CALGARY — The 2016 Memorial Cup tournament is a year and half down the road, and of course the Red Deer Rebels roster will not be then what it is today.
The Rebels team that will host the Canadian Hockey League championship event will be somewhat similar to the squad that will face the Medicine Hat Tigers Friday at the Enmax Centrium, minus — of course — this season’s overage players, but also players who might not fit into Brent Sutter’s vision of what a potential championship team should entail.
The Rebels GM/head coach admitted earlier this week that he and his coaching staff have identified “a couple” areas of his team that could stand improvement. Now that his club has been awarded the 2016 Memorial Cup extravaganza, Sutter will make the necessary moves, although he has plenty of time on his side.
“There’s no timetable (for change),” he said, after a press conference Wednesday at the Delta Bow Valley Hotel that followed the Memorial Cup hosting vote conducted by the Western Hockey League board of governors.
Sutter’s in no hurry because there’s no rush to start turning over a roster that includes a rash of players who could very well be difference-makers a year from now.
“We have to be patient with it and make sure that the decisions that are made — which you always do —are the right ones,” he said. “We certainly want to be a very competitive team this year and then take that momentum into next season.
“We have to be a team that can compete in the Memorial Cup and hopefully have success. In doing that, we have a young team and we have to continue to let these guys grow. There are somes areas we think we can improve on and yet the performance of the players on our roster today will determine how much of that has to be done.”
As it stands, the Rebels could return most of this year’s squad in 2015-16, including the likes of NHL first-round draft picks Haydn Fleury and Conner Bleackley, in the likelihood that they don’t make their respective NHL teams.
There are also prospective 20-year-olds Presten Kopeck, Wyatt Johnson and Kayle Doetzel, and a host of current first- and second-year players including Grayson Pawlenchuk, Adam Musil, Jeff de Wit and Josh Mahura.
“There’s a good mix, When you look at the de Wits and the Mahuras, they’re just going to get better,” said Sutter. “Plus we have some top-end kids who are 15 now who are going to be coming in next year.
“The depth is there, now it just comes down to the areas we need to improve and we’ll certainly do what we can do to make it happen.”
Concerning next season’s top-end rookies, Jake Leschyshyn is burning up the Saskatchewan Midget AAA League with two goals and six points in two games with the Saskatoon Blazers, while six-foot-two, 205-pound forward Austin Pratt and fellow American forward Grant Mismash, if he decides to report, are can’t-miss prospects.
The players who are confident they’ll still be here when the 2016 Memorial Cup tournament rolls around are obviously excited about Wednesday’s announcement.
“I’ve got some texts from some of them already,” said Sutter. “Now we have to do our part and play to our potential.”
• The Rebels host the Tigers Friday at 7 p.m. and entertain the Brandon Wheat Kings 24 hours later.