Dallon Melin is enjoying life as a Red Deer Rebel.
The forward is still getting used to being a full-time WHL player, something not many people from his hometown have done.
Melin grew up in the tiny village of Czar, about 250 kilometres east of Red Deer. He said kids from that area still always carried the WHL dream and he’s happy to be living it out so far.
“When you’re a kid, that’s all you ever see. Guys that go play in the western league. Being from a small town, there hasn’t been a guy from there go to the western league and guys that do, it’s pretty cool,” said the 16-year-old.
He almost took an entirely different route, after being selected by the Victoria Royals in the second round of the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft.
Melin reported to Royals rookie camp this summer but was also picked in the USHL Futures draft by the Omaha Lancers. He planned on playing junior A in Camrose for a year, then joining the Lancers for his 17-year-old season. All with the hope of one-day playing NCAA hockey.
That all changed when Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter came calling.
Sutter simply told Melin and his family if you want to develop into the best player you can be, you have to play in the best league, with the opportunity to develop. The sales pitch worked, and Sutter acquired Melin’s WHL rights from the Royals in early September for a 2018 second round pick and forward Brandon Cutler.
“For a kid like that who really has to work on his game, put yourself in a situation where that is all being offered to you here to grow your game,” Sutter said.
“His mom and dad were excited and from that point on it’s been all in, he’s been awesome.”
Through 12 games in Red Deer, Melin is finding his stride. He has registered two assists in limited minutes this year. One of those came Sunday against the Swift Current Broncos. He was playing increased time in the absence of Brandon Hagel and showed well.
“He’s coming. It’s all about development with him and being patient,” Sutter said.
“Finding his game and what he is as a player. Probably really noticed the difference the last two or three weeks. The other night in Swift Current, he was one of our better players.”
Melin, at six-foot-three and 195-pounds, doesn’t look out of place in a WHL uniform. The hulking forward understands that using his size will be a benefit and also thinks that as his confidence grows, so will his playing time and his scoring ability.
“I play a hard-nosed style and tough down low. Play simple and not make too many mistakes and make plays as much as I can,” he said.
“With more confidence that comes. Making more plays with the puck, I just try and protect it down low and play as physical as I can with my size.”
So far, the biggest step forward he has made is with his skating. As a bigger player, improving the tempo of his game and competing at a high pace is a tricky combination.
“I can always improve my skating. I’m a big guy so foot speed, always. Maybe shooting more on opportunities I get. Just got to keep working,” he said.
In his bantam draft year, with the Camrose Red Wings in the Alberta Bantam AAA League, Melin registered 62 points in 32 games. That dropped a bit last year in his first year of midget, where he put up six goals and 14 assists in 27 games.
While the Rebels aren’t exactly sure how the 16-year-old’s offence will translate to the WHL, Sutter believes the intangibles he brings to the ice will make him a valuable player.
“These young guys, because they aren’t in the lineup every night have to take advantage of the times in between games when they aren’t playing to work on their game. He really has,” Sutter said.
“He’s committed and dedicated and a very intelligent person. Smart person and player too. He knows what he is as a player and has to build his game.”
The Rebels are back at home on Friday for the first time in three weeks when they host the Kelowna Rockets with puck drop set for 7 p.m. They will also play at home Saturday against the Kootenay Ice.