The mighty pen was front and centre Wednesday at the Red Deer Rebels office.
Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter inked goaltender coach/consultant Taylor Dakers to a new deal, while forward Jake Leschyshyn of Saskatoon and netminder Dawson Weatherill of Red Deer — the club’s first two picks in this year’s Western Hockey League bantam draft — signed standard player contracts.
Dakers, who last year worked with the Rebels on a semi-regular basis while still holding down a position with World Pro Goaltending in Calgary, will relocate to Red Deer as a full-time team employee.
“My feeling is that goaltending is the most important position on your hockey team and yet it’s the one we maybe spend the least amount of time focusing on,” said Sutter.
Andy Nowicki was a full-time Rebels goalie coach in previous years, then the post was taken over — on a part-time basis — by Brent Belecki, who in turn was succeeded by Dakers.
“I see now how NHL teams are going with full-time guys, and some teams have two or three of them,” said Sutter. “I just felt that it’s crazy not to have someone here full-time to work with not only our roster goalies, but also our prospects.”
Dakers will take on additional duties, including travelling with Rebels head scouts Shaun Sutter and Randy Peterson on various scouting trips.
“He did some of that last season, looking at possible kids we may draft,” said Brent Sutter. “But now he’ll be able to do more of that. He’ll be right here with us. Goaltending is a real important position, especially now that we aren’t able to draft European goalies. We have to spend more time with it and be more focused on that position than in the past.
“To some degree, we’ve been spoiled with the goalies we’ve put through the system, with (Cam) Ward, (James) Reimer, (Darcy) Kuemper and (Patrik) Bartosak. Ward was great at 17, but Reimer and Kuemper turned out when they were 19 and Bartosak was a European goalie. I know this (hiring Dakers as a full-time coach) is important for us moving forward.
“Taylor did a great job for us last season. He worked well with the goalies and they loved him. In every way, it made sense for us to do this.”
Meanwhile, Sutter wasn’t surprised that Leschyshyn and Weatherill entrusted themselves and their hockey futures to the Rebels.
“We knew going into the bantam draft that they’re both committed players and it was just going to be a situation where we’d get the contracts signed,” said the Rebels boss. “We’re excited about their future here with the Rebels.
“They’re both very good players and they will fill two very important positions — centre ice and goaltending.”
l Rebels goaltender Taz Burman and forward Adam Musil are among 19 players on NHL Central Scouting’s North Americans futures list for the 2015 NHL entry draft, and Sutter is confident that forward Grayson Pawlenchuk will be right there come next spring.
“That’s fine that he’s not listed right now. Grayson has always flown under the radar,” said Sutter. “He was a late (bantam draft) pick (fourth round, 74th overall in 2012) and he got hurt last year.”
Indeed, Pawlenchuk was one of the Rebels’ more impressive forwards before a broken elbow caused him to miss a lengthy portion of his rookie season.
Sutter is anticipating a breakthrough season for both Pawlenchuk and Musil.
“These kids are going to be top-six forwards for us next season as 17-year-olds,” he said.
“I want to get Adam back in his normal centre ice position. Last season he learned how to play defensively and now it’s important to take the next step with him and let him grow into the position he’s played most of his life. We’re hoping that he and Pawlenchuk can play together on a line.”
As for Burman, Sutter is confident that the club’s second-round pick in the 2012 bantam draft will live up to his billing in the 2014-15 campaign.
“Burman is going to be one of our two goalies and you would have to think that he will play at least half or more of our games,” said Sutter.