The Western Hockey League bantam draft is the lifeblood of its member teams.
You might say that Shaun Sutter is at least partially in charge of identifying certain blood types for the Red Deer Rebels.
The Rebels’ first-year senior scout has made like Hank Snow over the past seven to eight months (he’s been everywhere, man) in search of talent that will hopefully develop into future WHL players.
Along with Rebels director of scouting and player development Randy Peterson, Sutter has spent countless hours compiling a list of players who are bantam-draft material.
As for type of players the scouts are looking for, the directive comes from Rebels president Brent Sutter and general manager/head coach Jesse Wallin.
“Brent and Jesse are real big on hockey sense,” said Shaun Sutter, looking ahead to this year’s WHL bantam draft, to be conducted Thursday in Calgary.
“I think everybody looks for basically the same things, but different teams might prioritize different things,” he continued.
“For us it’s always been about hockey sense . . . kids with character and kids who compete. But they have to be able to skate and have skill, too.”
But Sutter’s scouting duties don’t stop there. He’s actively involved in getting to know the youngsters on his wish list, as well as their parents.
“We’re pretty proud of what we do in regards to background work with the players,” he said.
“We feel like we know a lot of the players and their families pretty well. We’re as good or better than a lot of other teams just because we do spend the time. We don’t do anything online or by e-mail, we do it face to face, so not only do we get to know people better, they get to know us, too.
“I don’t know how many families and kids we’ve talked to this year, probably in the hundreds. Everyone is interested in the Western Hockey League and the bantam draft and with some people you can read through the face to face meetings whether they’re just playing the game.”
Certainly, WHL teams can scarcely afford wasting a draft pick, particularly one in the early rounds.
“It is a business and if you draft a player who doesn’t come, that’s a huge hole, especially if he’s one of your first three or four picks,” said Sutter.
A former WHL player (Lethbridge, Calgary) and fourth-round pick of the Calgary Flames in the 1998 NHL entry draft, the 31-year-old Sutter was hired as the Rebels senior scout last year after serving two seasons as an assistant coach with the Regina Pats.
“I’ve enjoyed it a lot,” he said. “It’s been nice working with Randy Peterson, he’s taught me a lot. In a short period of time I’ve gone from playing (in the minor pro ranks and overseas) to coaching to scouting so I’ve been able to look at the game in different ways. I think that’s also helped me in this position.”
Sutter and Peterson, as the Rebels’ two full-time scouts, travel Western Canada extensively. Sutter has racked up 30,000 km on his vehicle and garnered a planeload of air miles since taking the job.
“Randy and I go everywhere. The rest of the scouts on our staff pretty much stay in their own areas,” said Sutter, who lives in Calgary. “I drive a lot but I also fly quite a bit. I’ve flown to B.C. four times and twice to Saskatchewan and Manitoba. I’m a little anal when it comes to scheduling so I’ve been able to take advantage of some seat sales.”
Sutter scouts players at various levels, including minor midget, bantam AAA and AA (rural teams) as well as midget AAA and junior A.
“Living in Calgary, I can literally go to a game every night and I think because of that I’ve probably seen maybe 30 per cent more games than people who aren’t living in such a good geographical location,” he said. “I can also drive up to Edmonton to watch weekday games.”
While on the road, Sutter has also been aware of the top first-year bantams, players who are eligible for the 2013 draft.
“There are some very good ‘98-born players in Alberta especially, kids who would be first-round picks if they were eligible for the draft this year,” he said. “But mostly you’re trying to figure out the draftable players, and during the year you’re also looking at other players who might improve your (50-player protected) list or watching your listed players to see how they are developing. There’s a lot of things going on, including keeping an eye out for possible trade scenarios.”
Sutter and Peterson are attending the Alberta Cup — an annual tournament featuring the top second-year bantam players from the eight provincial zones — in Lethbridge this weekend and will be in Red Deer Monday to begin final preparations for the bantam draft.
“We’ll meet with Jesse (Wallin) and refine our list and talk some things through,” said Sutter. “Then we’ll be off to Calgary and it will be game on from there.”
Sutter, who was born and played minor hockey in Red Deer and whose father Brian is a former NHL player and coach, has never entertained second thoughts about taking the position of senior scout with the Rebels.
“I went into this with an open mind,” he said. “I had done a bit of scouting before but obviously not to this extent, but it was something that I always wanted to do. I always knew Red Deer had a very good staff and drafted really well so I excited about working with and learning from Randy and the other area scouts we have on staff.
“I knew it was going to be a real good opportunity. I know I’ve learned a lot, in fact I’m amazed at how much I’ve learned. For example, Randy has taught me a lot about body types and projecting body types, something I didn’t have a feel for. It’s easy to tell where a kid is a good skater or a bad skater or has good hockey sense, but with body types . . . that’s really a wild card when scouting 14-year-old players. Randy has taught me a lot of things on the scouting side and I feel very fortunate to work with him.
“I’m really excited about the (bantam) draft and finding some players for the Red Deer Rebels to bring us back to a team that is competitive every single year.”