The 16-year-olds who stood out in June will have to repeat the performance in August and September if they harbour hopes of earning regular employment with the Red Deer Rebels next season.
But based on what transpired during the Rebels spring camp that concluded Sunday at the Red Deer Arena, there is no shortage of serious prospects for the Western Hockey League’s main camp in late August.
“Overall, in terms of speed and skill I thought it was the best (spring) camp we’ve had in the four years we’ve been doing this. I think we’ve got some good kids coming up through the system now,” said Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin. “We had some good quality kids here this weekend. It was exciting to see.”
The crop of forwards, led by 16-year-olds Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Daulton Siwak, was particularly impressive. Come fall, the Rebels’ first- and second-round picks in the 2008 WHL bantam draft will grab two of the three or possibly four available berths up front, and the other spot(s) could be filled by the likes of Tyson Ness and/or Colten Mayor.
Wallin liked what he saw in Ness, a 2008 bantam draft pick, and the six-foot Mayor, a listed played from St. Albert.
“They are guys who can challenge next season. They’ll probably be here when they’re 17, but I think they can push for spots this fall,” said Wallin. “Ness looked very good and has a real solid chance to play here, and Colten is a big guy with good hands and good vision. But really, there wasn’t anybody here this weekend that I was disappointed with.”
While the forwards were flying and scoring with almost alarming regularity during the four-on-four drills, very few of the defencemen showed that they are close to becoming WHL regulars.
Possibly the best of the rearguards was Calgary native Mathew Dumba, the club’s first pick — fourth overall — in this year’s bantam draft and a player who’s not eligible to wear a Rebels jersey full-time until 2010. But Matt Pufahl, 16, of Saskatoon was close behind, and therefore will be in the running to fill one of the two available berths on the Red Deer blue-line.
“Pufahl really improved over the course of a season. He looked like he’s come a long way,” said Wallin. “He has the size (six-foot, 168 pounds) to play here, his skating has improved a lot and he moves the puck well.
“He has some plans this summer that will help him continue to improve. What they do over the course of the summer to improve their game — whether it be skating, shooting, puck-handling, all those things — is going to be really important for all of these guys. How much they have improved will be evident come August.”
Of the three goaltenders in camp, Wallin was most impressed with Red Deer product Brenden Mandrusiak, who was joined by fellow 16-year-old Zach Rakochy of Canora, Sask., and Boulton Pouliot of Calgary, 15.
“Brenden played well today. He stood out,” said the Rebels coach. “I like the way he competes. He works hard and he want to be a goaltender.”
Rebels president and owner Brent Sutter is anxious to see how the 15- and 16-year-old prospects evolve as players over the next season or two.
“It’s intriguing and over a period of time this group of players will sort themselves out,” he said. “There’s a lot of players here who have the potential to play at this level. How they develop over the next couple of years will tell the story.
“We have a very deep group of forwards and that’s an area in which we really wanted to continue to improve. In saying that, there were also some good defencemen on the ice this weekend, but clearly the strength was up front.”
Contact Greg Meachem at firstname.lastname@example.org