He’s a new face, but he’s already being recognized as a team leader.
Byron Froese returned to Red Deer Tuesday following his second appearance at the Chicago Blackhawks training camp and learned early Wednesday that he’ll be one of four assistant captains with the Red Deer Rebels during the 2010-11 Western Hockey League season.
Not too shabby for a player who has yet to suit up for a regular-season game with the Rebels, who acquired the 19-year-old centre in an August deal that sent Landon Ferraro to the Everett Silvertips.
“I just found out this morning. I was really happy and surprised at the same time,” Froese said later in the day. “But I’m excited about doing what I can as a leader with this team.”
As well as Froese, joining captain Colin Archer with a mix of home-and-away Red Deer letters will be Alex Petrovic, Josh Cowen and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
Froese wore a letter with the Silvertips last season, but he was also a second-year player with the club. The Winkler, Man., native is still settling in with his new squad.
“I’d been here a week and half (for training camp) before going to the Chicago camp, but I’m still getting accustomed to being here. Not that it’s been a problem — the guys have all welcomed me,” he said. “And I’m happy to be here. This seems like a very well run, high-class organization that takes really good care of its players. I’m excited to get the season going.”
Froese developed a reputation as a stellar two-way performer during his two seasons in Everett, an aptitude that didn’t escape the Blackhawks, who selected the six-foot-one, 180-pound pivot in the fourth round of the 2009 NHL entry draft. He was a vision of consistency through his first two years with the ‘Tips, scoring 19 goals and collecting 57 points as a rookie and racking up 61 points — including 29 goals — last winter.
“I’m hoping to bring some of both (offensive and defensive awareness) to this team,” said Froese. “I obviously want to bring a lot of offence this season and I’m going to hold myself up to that. I’ll just do my best to help the team wherever I can, whether it be on the power play, the penalty kill or even strength.”
Froese left the Blackhawks’ main camp at Chicago’s United Centre on Monday with a sense of accomplishment.
“I had a better idea of what to expect this time. I think I played a lot better than I did last year and the coaches recognized that, too,” he said. “I was pretty happy with my overall play in main camp. I scored a few goals (during scrimmages) and that’s always good for the confidence.”
Froese has every intention of moving on to the pro ranks next year and realizes that another solid season will likely earn him a contract with the ‘Hawks.
“It’s a huge year for me and the team. We have a great team here and I think we have the guys to go far,” he said
• With the return of Froese, goaltender Darcy Kuemper and defenceman Justin Weller (from the Phoenix Coyotes camp), the Rebels have a roster of 27 players, three more than head coach/VP of hockey operations Jesse Wallin plans to keep this season.
The Rebels now possess five overage players with Kuemper’s return. With a league deadline of mid-October for teams to declare their three 20-year-olds and rookie forward Locke Muller out four to six weeks with a broken hand, the current roster might remain intact another three weeks or could be decided in a matter of days.
As for Muller, he suffered the injury during a fight with defenceman Brad Deagle in practice Tuesday.
• Innisfail native and 20-year-old defenceman Nick Bell, who was released by the Rebels last week, has joined the Three Hills Thrashers of the Heritage Junior B Hockey League.
According to Wallin, Bell briefly returned to Okotoks where the Oilers of the AJHL hold his junior A rights. He apparently wasn’t fond of the situation in Okotoks and decided that he would attend Red Deer College.
Wallin does not know the whereabouts of 19-year-old forward Steve Oursov, who was also released last week. The Rebels bench boss did reveal that he received a call from Spruce Grove Saints (AJHL) coach Jason McKee, who was apparently interested in acquiring Oursov’s junior A rights from the Trail Smoke Eaters of the BCHL.
• The Rebels open their regular-season schedule Friday versus the host Edmonton Oil Kings, then host the Oil Kings 24 hours later.