Prospects are the backbone of any junior hockey franchise.
They help transform the team and can benefit the squad in the future for many years to come.
The Red Deer Rebels are high on many, not just those who have been signed, but also the players who have made an impact on their teams so far this year.
And the development begins from the crease outwards, which the Rebels believe is a strong point for the organization.
Red Deer has seen strong showings this year from goaltenders Taylor Tabashniuk and Chase Wutzke.
Tabashniuk was drafted in the sixth round of the 2022 WHL Prospects Draft by the Rebels but has yet to sign a standard player agreement with the team.
The 15-year-old Regina, Sask. native has put up great numbers on a good team. In 14 games with the U18 AAA Regina Pat Canadians, Tabashniuk has posted 1.92 goals against average and a .909 save percentage.
Wutzke signed a standard player agreement with the Rebels in December 2021 and since then has appeared in three games in a Rebels uniform posting 4.70 GAA and a .849 save percentage.
The 16-year-old Debden, Sask. product was drafted by Red Deer in the 2021 WHL Prospects Draft in the fifth round 59th overall.
In 2021 he represented Saskatchewan in the WHL Cup and in 2022, won a silver medal with Team Canada Red in the U17 World Hockey Challenge.
With the U18 AAA Saskatoon Contacts, he’s played 15 games and contributed 2.77 GAA and a .900 save percentage.
“He’s been the Saskatoon Contacts best player,” said Rebels assistant general manager Shaun Sutter. “He’s a competitive guy and their team has a good record. Wutzke will need to be their best player in order to really thrive in playoffs and down the stretch.
“We really have high expectations for Chase in the future and a big part of him developmentally getting there is playing a lot of games.”
Forwards-wise for the 2006-born players, the Rebels have Zane Saab, Evan Smith, and Escalus Burlock under WHL Standard Player agreements.
“Zane plays on a weaker team but he’s developing a two-way game and producing offensively,” Sutter said.
Saab, who was taken in the third round in 2021 has registered 11 goals and 23 points in 21 games with his hometown U18 Edmonton Jr. Oilers this season.
Kamloops native Smith was selected in the fifth round of the 2021 draft and as a 16-year-old has produced four goals and 13 points in 15 games for the U18 Yale Hockey Academy in the CSSHL.
Burlock, 16, who heil’s from Edmonton, was taken in the seventh round in 2021 by the Rebels.
With the U18 Edmonton Jr. Oilers, Burlock has scored seven goals and 12 points in 16 games. This season he’s also played eight games with the Rebels recording a single goal.
For the younger 2007-born forwards Red Deer are keeping their eyes on multiple including Matthew Gard and Jeramiah Roberts.
Gard, who is from Winnipeg, was picked 39th overall in this year’s draft in the second round.
The 15-year-old signed with the Rebels in May and in 12 games with the U18 Rink Hockey Academy in Winnipeg has scored five goals and 10 points. Most recently he was announced to represent Team Manitoba in the 2023 Canada Winter Games.
Roberts, from Monument, Colo., was also picked by Red Deer this year in the first round of the U.S. Priority Draft.
He joined many of his fellow draftees at training camp last summer and impressed the coaching staff during the intrasquad games. He went on to sign a WHL Standard Player Agreement before he was sent home.
This season he is with Team Kelly of the USA S-15 league and has one goal in four games.
“Sometimes those guys are hard to recruit,” Sutter said. “But credit to him and his family that they came to camp and enjoyed it.
“He had a great camp and decided this is where he wanted to pursue his academic and hockey goals. We think he’s going to be a really good player for us and brings a little bit of everything to the table.”
On defence, the Rebels are looking forward to seeing what Luke Vlooswyk and Derek Thurston will bring to the table. Both have already been signed and Sutter said they have a lot of potential.
“They’re still a work in progress being taller kids that are still growing into their body and developing their skillset,” he said.
“We like to have a balance in terms of having lefties and righties. Right-handed defencemen are hard to find. We have three on our team right now and Luke is a right-handed guy coming up behind them.”
Thurston was selected in the sixth round of the 2021 WHL Prospects Draft and signed with the team this year.
The 16-year-old Delta B.C. product has put up two goals and 10 points for the Delta Hockey Academy U18 prep team in 17 games.
Calgary’s Vlooswyk was the Rebels’ first pick, 17th overall, in this year’s WHL draft and central Alberta’s team did not take long to sign him.
The 15-year-old defenceman was named to Team Alberta for the 2023 Canada Winter Games and has been productive for his hometown U18 Calgary Buffaloes this season. In 2021 he helped Alberta win a silver medal in the WHL Cup.
In 18 games he’s added three goals and 10 points and helped the Buffaloes reach a league-best 19-0-1-1 record.
They’re also optimistic about some other defencemen such as Tate Dolinsky, Reece Gault, and Quentin Flores.
“Some of the late-round guys don’t always get the attention or love but there’s always guys who we don’t talk to that rise,” Sutter said. “It’s not always about where guys are at now it’s going to be where they are at at the end of the year.”