The Red Deer Rebels are hopeful that they addressed a definite need with the selection of Czech defenceman Jan Bittner in Wednesday’s Canadian Hockey League import draft.
“This is a guy who was at the top of our list,” said Rebels GM/head coach Jesse Wallin, who nabbed Bittner 23rd overall. “He’s a guy we targeted and we’re happy to get him. You’re not always sure if the guy you want is going to be there when you pick and we were happy he was there for us.”
With the loss of blueliners Aaron Borejko and Justin Weller to graduation and Alex Petrovic to the pro ranks, the Rebels were seeking a rearguard in the import draft, preferably one with experience and size.
Bittner, a 19-year-old who checks in at six-foot-three and 207 pounds, is a match in both areas.
Mathew Dumba, selected seventh overall by the Minnesota Wild in the NHL entry draft last weekend, will enter the 2012-13 Western Hockey League season as the Rebels No. 1 defenceman, and Wallin will be looking for big things from second-year rearguard Kayle Doetzel.
Stephen Hak, Cody Thiel and Devan Faford are also set to return and are expected to be joined by rookies Kevin Pochuk and Haydn Fleury.
“We have some good, young defencemen as well as some young and promising guys coming in and we want to have some stability with them, another older guy to play with them and he (Bittner) should really fit the bill,” said Wallin.
Bittner, who was ranked 91st among European skaters by Central Scouting but was passed over in this year’s NHL draft, last season scored four goals and added 11 assists in 42 games with his hometown HC Litvinov in the Czech junior league.
“He’s a just a real solid, steady player. He’s not a flashy guy but he makes a good first pass, thinks the game well and is real competitive,” said Wallin.
“From what I’ve been told, he’s a real good kid and he’s excited to be coming over and just being a very solid player for us. He should definitely be a top four guy for us.”
Bittner racked up 44 minutes in penalties last winter, which suggests he will have no problem adjusting to the physical style of the WHL.
“He apparently has a real edge to him,” said Wallin.
“He’s a real competitive type who should be a tough guy to play against. He has good size and that always helps.”
Wallin was assured by Bittner’s agent that the native of Litvinov, Czech Republic, will be in Red Deer for training camp starting Aug. 26 at the Centrium.
The Rebels did not use their second-round selection in the import draft due to the presence of Czech netminder Patrik Bartosak, who missed the second half of the 2011-12 season with a severe shoulder injury and subsequent surgery and will return as the Rebels’ starter.
As he revealed on Twitter, Bartosak is more than familiar with Bittner.
“Would love to welcome my buddy Jan Bittner in @Rebelshockey organization,” Bartosak tweeted Wednesday.
• The WHL regular-season schedule was released Wednesday and the Rebels will open Friday, Sept. 21 at home against the Calgary Hitmen.
Red Deer will visit the Edmonton Oil Kings the following night.
The Rebels will face each of their Central Division opponents on six occasions — three at home, three away — with the exception of Kootenay, who they play eight times, and will meet each of the Eastern Division teams four times, home and away.
Red Deer will head into the United States this season for games, Nov. 2, 3, 6 and 7 at Spokane, Tri-City, Portland and Everett and will visit the Seattle Thunderbirds Feb. 8 as part of a western trip that will include games in Prince George and Kamloops.
Kamloops will visit the Centrium once, while Prince George, Kelowna and Victoria will each make two trips to Red Deer and Vancouver will play one game at the Centrium. Red Deer will visit Kelowna once and will not play at either Victoria or Vancouver this season.
The Rebels will play six preseason games, including two at the Oil Kings tournament — Sept. 1 and 2 versus the Prince George Cougars and Oil Kings.
In addition, Red Deer will face the Hitmen Sept. 7 at Calgary Olympic Park, the Lethbridge Hurricanes Sept. 8 at Innisfail, the Oil Kings Sept. 14 at Lacombe and the Medicine Hat Tigers Sept. 15 at Stettler.
(See Rebels regular-season schedule in Friday Scoreboard).