Rebels pick pair of forwards in CHL Import Draft

Both players expected to report to training camp at the end of August

The Red Deer Rebels made the most of the CHL import player rules on Thursday and drafted two forwards.

Red Deer made a pair of selections in the import draft, picking Russian forward Oleg Zaitsev in the 17th spot and Ivan Drozdov of Belarus at 77.

The reason the Rebels were able to select two players, was largely due to defenceman Alex Alexeyev being selected in the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft.

Since Alexeyev was picked 31st overall by the Washington Capitals, the Rebels were allowed a supplemental pick in the import draft. When the Russian defenceman was chosen by Washington, he was transferred to the NHL Reserve list. If Alexeyev returns to Red Deer in the 2018-2019 season, Red Deer is given a small window to sort out which two import players they intend to keep. CHL teams are only permitted two import players on their roster.

With forward Kristian Reichel being on the 20-year-old import list, the Rebels were also allowed a selection in the Import Draft.

Zaitsev is a 17-year-old forward who played last season in the Russian Junior League with MHK Dynamo Moskva. The 6-1, 185-pound playmaking centre had a solid season, in 48 games registered eight goals and 19 assists. His big showcase came in the World U17 Hockey Challenge, where he put up five points in five games.

“He’s a top end player in his age group. Big centreman who moves well. Smart, really thinks the game well,” said Rebels assistant GM Shaun Sutter.

“Really anticipates the play well with and without the puck. He’s not only a good offensive player but a good penalty killer. Can score and make plays. He’ll be coveted for the upcoming NHL Draft.”

Drozdov is a 1999-born right winger that played for Yunost Minsk last year. He also had a decent showing at the World Junior Hockey Championships, when he scored twice and added an assist in six games. Sutter expects him to suit up for Belarus again this year at the world juniors.

The 18-year-old, who turns 19 in November, is listed at six-foot, 174-pounds.

“He’s not the tallest or biggest guy, but he’s a gritty guy that plays with a lot of energy and tenacity. Has some skill and can shoot. Pretty good player,” Sutter added.

“It gives us some coverage on Alex because you never know when you get NHL players picked, when they could come back or will they come back.”

The two selections will help bolster a forward group that had 38-goal scorer Mason McCarty age out.

Without Reichel who notched 34 tallies, and last year’s captain Grayson Pawlenchuk who scored 18 goals, the Rebels need to replace some of that scoring. Sutter thought they at least accomplished some of that on Thursday.

“We were targeting the best player, but ideally, we target a centreman that can play with our other top forwards and make our team better. No different than when we drafted Kristian Reichel last year,” he said.

The Rebels expect both players to be in Red Deer for training camp at the end of August.

Email sports tips to Byron Hackett

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