Rebels make pair of deals on draft day

What’s a day at the draft table without at least a couple of trades? Red Deer Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter was involved in two transactions during the WHL bantam draft Thursday in Calgary, sending overage forward Connor Gay to the Saskatoon Blades for a third-round pick and acquiring Russian centre/winger Ivan Nikolishin from the Everett Silvertips for a third-rounder in Thursday’s draft and a conditional fourth-round selection in 2017.

What’s a day at the draft table without at least a couple of trades?

Red Deer Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter was involved in two transactions during the WHL bantam draft Thursday in Calgary, sending overage forward Connor Gay to the Saskatoon Blades for a third-round pick and acquiring Russian centre/winger Ivan Nikolishin from the Everett Silvertips for a third-rounder in Thursday’s draft and a conditional fourth-round selection in 2017.

Gay, a Saskatoon native, notched 20 goals and recorded 44 points in 39 games with the Regina Pats before being acquired by Red Deer in early January. That type of production wasn’t forthcoming with the Rebels, as the Saskatoon native managed just three goals and 17 points in 32 regular-season games with his new club.

“We expected more offence from Connor. It just didn’t work out for him in Red Deer,” said Sutter. “To be quite honest, this is a great opportunity for him. I wanted to do the right thing and the right thing was to give him a chance to finish his junior career at home.

“The Blades are excited about having Connor and hopefully he can go there and contribute offensively, because that’s what he is . . . he has to be a guy who puts pucks in the net.”

Sutter is expecting Nikolishin, a 19-year-old from Moscow who played two seasons with the Silvertips, to deliver where Gay came up short. The five-foot-nine, 170-pound forward has played in 144 WHL regular-season games, scoring 34 goals and adding 87 assists for 121 points, and has three goals and 10 points in 16 playoff games.

He is the son of former NHL defenceman Andrei Nikolishin, who played for Chicago in the 2002-03 season while Sutter’s brother, Brian, was coaching the Blackhawks.

“Ivan has some tremendous skill, he’s a very gifted player that way,” said Brent Sutter. “You never seem to have enough offence on your team and he’ll help in that respect. The great thing about him is he’s been in our league for two years now.

“He’s very excited about today’s trade and he’s looking forward to playing here.”

With the departure of Gay, the Rebels are left with four 20-year-olds for the 2015-16 Memorial Cup host season. The remaining overagers are forwards Presten Kopeck, Scott Feser and Wyatt Johnson, and defenceman Kayle Doetzel.

The Rebels will have to decide which three they are keeping by the October cutdown date for overagers.

Meanwhile, the acquisition of Nikolishin means the Rebels won’t have to select twice in the late June CHL import draft as teams are allowed a maximum of two imports.

Slovakian defenceman Mario Grman, who played as a forward for most of the 2014-15 season, is still on the Red Deer roster but is in tough to stay with the team since Sutter plans to use his first-round pick in the import draft.

“I’ll go through it all with Mario . . . explain it all to him and go from there,” said Sutter.

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