In the aftermath of building a roster to win in 2016, the Red Deer Rebels have some important pieces coming back.
Change is a constant in junior hockey, but Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter pointed out that there are a number of forwards returning into the lineup.
“It’s just the way it works,” said Sutter. “We’re going to have six or seven new players in our lineup. That being said 10 of our 14 forwards are coming back. We have a chance to have a 20-year-old goaltender coming back.”
A certain headache will be which three overage players they choose to keep goalies Rylan Toth and Trevor Martin as well as defenceman Colton Bobyk and forwards Conner Bleackley, Evan Polei and Ivan Nikolishin are all eligible to return.
But those decisions won’t have to be made until October.
Forward Jake DeBrusk and defencemen Haydn Fleury and Nelson Nogier could qualify as overagers, but all have signed entry-level contracts and are likely to take the next step in their development and move on to their professional organizations. DeBrusk to the Bruins, Fleury to the Hurricanes and Nogier to the Jets.
Dawson Weatherill, 17, saw some action late in the season and will be in the mix to backup the starting goaltender.
Centre Adam Musil, 19, who played big in the Memorial Cup and has scored big goals throughout the season and playoffs, is on track to be the team’s top centre next year.
Brandon Hagel, 18, Braden Purtill, 19, Grayson Pawlenchuk, 19, and Jeff de Witt, 18, were all regulars in the Rebels lineup throughout the season.
Joining them could be Taden Rattie, 18, Akash Bains, 17 and Reese Johnson, 18, who saw limited work often as healthy scratches down the stretch.
Questions linger on whether or not Nikolishin, Russia, or 19-year-old Michael Spacek, Czech Republic, could return as the team’s import players.
“We feel good about our young defenceman. We think they’re going to be good players,” said Sutter.
A core group of blueliners could also return as Josh Mahura, 18, and Austin Strand, 19, lead the pack and could be joined by Bobyk, who hasn’t been drafted by an NHL team. Austin Shmoorkoff played 64 regular season games and at 19 has at least one more season in the WHL.
Two late season callups also have a chance to crack the Rebels blueline as both Ethan Sakowich, 17, and Carson Sass, 17, saw some playing time late in the season. The 17-year-olds could fill in the gaps left by the departing veterans. As well, Rebels 2015 WHL Bantam draft first round pick Jacob Herauf, 16, (16th overall) is eligible and was one of 27 players at the 2016 Rebels Prospect Camp.
Sutter isn’t too worried about a Memorial Cup hangover. Trading for DeBrusk, Adam Helewka and Luke Philp at the deadline involved moving some younger pieces and draft picks.
“I’m not too worried about that,” said Sutter. “The trades we did make, we knew we had to make them and yet, they were made because we knew we had enough depth to build and move on afterwards. We’re still going to have a lot of good players coming back into our lineup.
“We’re going to have a pretty competitive hockey team next year.”
In fact, Sutter sees the younger player’s Memorial Cup experience as a benefit to the team next year.
“They’ve all had a taste of it and they see how much of a commitment, how good of a team they have to be,” said Sutter. “Hopefully it motivates them to get better and we’ll be a better team for it.”