Rebels look to build defence

After selecting forwards with their first two bantam draft picks in 2008 and taking up-front skaters with four of their previous top six picks over the last three years, the Red Deer Rebels are now looking to add some key back-end components.

After selecting forwards with their first two bantam draft picks in 2008 and taking up-front skaters with four of their previous top six picks over the last three years, the Red Deer Rebels are now looking to add some key back-end components.

“There are several top-end defencemen available this year. It’s a particularly good year for defencemen, so that might be timely for us,” Rebels vice-president of hockey operations Randy Peterson said Tuesday, looking ahead to Thursday’s Western Hockey League bantam draft in Edmonton.

“I guess you could say we’re kind of leaning that way, but we’ll have to see what goes ahead of us.”

The Rebels own the fourth overall pick in this year’s lottery and are admittedly high on rearguard Derrick Pouliot of Weyburn, Sask., who is ranked ninth overall by International Scouting Services (www.isshockey.com). Peterson and Rebels senior scout Dale McMullin will talk to team owner Brent Sutter today before settling in for the draft.

“We’ll give Brent our thoughts on how we can improve our team at the draft and which players might be available,” said Peterson. “Actually, there’s one young fellow who has recently crept in that elite group and that’s a good thing because we should get a top-end defenceman if that’s the way we decide to go.”

After Pouliot, who scored 25 goals and collected 63 points in 26 points with his Weyburn bantam team, Peterson also likes Morgan Rielly of Notre Dame (25-27-52 in 23 games) and Matt Dumba of Calgary (20-18-38, plus 96 minutes in penalties in 33 games). Dumba is ranked first overall by International Scouting Services, with Rielly ranked fourth.

“Rielly is another good offensive defenceman and Matt Dumba is a kid who has really stepped up,” said Peterson. “He offers something that the other two (Pouliot and Rielly) do not. He can run a power play, but he also provides a physical presence.”

At six-foot-four, West Vancouver product Griffin Reinhart, the son of former NHL rearguard Paul Reinhart, is also an appealing prospect, while five-foot-10, 180-pound Josh Smith of Lacombe, who played with the Red Deer Rebels Black this season, is ranked seventh overall by ISS.

“Josh Smith plays a physical game and shoots the puck like a pro. He’s tough to play against,” said Peterson.

The third-ranked ISS defenceman and fifth overall is Nicolas Walters of St. Albert (4-24-28 in 32 games).

“He’s very mobile and moves the puck really well,” said Peterson.

One of the more intriguing blueline prospects is six-foot-two, 170-pound Seth Jones of Dallas, Tex., the 10-ranked prospect by ISS and the son of former NBA player Popeye Jones. It’s unlikely, however, that Jones will find his way onto the Rebels’ protected list.

“We’ve talked to him and it’s 50-50 whether he will come to the WHL (or take the U.S. college route),” said Peterson. “He won’t sign a (WHL education) contract so I don’t think we want to go there based on that. But he’s definitely in that top-five to top-10 group.”

Dane Phaneuf of Edmonton, the brother of former Rebel and current Calgary Flame Dion Phaneuf, is ranked 16th by International Scouting and likely won’t be available when the Rebels pick in the second round.

“He can shoot the puck and run the power play, plus he plays a solid, defensive game. But based on his body-type, he doesn’t look like he’ll be another Dion,” said Peterson.

The Rebels of course, are not fully committed to taking a defenceman with their first selection. If they decide to nab a forward, they could get any one of Mike Winther of Trochu, who had 40 goals and 63 points in 32 games with the Airdrie Xtreme, Connor Rankin of Vancouver and Tayler Balog of Weyburn. Rankin, Winther and Balog are ranked second, third and sixth overall by ISS for Thursday’s draft.

“Rankin is a talented kid with good size, and he’ll definitely be in that first-round mix,” said Peterson. “Balog’s stock dropped off a bit at the Western Canada championship (hosted by the Weyburn Wings), but he’s a big power guy and he won’t fall too far.”

Winther, then, might have the most appeal to the Rebels, although he didn’t excel as a member of the Central Thrashers during last weekend’s Alberta Cup tournament for graduating bantams.

“The Central team had a good defence but a weaker group of forwards and I think that affected him to a certain degree,” said Peterson. “We’re trying to blank that out because he’s

definitely a kid who has top-end speed and can shoot the puck like a pro. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s somewhat of a local (product).”

Winther was the top scorer while leading his Airdrie team to the Western Canada title in Weyburn, where Pouliot was selected as the top defenceman in the tournament.

Other Central Albertans likely to be drafted Thursday include forwards Brady Bakke of Red Deer and Zane Jones of Olds.

The Rebels will pick in every round expect for the third, due to a 2007 trade with Brandon that netted overage defenceman Mark Louis. Red Deer has two picks in each of the sixth and seventh rounds due to past deals.

The Rebels can draft beyond the seventh round, but will first have to delete an appropriate number of players from their protected list.

Just notes: The Calgary Hitmen will host the Kelowna Rockets in the opening game of the WHL championship series Friday. The best-of-seven set will be televised by Shaw . . . Dean Clark has signed a five-year contract as the Prince George Cougars new head coach. Clark, a former bench boss with the Calgary Hitmen, Brandon Wheat Kings and Kamloops Blazers, succeeds Wade Klippenstein, who took over on an interim basis on Dec. 1 when Drew Schoneck was fired. Klippenstein remains with the team as an assistant GM. Clark’s overall WHL coaching record is 382-253-61. Clark, 45, is the Cougars’ ninth head coach since the franchise relocated to Prince George from Victoria in 1994 . . . Former Seattle Thunderbirds/Tri-City Americans forward Ladislav Scurko has reportedly confessed to killing a hockey referee in his native country of Slovakia. The news has stunned one of his former Seattle teammates, Chris Durand, now a centre with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies. “It’s unbelievable,” Durand told Saskatoon StarPhoenix sports writer Cory Wolfe. “When I played with him in Seattle, he was a great guy — a stand-up guy. It’s completely shocking to hear the rumours. He was one of the Europeans who came over and fit into North American culture with no trouble. I’m pretty blown back by it.” Scurko, 23, is accused of stabbing 26-year-old Marek Liptaj multiple times at a highway service area and then burying him in a forest. Liptaj’s body was discovered in December.

Contact Greg Meachem at gmeachem@bprda.wpengine.com

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