As the youngest team in the Western Hockey League, the Red Deer Rebels are clearly in rebuild mode.
Looking at the team’s list of prospects, assistant GM/director of player personnel Shaun Sutter likes the manner in which the Rebels are rebuilding — with a mix of talent, tenacity and size.
The list consists of at least five players who are in the Rebels’ plans for the 2014-15 season, including forwards Jeff de Wit, 15, 16-year-olds Brayden Burke and Mason McCarty, and defencemen Josh Mahura, 15, and 16-year-old Wyatt Kalynuk, unless he decides to go the U.S. college route.
De Wit, a local product, was the Rebels’ first-round pick in the 2013 WHL bantam draft and this season has scored eight goals and collected 14 points in 20 games with the midget AAA Red Deer Optimist Chiefs. He’s also picked up 12 minutes in penalties.
“He’s a big guy who skates well and is a skilled kid,” Sutter said of the six-foot-two, 175-pound center. “The bigger guys take a little longer to develop in regards to their abilities catching up to their bodies and Jeff probably fits into that category.
“He had a shoulder injury late last season and was playing catch-up a bit after missing all of that time. He plays in all situations with a good midget AAA team and he’s put up some pretty good offensive numbers. Overall, he’s doing some really good things and he’s making good progress.”
Burke, who checks in at five-foot-nine and 143 pounds, is second in Alberta Midget League scoring with 31 points (11g,20a) in 22 games as a member of the Edmonton Canadian Athletic Club. Burke, who last week made his WHL regular-season debut with the Rebels as an emergency recall, has 16 minutes in penalties.
“Burkie is a small guy in stature, but you can’t find a player who has more hockey smarts and high-end skill,” said Sutter. “He’s a guy who has progressively gotten stronger and quicker since we drafted him (seventh round, 2012). Physically, he’s made huge strides in terms of his height and putting pounds onto his frame and he’s a kid who will keep growing.
“He’s a guy who has put up a lot of points at every level he’s played. He showed us those skills in training camp and during the exhibition season. When he’s ready to play with us next year he’ll have to adapt to the pace of play. In the recent game he played with us, he adjusted as the night went on because he’s a smart player.”
McCarty was picked by the Rebels in the fourth round of the 2012 bantam draft and currently holds down third place in Alberta Midget League scoring. The five-foot-10, 165-pound winger has sniped 16 goals, collected 30 points and racked up 36 minutes in penalties in 22 games with the UFA Bisons.
“He’s a little Brad Marchand type of player, a guy who gets under the opposition’s skin because he always plays full out,” said Sutter. “He plays real greasy and is a guy who can score and make good plays. He’s only a five-foot-10 guy but he plays like he’s six-two. That’s something we really value — that gritty skill, which is something he brings to the table. He’s been a top scorer in midget AAA all season.”
Mahura, the Rebels’ second-round pick last spring, is a six-foot, 165-pound rearguard with the midget AAA prep team at the Okanagan Hockey Academy. The offensively-gifted defender has 12 goals and 27 points in 27 games this season, along with 36 minutes in penalties.
“Nothing has really changed with Josh, he’s an elite player in his age group,” said Sutter. “He’s a great-skating, puck-moving defenceman who also competes.
“He’s a guy who can play on our first power play unit and he can play against the other team’s best players. He’s an all-situation defenceman who can also be a leader. They have an extensive off-ice program at OHA and he’s put on 10 pounds since training camp.”
Kalynuk plays with the junior A Virden Oil Capitals and has scored once, garnered eight points and been assessed just one minor penalty in 33 games. The six-foot, 165-pound blueliner has a scholarship offer from Western Michigan University for the 2016-17 season, but has yet to commit to the school.
Kalynuk will suit up with Team West in the upcoming World Under 17 Challenge, a tournament that will also feature current Rebels Meyer Nell and Adam Musil.
“Right now he hasn’t made a decision, he’s open to going either way,” said Sutter, in reference to Kalynuk either accepting the scholarship offer or joining the Rebels next season. “He’s a kid who’s as good as any defenceman in his age group as a skater and puck mover. He could play on our team right now and contribute.
“In terms of players who aren’t on our team, he’s that next guy. He’s a big part of our future if he chooses to play in the WHL. We think that’s still a good possibility because his family is open to that, it’s just something we’ll be patient with. He’s going to be a very good player, a pro prospect.”
As Sutter noted, the Rebels had a clear plan of attack heading into the last two bantam drafts.
“We focused on skill and sense,” he said. “During our draft of ‘97-born kids we started adding beef and muscle to complement our skill guys. With the ‘98s, we focused on size and guys with character . . . guys who will make us a tougher team to play against.
“There’s always going to be guys who pass other guys, but we’ve got the foundation now, the core and the depth. A lot of these kids are knocking on the door right now, especially from that ‘97 age group. We have guys who are ready to play here now but they’re only 16 and you can’t have a whole team of 16-year-olds. I think we have a bright future. We have to continue to add to it, but we’ve got that depth.”
The Rebels have three Americans on their protected list, including goaltender Blake Weyrick, 17, who the club drafted in 2011 and would be a candidate for regular employment next season if he decided to play north of the border. Sutter is confident that the other two U.S. lists — defenceman John Schuldt, 16, and 18-year-old forward Steve Spinner — are also solid prospects.
Weyrick stops pucks for Team USA in the USHL and has posted a 1.50 goals-against average and .945 save percentage in two games.
“He hasn’t made a commitment to a college yet. He’ll make that decision at the end of the season,” said Sutter.
The six-foot-three, 205-pound Schuldt and five-foot-10, 181-pound Spinner play high school hockey in Minnesota.
“Schuldt skates real well for a big kid,” said Sutter, “and Spinner is a rated as a B prospect by Central Scouting for next year’s draft — the same grade as (Rebels captain) Conner Bleackley.
“He has a college commitment to Omaha Nebraska but if he gets drafted by an NHL team and is interested in going the major junior route, we’ll have his rights. We’re going to be more aggressive with these American kids.”
Schuldt has one goal and four penalty minutes in seven games with Minnetonka High School and Spinner has scored four goals and accumulated 11 points — and six penalty minutes — in six games at Eden Prairie. Both schools are in Minnesota.
Following is a further inventory — with comments from Sutter — of Red Deer prospects, some of who might play with the Rebels next season, some who will be close and — of course — some who will likely never suit up with the WHL club (includes position, age, size, statistics — games played, goals, assists and penalty minutes — and current team).
Max Salpeter; defence; 15; 6-2, 156 pounds; 19-2-4-6-18; St. Albert minor midget AAA
“Max is a towering defenceman who has grown a lot and he’s a guy who has real good mobility for his size. He handles the puck pretty well and he’s learning to use his big body in terms of positioning himself and being a tough guy to go around. He’s making really good progress and is a guy who we’re happy with. We feel he has a bright future and has a chance to play for us.”
Cale Chalifoux; defence; 15; 6-foot, 155 pounds; 25-1-3-4-16; Edmonton K of C midget AAA
“He’s made real good strides. He’s a pretty polished player, one of those guys who doesn’t have to make a lot of adjustments in order for his game to translate at the WHL level. It’s just a matter of him continuing to get bigger and stronger.”
Josh Logel; forward; 15; 6-foot, 181 pounds; 23-4-5-9-28; Calgary Northstars midget AAA
“Josh is a hard-nosed, two-way forward who plays hard shift in and shift out. He’s doing a good job of banging bodies and crashing the net.”
Austin Strand; defence; 16; 6-2, 185 pounds; 24-5-5-10-42; Calgary Northstars midget AAA
“He’s a big towering D-man who’s pretty imposing in midget. He’s a guy who has the capabilities that not a lot of defencemen have in terms of being very tough to play against. He enjoys being mean and when he’s playing well he’s moving the puck and is a guy who can contribute offensively by getting pucks to the net. He’s a guy who we see as part of our future.”
Austin Shmoorkoff; defence; 16; 6-3, 170 pounds; 6-1-1-2-36; Edmonton CAC midget AAA
“He played six games with us this year. He’s a big, rugged guy who really enjoys playing physical. He’s a huge guy; he’s six-three now and could be six-four one day. He moves well and makes good plays, he’s a shutdown guy who moves the puck effectively. We see him being a long-term, core guy here.”
Evan Tschumi; forward; 16; 6-2, 165 pounds; 23-3-4-7-42; Calgary Flames midget AAA
“He’s a six-two guy who skates well and is a real good penalty killer. He’s a north-south type player who plays physical every shift and is another guy who really complements our skilled players we have in that ‘97 age group.”
Tyler Kirkup; forward; 15; 6-foot, 153 pounds; 25-10-7-17-6; Southwest Cougars (Man.) midget AAA
“He’s played real well this season, he’s been a pleasant surprise. He’s put up real good numbers and he’s a guy with good skill and sense. Even though he’s a late-round pick, he’s outscoring many of the players who were drafted ahead of him and that’s a real positive. When we look at him we see one of our better ‘98 forwards. That’s a credit to him.”
Colby Entz; goaltender; 15; 5-10, 150 pounds; 6-1-1 W-L-T, 1.82 GAA, .939 save percentage; Moose Jaw midget AAA
“He’s played extremely well, he’s done everything right to this point.
For a guy who’s an undrafted player he has passed many of the goaltenders who were drafted in his age group. He’s moving up in his age group very quickly with his play.”
Tom Friesen, forward; 16; 5-11, 175 pounds; 9-1-0-1-6; St. Albert midget AAA
“Tom is a guy who’s really tough to play against and a guy who thinks the game well. He’s working on his skating, but he’s a player who provides that element of grease and grit. He has the ruggedness that we covet and he complements the guys in our ‘97 age group.”
Rylan Toth, goaltender; 17; 6-1, 180 pounds; 4-2-1 W-L-T, 3.64 GAA, .889 save percentage; Battlefords midget AAA
“He’s a guy we see competing with Entz and (Grant) Naherniak for a job here next year. He’s been out a month and a half with a concussion, so that’s effected him. When he’s back playing he’s the No. 1 goalie on his team. He’s a big guy who is athletic and has good ability. It’s just a matter of him polishing his game, but he has all the tools. There’s a lot to work with there.”
Caleb Reiss; forward; 15; 5-10, 150 pounds; 25-3-4-7-8; Moose Jaw midget AAA
“He’s had an inconsistent year while making the adjustment to playing against older players. The Saskatchewan league is a little rougher and he’s adapting to that and it’s taking some time. He has the skill and sense to put up points and really contribute on the power play.”
Kyle Sargent; defence; 15; 6-1, 160 pounds; 25-0-2-2-10; Moose Jaw midget AAA
He’s growing and maturing as a player, he’s getting more consistent. He skates well and moves the puck well and is learning to be more physical. He’s another guy who is making good progress.”
Grant Naherniak; goaltender; 17; 6-foot, 170 pounds; 9-5-2 W-L-T, 2.85 GAA, .900 save percentage; Moose Jaw midget AAA
“His team is hosting the Telus Cup (in April) and he’s one of those guys who will get the opportunity to play some important games, it’s just a matter of earning that role. This is Grant’s third year of midget AAA, so he has that experience. He played in one game for us this season (Dec. 10 at Lethbridge) and played well, so he has some WHL experience too.”
Kaleb Denham, defence; 17; 6-3, 175 pounds; 25-2-2-2-20; Grande Prairie, AJHL
“He’s a big raw guy who’s a late bloomer and he’s making progress playing against older guys in junior A. Sometimes those big body guys just take a little longer. He’s learning to be consistent with his identity at the junior A level, he’s starting to push back. He’s a real good defensive guy who makes a good first pass. With him it’s just a matter of working on his conditioning and consistency, and he’s making strides doing that. He’s a guy who’s still in the picture. A lot of players come into our league at 18, 19 and 20 and have success. We see him as one of those kind of guys.”
Earl Webb; forward; 17; 6-2, 202 pounds; 12-1-0-1-8; Calgary Mustangs, AJHL
“Earl is a big body guy who’s come in (as a Rebels injury replacement) and made the adjustments to playing at this level. Considering he hasn’t put up big numbers in junior A, he’s come in and given us some really quality minutes. He hasn’t looked out of place. He’s been pretty effective even though he hasn’t played a ton, but when he has got the opportunity he’s definitely held his own. Like Scotty Feser, he’s come up and played real well for us as an injury replacement guy.”
Nick Darling; defence; 15; 6-foot, 165 pounds; 16-1-1-2-26; Calgary Stampeders, minor midget AAA
“He’s a big guy who moves well. He moved from Saskatoon to Calgary during the off-season and is still adjusting to that. He was also injured last year so he’s still trying to get his feet under him.”
Zach Court; forward; 16; 5-11, 165 pounds; 25-14-17-31-45; Winnipeg Wild midget AAA
“He’s one of the best players on his team, a really skilled guy who makes plays.”
Reece Johnson; forward; 15; 5-9, 150 pounds; 26-3-4-7-30; Saskatoon Blazers midget AAA
“Reece is a younger brother of Wyatt (Rebels forward Johnson) and a kid who has the same intangibles that Wyatt has. He’s a high character player who’s going to find a way to play in the Western Hockey League. There’s a lot of similarities between him and Wyatt. Wyatt was a very small bantam who grew when he was 16 and 17 and that’s kind of where Reece is at. He was a small guy at bantam and has grown a lot. He plays balls to the wall every shift.”
Shane Sherban; forward; 15; 6-2, 175 pounds; 27-1-3-4-8; Saskatoon Blazers midget AAA
“Shane is a big kid who skates well and is growing into and learning to use his big body. He’s one of the two or three ‘98s we kept around for the Black and White game after training camp. He had a real good camp with us.”
Quinton McAndrews; forward; 15; 6-1, 165 pounds; 18-5-5-10-38; Edmonton Southside minor midget AAA.
“He’s the younger brother of Devon (McAndrews) who plays in Tri-City. He’s a big, rugged left winger who plays hard. He plays a power type game.”