Cohner Saleski was likely still learning his new teammates’ names when he collected his first point as a Red Deer Rebel.
The 17-year-old Saskatoon, Sask. product joined the club last week, after being acquired from the Prince Albert Raiders for a WHL Bantam Draft pick.
In his first game last Friday, on a line with Chris Douglas and Arshdeep Bains, Saleski picked up his first point of the season. Off the rush, he threaded a pass through a pair of Swift Current Broncos’ defenders, right to Douglas, who tapped the puck into an open net.
For Saleski, it was just his seventh career WHL game and it was a good way to get off on the right foot with his new teammates.
“I thought it went pretty good, was fortunate to play with some good players in Douglas and Bains. Was able to get my first point in the first game and it felt really good,” Saleski said.
Prior to this season, there hadn’t been much ice for the sniper in Prince Albert. The Raiders were gearing up for a Memorial Cup run, with one of the best lineups across the WHL. In turn, at 16, Saleski only suited up for four games in P.A., most of which came in the early part of the year.
Through that time, he still learned from veteran forwards like Brett Leason, Noah Gregor, Cole Fonstad, Parker Helly and Sean Montgomery.
“I learned how to be a champion– how they prepare and how they approach the game,” Saleski noted.
“They make sure they’re always at their best whenever they come to the rink. It’s more serious now, a lot of these guys want to do this for a living. I learned a lot from them.”
With a busy schedule as a member of the Prince Albert Mintos in the Saskatchewan Midget Hockey League, Saleski said he didn’t have much time to follow the Raiders playoff journey – which included a wild run in the playoffs and culminated in a Game 7 victory in the WHL Final.
Rightfully so, the teen didn’t have much time, he was too busy producing for the Mintos. In his second season of Midget AAA, Saleski scored nine goals and added 19 assists in 24 games. He notched four goals in five playoff games to boot.
“I enjoyed it there. I was comfortable in PA and it was a good team to be a part of. I knew I had to work hard and develop as much as I could because I wanted to make the jump for sure this year,” he said.
“I just took it as every game, come in and compete and be the best I could.”
Listed at just five-foot-nine and 167-pounds, the diminutive forward plays with an edge that the Rebels seem drawn to and also skates like the wind. In early talks with Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter, utilizing those strengths are exactly what the club expects.
“It was just do what I do best and buy-in, take advice and develop as much as I can,” Saleski said.
“I like to skate, I’m a really fast skater and I hound on pucks. I try to use my skills over anything. I’m not a huge guy and can’t really use force over anyone. If you’re tenacious on pucks you can knock them off and create turnovers.”
The skating portion of it anyway, is something Saleski zoned in on at a young age. He actually started out in figure skating, more quickly making the switch to hockey.
“I gave it one year of figure skating, my parents put me in to get the whole skating thing down. As soon as I could, my parents had me in hockey and it took off from there,” he said.
“I know a lot of guys started out figure skating, it’s a different way of skating. You approach the game differently, have to be good on your edges.”
So far, the kid from Saskatoon is 2-0 in a Rebels uniform. He’ll look to see if his good luck continues Friday night at home in a tough test against the Portland Winterhawks. From what Saleski knows, it should be a tough test against a Portland group that is 4-3 on the year.
“I’m excited to see what the atmosphere is in this building. It seems like everybody loves the Rebels here, just excited to get the first one out of the way,” he said.
“They’re going to be fast and skilled. They have a lot of good guys on their team. Some of them I know, I’ve heard pretty good things about them.”
Puck drop is 7 p.m. at the Centrium Friday.