The Red Deer Rebels had room for three 17-year-old defencemen.
Four, as it turns out, was going to be too many.
Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter reassigned 1997-born rearguard Austin Shmoorkoff to the Okotoks Oilers of the Alberta Junior Hockey League Monday, leaving the club with a 25-man roster.
Shmoorkoff was in tough to beat out fellow 17-year-olds Hugo Jansons, Mario Grman and Austin Strand, particularly the latter.
“Strand has been excellent (during Western Hockey League preseason play). He’s probably been the best of all of our 17-year-olds, including the Euros,” said Sutter.
“We still have nine defencemen here and we know who are top six or seven are going to be. At the same time, we had to consider what’s best for Austin’s development so that he can push to make our team next year as an 18-year-old.”
Sutter didn’t see sending Shmoorkoff back to his midget AAA team in Edmonton, the Canadian Athletic Club, as a reassignment option.
“We felt that playing junior A was best for him this season and Okotoks really wants him,” said the Rebels boss.
“We just felt that the best thing for him is to go there and play regularly instead of being a seventh to eighth to ninth defenceman here.
“This reassignment should give him the best chance to play on our team a year from now. He’s our top prospect in terms of defencemen who aren’t here. If we need a call-up this season he’s a guy we would certainly look at, although that would have to work around Okotoks’ schedule.”
The six-foot-three, 170-pound Edmonton native had two penalty minutes and a was a minus-2 in six regular-season games with the Rebels last season. He appeared in two preseason games this fall, registering zero points and two minutes in penalties.
Sutter is currently non-committal regarding leaving his roster as is — in terms of numbers — for the next while, particularly with four players heading off to NHL camps this week.
“I’m open to carrying 25, we’ll just see how things unfold,” he said. “We have to get our guys back from pro hockey first.”
Defenceman Haydn Fleury and forward Conner Bleackley were selected in the first round of this year’s NHL entry draft and could get an extended audition with the Carolina Hurricanes and Colorado Avalanche, respectively. Wyatt Johnson (Anaheim) and Kayle Doetzel (Toronto) will also attend NHL camps.
“You have to think we’re going to have the other guys (Johnson and Doetzel) back before the start of the regular season, but with Conner and Haydn, we’re not sure when they’ll return,” said Sutter.
Forward Evan Polei was slated to report to the St. Louis Blues camp this week but suffered a cut hand during a scrap with Portland’s Adam De Champlain in a 4-2 preseason win Saturday.
“Evan sustained an injury in our preseason game with the Portland Winterhawks on Saturday, and as a result will not be going to the training camp of the St. Louis Blues,” Sutter said in a press release late Monday afternoon.
“I talked with Doug Armstrong, the Blues general manager, and he felt if Evan can’t be at 100 per cent, it would be in his best interests to not attend. His injury is a day to day situation, and he should be ready for the start of our regular season.”
The Rebels close out their preseason schedule with Friday and Saturday dates with the Edmonton Oil Kings and Medicine Hat Tigers at the Centrium and in Stettler. The Rebels host the Kootenay Ice in their regular-season opener Friday Sept. 19.
Just notes: Former Rebels netminder Darcy Kuemper and his agent are playing their trump card — the Kontinental Hockey League — in contract negotiations with the Minnesota Wild. With veteran stoppers Josh Harding and Niklas Backstrom on one-way contracts, the Wild are offering Kuemper a two-way deal. His agent has confirmed that the goaltender is investigating his options to play in Russia’s KHL if he doesn’t get a one-way deal. Kuemper has limited NHL experience but posted a 3-1 record in last spring’s playoffs.