They were a long way from home, but Austin Pratt and Grant Mismash felt right at home during the weekend.
The impressive Minnesota-born-and-raised forwards soaked up everything the Red Deer Rebels spring prospects camp had to offer and both stood out among the list of 24 1998- and ‘99-born players at the Penhold Regional Multiplex.
The six-foot-two, 205-pound Pratt was a dominant figure with his size, speed and power and Mismash was his equal with his speed, agility, competitive fire and outstanding talent.
“It’s been a blast so far,” said Pratt, following Saturday’s session. “I didn’t know much about the team before I came here but I came with an open mind. I’m learning a lot and it’s been such a great experience.”
Pratt, who won’t celebrate his 15th birthday until July 30, was impressed with the quality of competition during the camp.
“It’s tough. Nothing is easy out there,” he said.
Pratt and Mismash, both of whom played with the Shattuck-St. Marys’ tier 1 bantam squad last winter, were selected by the Rebels in the fourth and fifth rounds of this year’s Western Hockey League bantam draft. In the opinion of Rebels assistant GM/director of player personnel Shaun Sutter, the Americans would have been first-round picks — perhaps early first-round picks — if they were Canadian.
Pratt scored 30 goals and collected 73 points and 60 penalty minutes in 65 games with Shattuck last season, while the six-foot, 174-pound Mismash fired 48 goals and garnered 96 points — to go with 132 minutes in penalties — in 65 outings.
While Canadian major junior teams tend to steer clear of drafting elite American players in the early rounds — or at all — because of the likelihood of eventually losing them to U.S. colleges, the Rebels couldn’t resist picking the Minnesota forwards, two of the best players in the state.
“Both of them are awesome,” Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter said following completion of the camp Sunday morning. “If they were 16 they could play on our team today. They’re both dynamic in their own way. They’re different types of players but they’re both very good players. And they have good size too.”
Pratt, in particular, may be leaning towards moving to Red Deer as early as next year, although he’s not getting ahead of himself.
“It will be hard to make the team, but if I can do it I would love to come and play here,” he said with a touch of humility.
His size and style certainly lend themselves to the notion that he’d be a natural — and quite possibly a star — in the WHL.
“I’m more of a rough and tumble player . . . just go to the net with the puck and try to bang a few goals home . . . just shoot the puck and hit and do whatever it takes to win,” he said.
Like his Shattuck linemate and good friend, the 15-year-old Mismash liked everything about the prospects weekend, which included a barbecue for the players/parents and tours of the Centrium and Rebels dressing room facilities as well as Hunting Hills High School.
“It’s been great, I didn’t realize it would be this much fun,” he said. “We’ve been treated really well and it’s been a blast so far. It’s really cool to come in here at a young age and realize you could be playing here someday in such great facilities.”
Mismash short-changed himself when asked to describe his playing style.
“I just do whatever I can to get the team going,” he said. “Austin and I have played together a lot and we just go out there and play a physical style and open space for other kids. I might also contribute a couple of goals here and there.”
Pratt insisted he’ll be returning for the Rebels training camp in August.
Mismash wasn’t as assuring that he’ll be back in two months.
“I’m not sure, but I think I will be at camp,” he said.
As for the prospects of him one day pulling on a Rebels jersey . . .
“I didn’t know much about what to expect this weekend, but as I got here and things got going it turned out to be a lot of fun,” said Mismash. “To be honest, I could see myself playing here down the road. We’ll just have to wait and see what opens up and how I mature.”
Joining the Americans among the top players during the prospects camp were Red Deer product and centre Jeff de Wit and defenceman Josh Mahura, the Rebels’ top two picks in the 2013 bantam draft and the 16-year-olds most likely to step into the team’s lineup this fall. Mahura, blessed with good size and breakway speed, was easily the most dominant rearguard during the weekend.
“Jeff and Josh were very good and a lot of other kids were too,” said Brent Sutter. “Jake Leschyshyn . . . you can see why we took him sixth overall (in the bantam draft) this year. He’s a competitive kid who has skill and tremendous character.”
Leschyshyn and fellow Rebels prospects Shane Sherban and Reese Johnson — both of whom showed well during the weekend — will play with the midget AAA Saskatoon Blazers next season. The Blazers will be coached by Leschyshyn’s father — former NHL defenceman Curtis.
As Brent Sutter noted, the Rebels 2014 prospects camp featured more size and skill than was evident in past years.
“Those are the things we’ve been focusing on the last couple of years. Our last three drafts have been huge for us in terms of getting that right mixture,” he said. “Another thing you can see is that there’s a lot of character out there with these kids. They’re all competitive.
“The organization looks to have a bright future based on what I saw here this weekend. It’s certainly very encouraging . . . exciting to be quite honest.”