Braden Purtill’s ability to play more than one position was attractive to the Red Deer Rebels, so much so that GM/head coach Brent Sutter acquired the Winnipeg native from the Tri-City Americans Wednesday.
The newest Rebel drove from Kennewick, Wash., to Cranbrook Wednesday, then arrived in Red Deer at 10 a.m. Thursday.
Not only is Purtill an early riser, with Cranbrook being roughly a five and a half hour drive from Red Deer, he’s capable of playing up front or on the back end. That versatility plus his potential, age and size — six-foot, 204 pounds — endeared the 18-year-old to Sutter, who dealt a third-round selection in the 2017 WHL bantam draft to the Ams in exchange for the defenceman/forward.
“He’s a player we’ve had a lot of discussion on since early summer,” Sutter said Friday. “He had a heck of a 16-year-old season in this league, then had a rough season with injuries as a 17-year-old and had surgery on his leg.
“But he’s a player who is versatile, he can play forward or defence. It’s a situation where we’ve added to both positions. We wanted to find a defenceman who can play in our top six and if we run into different variables just because of it being the long season that it is, we’ll have the option where he can play forward, too.
“So it was attractive to us in that way. He can skate, move the puck and he’s strong. All of those things make him a welcome addition to the team.”
Purtill was shifted from forward to defence by his bantam coach and played two seasons on the back end. He was impressive enough during the 2011-12 season with the Winnipeg Sharks — garnering 30 points, including 20 goals in 30 games — that the Americans nabbed him in the third round of the bantam draft.
He played the following winter with the Winnipeg midget AAA Thrashers, scoring 10 goals and adding 20 assists in 30 outings, and then joined Tri-City for the 2013-14 season.
“I have experience at both positions,” he said Friday. “I’ve played lots of both in the league, but I’d say more at forward.
“As a forward I’m a power guy who can put the puck in the net and yet can grind and create energy for the guys. As a defenceman, I’m offensive but also defensive. I’ll jump up into the play and try to create offence.
“I’ve talked to (Sutter) and he told me my versatility will be big for this team.”
Purtill had no idea he’d be dealt, and was at odds with the move until he was informed that he was heading to the 2016 Memorial Cup host team.
“When I learned I was coming here to Red Deer I couldn’t have been happier,” he said. “This is the one team I’d want to be traded to with the Memorial Cup here at the end of the year but also from what I’ve heard about the organization, how it’s first class. I was really excited about it.”
Purtill, who will be on the Rebels blueline tonight when the Medicine Hat Tigers invade the Centrium, sniped nine goals and collected 14 points in 63 games during his rookie season with the Ams and last season his production slipped to seven points (2g,5a) in 43 outings.
“Last year I didn’t get to play a full season due to season-ending surgery,” he said, in reference to a March operation on his lower leg. “It’s going to be nice to be with these guys and hopefully play a full season.
“I just met the guys and the coaches this morning and from what I’ve seen so far, this is really a close-knit team. All the players get along with each other. It’s really a special bond that I’ve witnessed so far and I’m really excited to be a part of that.”
• Rebels defenceman Haydn Fleury was dealt a two-game suspension Friday by WHL disciplinarian Richard Doerksen after being assessed a checking-to-the-head major during Wednesday’s 7-1 win over the Saskatoon Blades.
Purtill will fill in for Fleury tonight against the Medicine Hat Tigers and Saturday versus the visiting Kootenay Ice.
Former Rebel Connor Gay also received a major after cross-checking Fleury in the face as retaliation for the hit on his teammate, Blades captain Nick Zajac, and was also hit with a two-game suspension.