The Red Deer Rebels will enter Thursday’s Western Hockey League bantam draft in Calgary with the knowledge that they will land a top-end player with their first pick, sixth overall.
And that’s about the only guarantee — if there is such a thing — that will come out of the annual lottery of 14- and 15-year-olds.
Who that player is won’t be determined until five other prospects have been taken off the board, and even then Rebels assistant general manager/director of player personnel Shaun Sutter won’t be targeting any particular position.
“There’s still some things to play out,” said Sutter. “When we picked sixth in 2012 and took Adam Musil, we never thought that he was going to be there.
“So you are looking to select the best player (available) and it just kind of depends on how things unravel in front.”
This year’s draft isn’t overly deep in superior talent and in fact may lack the ‘franchise’ player that past drafts have offered up, such as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Mathew Barzal. However, as Sutter noted, there will be attractive prospects still on the board in the second round and beyond.
“We really believe that at sixth overall we’re going to get an elite player,” he said. “Saying that, it’s the type of draft where there are going to be some really good players taken in the middle part of the first round and even into the second round who could end up surpassing guys taken in the top 10.
“There’s a group of guys, probably 40 to 50, and then it drops off pretty quickly. But there’s a lot of defencemen, so that’s a good part. In this draft there’s a lot of players who kind of are what they are; maybe there’s not a lot of room for upside. And then it kind of depends on what you’re looking for.”
While Alberta has historically produced more than its share of top prospects, this year the balance of power resides in British Columbia with the likes of forwards Jordy Bellerive of Vancouver and Brendan Semchuk of Kamloops, along with defencemen Nolan Kneen of Vancouver and Scott Walford of the Okanagan Hockey Academy (OHA).
“There’s a lot of defencemen in B.C. and some really good forwards, too. A lot of the more offensive forwards are in B.C.,” said Sutter.
Once he has made the Rebels’ first selection, Sutter will decide if he’ll immediately head in any particular direction concerning positions.
“Your first-round pick often dictates what you do after,” he said. “Generally you like to walk out of the draft with a top-six forward and a top-four defenceman you can build your team around. But let’s be honest, those kinds of guys aren’t really there most of the time after the first two rounds. If you do find those players after that it’s due to luck or other things. Getting a Grayson Pawlenchuk in the fourth round as we did in 2012 . . . that doesn’t happen all of the time.
“The first two rounds are where you’re going to get those types of players, then you have to look ahead and see how things may fall. We may decide we’re not going to a get a good forward or defenceman in a certain spot, so we’d better take one now. This year it’s a lot different draft and to a lot of the guys (scouts) who have been around for a long time, it’s probably one of the weaker drafts in terms of skill. So it’s definitely a challenge to sort the list, that’s for sure.”
The general consensus among WHL scouts is that either Stelio Mattheos, a six-foot-two, 177-pound forward who piled up 103 points (53g,50a) in 32 games with the Winnipeg Monarchs, or Bellerive, who had 114 points (61-53) in 49 games with the North Shore Winter Club Winterhawks, will be taken first overall by the Brandon Wheat Kings.
“Mattheos is a big-bodied kid who can score and plays a real heavy game. I think if you polled a lot of the (scouts) they would say he’s the top guy,” said Sutter.
As for Bellerive, the brother of former Rebels forward Matt Bellerive . . .
“He’s close, he’s the next guy in the mix,” said Sutter. “If you want a guy who’s going to score and lead your team in points, those are two players you look to in those areas.”
Other top-ranked players include Semchuk (45-32-77 in 51 games), Kneen (22-38-60 in 69 games) and forwards Michael Rasmussen (41-46-87 in 59 games with OHA) and Jaret Anderson-Dolan, who fired 67 goals and recorded 103 points in 50 games with the Edge Academy, located just west of Calgary.
Walford (11-35-46 in 50 games with OHA) is another potential top-10 pick, as are Saskatoon Stallions forward Jake Leschyshyn (31-28-59), Lloydminster Heat sniper Zane Franklin (47-42-89) and rearguards Josh Brook of the Notre Dame Hounds and Jantzen Leslie of Lloydminster.
The list goes on and includes Sundre native Dominic Schmiemann, a six-foot-two defenceman who had 15 points (3-12) and 76 penalty minutes with Notre Dame.
“He’s a huge kid who can do a bit of everything and he’s a real good player,” said Sutter. “It probably won’t be long before his name is called. He’s a real good local kid who’s going to be a real good player in our league if he chooses to play in the league.”
Ian Scott of Calgary and Jordan Hollet of the OHA, both six-foot-two, are generally considered to be the top goaltenders available. Scott compiled a 6-15-1 record with a 3.12 goals-against average and save percentage of .916 with the Calgary Northstar Sabres, while Hollett had a 1.74 GAA with six shutouts and a 23-4-0 slate.
“Some people like Hollett, others like Scott,” said Sutter. “You can look at it like Hollett played on a real good team and Scott was on a real weak team, so I think a lot of people will lean towards Hollett just because he was successful.”
Red Deer Rebels White goaltender Dawson Weatherill might be the third stopper selected in the draft, and in fact could be picked ahead of Scott and/or Hollett. The six-foot-four Weatherill posted an 11-5-1 record with a 2.61 GAA and .927 save percentage during the past season.
“He’s a big guy who is super athletic and improved throughout the year,” said Sutter. “Everyone is looking for those big, athletic goalies.”
Red Deer Rebels White forward Jeremy Klessens is another promising prospect coming off a season in which he scored 27 goals and collected 45 points in 31 games.
“He’s a guy who has a real good shot, has some speed and plays a real strong game,” said Sutter. “Everyone wants a guy who can shoot the puck and score goals, so he’s a player a lot of teams are going to covet.”
Other Red Deer and area players with draft possibilities include Red Deer Rebels White defenceman Tyrel McCubbing (7-13-20), six-foot-one, 220-pound Red Deer Rebels Black blueliner Quinn Justinen (11-6-17, 126 PIM), and Rebels Black defenceman Dayton Playford (4-3-7, 94 PIM).
“It just depends on what you’re looking for in this draft,” said Sutter. “There are some really good players and the thing we have to remind ourselves of is that it’s not any different than when you look at the most recent (Canadian) world junior team — the team might not have been as strong this year as in the past, but still had the best players in Canada.
“This bantam draft is no different. Some people feel it’s a weaker draft, but these are going to be the kids who play in our league. There’s some good kids in the top 10 and yet a year from now the kids picked in the second round might end up being better than the kids from the first round.”
The Rebels have two picks in the second round — their own at No. 9 (30th overall) and Everett’s selection, 15th in the round, previously traded to Portland and then to Red Deer in the Mathew Dumba deal.
From there, Red Deer will have their own selection in each of the following rounds, the exception being the third and seventh, when the Rebels will pick in the spots belonging to Kamloops and Brandon.
• OHA defenceman Jonathan Smart is projected as a possible late first-round pick by scouting service Western Elite Hockey Prospects. He’s the son of former Red Deer minor hockey and WHL player Jason Smart and the grandson of Russ Smart of Red Deer.
Meanwhile, Prince Albert Raiders defenceman Jake Hobson, the son of former Rebels coach Doug Hobson, is ranked 39th by Western Elite.
• Former Rebels forward Colten Mayor has committed to the University of Western Ontario and will suit up with the Mustangs next season.
Mayor, who played with the Rebels for three seasons before being dealt to the Regina Pats 11 games into the 2012-13 campaign, concluded his junior career this past season by sniping 31 goals, collecting 75 points and racking up 172 penalty minutes in 55 games with the Whitecourt Wolverines of the AHL, tying for the league lead in scoring.