By Byron Hackett
Much like the first day of school, the excitement of new beginnings swirled around the Red Deer Rebels after the trade deadline.
Red Deer brought in winger Lane Zablocki, 18, and defenceman Dawson Barteaux, 16, from the Regina Pats. It was a move that brought heavy hearts with fan favourites Josh Mahura and Jeff de Wit going the other way, but Rebels GM and head coach Brent Sutter said retooling the roster will move the team forward.
“We had to give up a lot to do that but that being said, it’s exciting for our organization and our program to have have two players like Barts and Zabs to come to us and be a big part of our future moving forward,” Sutter said Wednesday.
Zablocki, the 2017 NHL draft eligible forward, will now have the opportunity to skate as a top six forward, which he did Tuesday alongside Michael Spacek and Dawson Martin.
“Whenever I have a chance to contribute and help the team out, get more minutes to develop my game, I’m going to be happy,” he said.
“They welcomed me really well, and I feel like I’m at home already.”
Just one game into his time here and his first Rebels goal behind him, Zablocki is already envisioning the short-term potential of the Rebels.
“We have four lines that can go. We’re tough to play against. Come playoff time anyone can win,” he said.
To be that winning squad, the Rebels must be a hard team to play against, with an aggressive forecheck that Sutter has long preached to his team.
“I take pride in my game. Being tough to play against and it’s just the way I’ve played since peewee. I love it,” Zablocki said.
Barteaux joined the Rebels Wednesday for practice, after driving from Regina to Medicine Hat Tuesday night with his parents. While at first, the 14th overall pick in the 2015 WHL bantam Draft was shocked by the trade, he encapsulated that first day of school feeling.
“Little bit of shock but I was excited. It’s a fresh start and I had a lot of interest from Red Deer when I was getting drafted and they have also been nice to me, so to see I was coming here was nice,” the 16-year-old defenceman said.
With the Yellowhead Chiefs in the Manitoba Midget Hockey League last season, where he was teammates with Rebels goalie Riley Lamb, the six-foot-one, 170-pound d-man put up big offensive numbers with seven goals and 16 assists in 37 games.
“I think I’m a two-way kind of defenceman,” he said. “At the start of my midget year I was playing with a little bit of a separated shoulder so it held me back for a while. So once I got healthy I kept going and (Rebels goalie Riley Lamb) was on my team, to have a goalie like that was pretty amazing.”
Sutter beamed when talking about the potential of his new young defender, saying Rebels’ scouts loved the idea of adding him to the mix.
“It’s all about the process and development. He’s a 16-year-old player. A first round pick in our league,” he said.
“A kid that skates well, move the puck. Got some offensive upside but is a real intelligent player. Someone that is going to fit really well into our mix here and what we’re trying to do.”
That new year, new possibilities excitement of the new additions comes from the top and goes right through the Rebels roster.
“When (Chris) Douglas comes in, we’ll have four 16-year-olds and a lot of 17-year-olds on our team,” Sutter said. “It’s how we’re building now. Then they’ve got great leadership ahead of them to look up to and to learn from, just not learning from the coaches.”
Barteaux will also lean heavily on what he learned in Regina from some of the league’s best defenders and said the opportunity to apply that over the next few years in Red Deer should be a thrill.
“They’re a good team for sure. It was fun watching and practicing with those kind of players – it was awesome,” Barteaux said about his time with the Pats. “To get a chance to play here is going to be great. The way it looks and in a few years we’re going to be a good contender.”