He’s not No. 1 or even No. 2.
But Red Deer Rebels second-year defenceman Alex Petrovic is ranked third among the top 25 Western Hockey League skaters eligible for next year’s NHL entry draft in Central Scouting’s preliminary rankings released on Tuesday, a lofty rating considering the calibre and depth of talent on the list.
“It’s got me pumped up to get out there and play even harder just to prove that I’m a top player in the WHL,” said Petrovic.
The six-foot-three rearguard is quite familiar with the two players ranked first and second — Prince George Cougars forward Brett Connelly and Edmonton Oil Kings rearguard Mark Pysyk, who like Petrovic is an Edmonton native.
“Mark and I grew up playing against each other,” said Petrovic.
“And I played with both guys (with Team Pacific) in the Under 17 (World) Challenge and with the Canadian under-18 team last summer. Those are two pretty good hockey players and good guys, too.”
Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin isn’t at all surprised that Petrovic is a hit with the Central Scouting evaluators.
“He’s a top-end young defenceman, not only in our league but in all of Canada,” said Wallin.
“He had the under-18 experience last summer on the world stage (Memorial to Ivan Hlinka tournament) and I think he’s definitely established himself in that top group of players.”
The Rebels bench boss isn’t concerned that Petrovic will allow the latest news to go to his head. “Not at all, Alex is a very mature young man” said Wallin.
“He’s very focused and very humble.
“He’s been well-raised, he comes from a great family. He just goes about his business, he has a real strong personality and a real strong leadership presence.
“He realizes that this a great accolade, but he knows as well as anyone that these are preliminary rankings and it’s what you do on the ice.
“It’s about tomorrow as well, so I don’t expect that he’ll place too much importance (in the rankings).”
Petrovic just recently returned from a six-week layoff due to a high ankle sprain.
His first game back was on Nov. 6, in a 4-1 home-ice loss to the Kootenay Ice, and he quickly regained his previous form during the Rebels’ five-game road trip that ended on Saturday.
“It all started in practice. I just worked hard to get back, then I just kept the game simple while we were on the road and got my feet back under me,” he said.
Petrovic also chipped in offensively with five assists, including four in a 7-4 win at Kamloops.
“We dominated that game,” he said. “I’m not really a numbers guy, but it’s great whenever I can contribute that way.”
Wallin was more than willing to cut Petrovic some slack upon the talented defenceman’s return after the long injury layoff.
Instead . . .
“He stepped right in. His conditioning has always been excellent so he really made a seamless transition,” said the Red Deer bench boss. “He had to adjust to the pace during his first game back and he made a few mistakes where he was caught out of position, but after that he just picked up where left off.
“Alex played a lot of minutes for us on the road and that didn’t affect him at all. He can eat up a lot of those minutes while playing against top players . . . he has so much poise back there. He plays with his head up, he’s calm with the puck and he’s just solid defensively.”
The Rebels return to action on Saturday against the visiting Spokane Chiefs.
(The WHL Central Scouting preliminary rankings top-25 list is in Scoreboard on Page B5).