayson to the Silvertips in 2011 and owe their fourth-rounder to Regina (for Brandon Underwood).
The Rebels owe their fifth-round selection to Vancouver (for Wyatt Johnson) and have their own sixth-round pick plus Brandon’s (for Chad Robinson), plus have Seattle’s seventh-round pick (for Brad Deagle) and owe their seventh selection to Tri-City (for Kaleb Denham). Red Deer also has an eighth-round pick and will have two picks in the ninth and 10th rounds — a result of trading those selections last year — if they so desire.
l Sutter identified Red Deer forwards Luke Coleman, Parker Smyth and Tyler Graber and defencemen T.J. Brown and Matthew Krawiec as potential draft picks this year.