The Red Deer Rebels got most of their WHL shopping list out of the way early this year, really early.
Red Deer’s main acquisition was Ben King, a 17-year-old centre, came on Nov. 7. That move gives the club a potentially dangerous 1-2 punch down the middle for the future, along with Jayden Grubbe.
For a team that has a dozen 16 and 17-year-olds playing significant roles, it’s clear that winning now is not the immediate focus. Winning this year is a feather in the development cap of the young talent, not the endpoint of the process.
So any trades the Rebels might make, ahead of the Jan. 10 trade deadline next Friday, will be with that in mind.
“Teams call, it’s part of being a general manager. You have to reach out and talk. We have no intention at this point and time of moving anyone,” Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter said Thursday ahead of practice.
“We’re going to stay the course and we’ll see what happens from now until the 10th.”
Sutter admitted Thursday the phone has been ringing, but nothing has really wowed him enough to consider a deal, yet.
He likes the way his group has played, particularly in December where they won six games and hung with a few of the top teams in the WHL.
“We’re certainly not in a buyers’ mode,” he said.
“If it’s something that makes sense for us long term, then we look at it. We’re staying the course where we started the year with (playing) all the young kids. We felt good about the veterans we had around them and we knew it would take until the first part of December to start seeing signs and we certainly have in the last 14 games.”
As a whole, the long-time WHL GM thinks it’s harder now to make deals than it was even four years ago when Red Deer hosted the 2016 Memorial Cup.
“Just with no 15 or 16-year-old signed players can be moved, a lot of teams have 17-year-old players with no-trade clauses, so no question. It’s harder to make deals than it used to be,” Sutter said.
“That’s fine because it should be the responsibility of each organization to develop your players from within. That’s why you have a draft and your scouts do your job.”
With that, Sutter also recognized when teams should or need to take a shot at adding players.
“There’s a lot of teams in our league so the talent is spread out,” he said.
“And when you’re having to host a (Memorial Cup) or you’re an elite team that has a chance to go for it and win the league, you usually need a couple or three pieces to finalize it. That’s just the way it is.”
Right now, with so much parody across the league, just 10 points separate the top five teams it is tough to discern who will be buyers and who will be sellers.
The Edmonton Oil Kings, tops in the WHL, made their intentions clear on New Year’s Day, picking up goalie Beck Warm and Riley Stuart from the Tri-City Americans. It is likely the first shoe to drop for teams jostling for position, in which the 2020 Memorial Cup host Kelowna Rockets are sure to be involved. The Calgary Hitmen countered Thursday, acquiring overage forward Kyle Olson from the Americans.
For the Rebels, a rental is not likely in the cards, but they sit eight points out of the final wild-card spot with two games in hand on Brandon, whom they play twice in January.
“Of course, teams are calling but we’re in the process of continuing to evaluate our team. We really like where our team is at,” Sutter said.
“All of our young guys are really starting to come, our older guys are starting to play well since the first of December as a group. Our team has really gelled, so there’s no urgency for us to do anything at all unless it’s something that makes sense and fits in with all our young players. “
The Rebels will host the Saskatoon Blades on Friday night at 7 p.m., then the Moose Jaw Warriors Saturday before departing on a week-long road trip next weekend.