Red Deer Rebels boss Brent Sutter isn’t losing any sleep these days regarding roster concerns.
The Rebels GM/head coach is content with a contingent of roughly 20 players participating in the opening practices of training camp today at the Centrium. The group includes returning goalies Rylan Toth and Trevor Martin, 14 returning skaters and four to five mostly-proven newcomers.
The strength of the club appears, once again, to be the blueline, although Sutter added three forwards during the off-season, two of which — Ivan Nikolishin, acquired from Everett, and Michael Spacek, selected in the import draft — figure to play on the club’s top two lines this season.
Regarding the defence, Sutter, while looking ahead to this season and the Memorial Cup tournament next May at the Centrium, last year brought in — via the trade route — Nelson Nogier and Colton Bobyk, preferring to make the moves well ahead of time as a means of getting the players well settled and versed in the team’s systems and philosophies.
“We made some key acquisitions last season and improved our back end,” Sutter said Thursday. “And when we were able to get the two Europeans in Nikolishin and Spacek and Lane Pederson in the trade (with Seattle) for Taz Burman, we added three pretty skilled players to our front end.
“I like our team. I like our size and I like our skill sets. If the season started today, I’d be very comfortable with our roster, and yet we’ll see how it goes and where this group is going to take us.
“If we have to add something here or there, we will. But I do like the group we have right now.”
All of the returning forwards and rearguards are basically pencilled into the 2015-16 lineup, as well as the three off-season acquisitions and goalies Toth and Martin. There’s room for perhaps four to six more players on the 2016 Memorial Cup hosting Rebels, including two defencemen.
“We have 21 players here we’re very comfortable with, but I’d like to start the season with 25,” said Sutter. “We probably need to add one or two defencemen through camp, and as for the forwards, we’ll let that sort itself out.”
With the Rebels probable roster featuring an abundance of experience, American forward Austin Pratt stands to be the lone 16-year-old on the team this season.
“With us hosting (the Memorial Cup) it’s going to be a difficult year for 16-year-olds (to make the club),” said Sutter. “That being said, I don’t want to be just a team where we’re building for one year and then the next year we’ve fallen right off again. We have to make sure that we do this the right way so that we continue to grow with our team.”
The main candidates for the two available blueline berths are likely Ryan Pouliot, Austin Shmoorkoff, Cale Chalifoux and Boedy Donald, while Jack McClelland is in the running to snare one of perhaps two open forward spots. McClelland, who calls Wichita Kan., home, is the son of former Edmonton Oilers tough guy Kevin McClelland and played five games with the Vancouver Giants last season.
The Rebels entered the 2014-15 season with inexperienced major junior goaltending, and while Burman struggled before settling down for the second half of the campaign, Toth steadily improved as the club’s No. 1 stopper.
Sutter is confident the 19-year-old can successfully shoulder the majority of the goaltending duties this season.
“We wouldn’t have moved Burman if we weren’t comfortable with (Toth) and we weren’t comfortable with Martin as a second guy,” said Sutter. “Martin had an outstanding year in the SJHL and although he played in just one game with us last season, he was stellar.”
Red Deer native Dawson Weatherill and Solomon Burk of Castlegar, B.C., are the other goalies in main camp. If Weatherill, 16, suits up with the midget AAA Red Deer Optimist Chiefs this winter, as expected, he’ll possibly be available to the WHL Rebels in the event of an injury.
“We’re very comfortable with our goaltending,” said Sutter. “I know that’s the one question that’s always asked — how’s your goaltending?
“Look around the league, we’re as comfortable with our goaltending as any team in the league. That’s where goaltending is in the WHL. You have to develop your own goalies and that’s why we’ve focused in on drafting a goaltender every couple of years.”
Returning players, in particular, are always enthused about registering for training camp. With the Memorial Cup tournament on the horizon, Sutter has noticed a little extra enthusiasm among the veterans.
“I think it’s just natural, it’s a natural thing,” he said. “But for us it’s really important to focus on the process of playing a good team game night in and night out.
“We’re going to go through some peaks and valleys through the year which all teams do. It’s just a matter of handling it the right way and making sure we’re a real good regular season team and a very good playoff team. It’s not about thinking about May right now, but about all the steps to get there.”
Rebels training camp — with the rookie sessions starting Sunday — concludes Wednesday with the Black and White intrasquad game at 7 p.m.
Red Deer Rebels training camp rosters
(including year of birth and hometown);
Goal — Trevor Martin (‘96), Ardrossan; Solomon Burk (‘98), Castlegar, B.C.
Defence — *Haydn Fleury (‘96), Carlyle, Sask.; *Colton Bobyk (‘96), Red Deer; *Kayle Doetzel (‘95), Rosetown, Sask.; Ryan Pouliot (‘98), North Vancouver; Austin Shmoorkoff (‘97), Edmonton; Cale Chalifoux (‘98), Edmonton.
Forwards — *Wyatt Johnson (‘95), Saskatoon; Michael Spacek (‘97), Pardubice, Czech Republic; *Evan Polei (‘96), Wetaskiwin; *Jeff de Wit (‘98), Red Deer; *Reese Johnson (‘98), Saskatoon; *Adam Musil (‘97), Delta, B.C.; Akash Bains (‘99), Delta, B.C.; Jack McClelland (‘96), Wichita, Kan.; Tanner Sidaway (‘99), Victoria.
Goal — *Rylan Toth (‘96), Saskatoon; Dawson Weatherill (‘99), Red Deer.
Defence — *Nelson Nogier (‘96), Saskatoon; *Austin Strand (‘97), Calgary; Ethan Sakowich (‘99), Athabasca; Boedy Donald (‘98), Star City, Sask.; *Josh Mahura (‘98), St. Albert.
Forwards — *Conner Bleackley (‘96), High River; Ivan Nikolishin (‘96), (trade with Everett) Moscow; Lane Pederson (‘97) (trade with Seattle), Saskatoon; *Presten Kopeck (‘95), Medicine Hat; *Grayson Pawlenchuk (‘97), Ardrossan; Austin Pratt (‘99), Lakeville, Minn.; Zac Gladu (‘98), Medicine Hat; Tyler Kirkup (‘98), Virden, Man.; Shane Sherban (‘98), Lanigan, Sask.
Goal — Ben Rishaug (‘00), Sherwood Park; Riley Kohonick (‘00), White City, Sask.
Defence — Carson Sass (‘99), Melville, Sask.; Jace Foskey (‘00), Southlake, Tex.; Matthew Kasowski (‘99), St. Albert; Holden Parsons (‘99), Sherwood Park; Kelton Travis (‘00), Strathmore; Sam Pouliot (‘00), North Vancouver.
Forwards — Chase Stevenson (‘99), West Kelowna; Eli Zummack (‘00), Kelowna; Cole Basnet (‘00), Fairview; Dylan Bourlai (‘99), Edmonton; Brandon Cutler (‘00), Stony Plain; Jack Langenhahn (‘99), St. Albert; Randen Schmidt (‘00), Regina; Martin Rudolf (‘00), St. Albert; Deklan Whillans (‘99), Grande Prairie; Chase Nameth (‘00), Regina; Eric Sorensen (00), Grimshaw.
Goal — Lucas Leisen (‘99), Edmonton; Lukas Shaw (‘00), Vancouver.
Defence — Jacob Herauf (‘00), Sherwood Park; Boo Grist (‘99), North Saanich, B.C.; Jacob Thompson (‘00), Brandon; Spencer McHardy (‘00), Calgary; Christian Reimer (‘00), Regina; Evan Simpson (99), Kitscoty.
Forwards — Jake Mulder (‘00), Abbotsford, B.C.; Brendan Budy (‘00), Langley, B.C.; Brayden Labant (‘99), St. Paul; Chance Adrian (‘99), Dalmeny, Sask.; Chase Lowry (‘00), Edmonton; Parker Saretsky (‘99), Wainwright; Bryce Osepchuk (‘00), Smoky Lake; D-Jay Jerome (‘99), Lethbridge; Sam Robinson (‘99), Sherwood Park; Joshua Belcher (‘00), Rapid City, Man.; Hunter Floris (‘00), Vanderhoof, B.C.