Red Deer Rebels head coach/vice-president of hockey operations Jesse Wallin went into Tuesday’s CHL import draft with cautious optimism and 12 hours later still wasn’t exactly sure if either of the club’s two selections will make a significant contribution.
The Rebels were slated to pick 14th overall, but dealt that selection to the Brandon Wheat Kings in return for 20-year-old winger Nathan Green, who notched a total of 31 goals last season, as well as the Wheaties’ first-round pick.
With the 41st selection overall, which was secured by Brandon in an earlier deal with Medicine Hat, Red Deer took six-foot-two, 188-pound Swedish forward John Persson, who turned 17 on May 18. Nine hours later, with their second pick, 69th overall, the Rebels snared defenceman Jindra Barak, a six-foot, 195-pound 17-year-old who last season played with Slavia Praha in the Czech Republic.
“We don’t really know a lot about either one of them,” Wallin said on Wednesday, confirming that whatever information he received came from agents and scouts.
“From what we’ve been told the Swedish kid is supposedly a pretty good player, a skilled forward with decent size. Apparently, he’s not a typical European. He’s a guy who plays fairly gritty. He can score but he gets his goals by getting to the net and into those dirty areas. He’s supposed to be a pretty decent player.”
As for Barak, who will celebrate his 18th birthday on Oct. 2 . . .
“The reports on him have varied a bit,” said Wallin. “There are people who say he can be a third or fourth defenceman right down to whether or not he can play here at all. When you’re picking late like that, you take what you can get and we felt that he was the best guy out there with the information that we had. Hopefully he can come in an be a good player for us.”
With many of the top-end junior-age Europeans preferring to stay at home these days, the expectations of hitting a home run in the import draft were low, at least for the Rebels.
“You’re kind of into a different level of player in this draft, players who don’t get seen as much (as the higher-end prospects),” said Wallin. “A lot of 17-year-olds were picked in this year’s import draft and a lot of those guys aren’t on the NHL radar yet, so some of the scouts haven’t seen them. As a result, you’re relying on people you trust to get you good information that you can go on. From what we’ve been told, we think we have two pretty good players and our understanding is that both of them will be coming over for sure.”
The Rebels certainly know that they have a productive player in the six-foot, 180-pound Green, who last winter potted 24 goals and collected 59 points in 72 regular-season games with the Wheat Kings, and produced another seven goals and 14 points in 12 post-season contests.
The Winnipeg native will provide the Rebels with maturity and a scoring touch.
“I thought we really addressed a need yesterday by adding a guy who’s going to come in and play in our top six,” said Wallin. “ He’ll play with either (Landon) Ferraro or (incoming phenom Ryan) Nugent-Hopkins, or at least that’s the plan.
“Nathan will provide some experience and leadership and he has the skill needed to play with top-end guys. He’s improved every year he’s been in the league (starting in ‘06-07) and he’s a real solid person and a solid hockey player who we think will be a 70- to 75-point guy for us. This acquisition helps us in an area we really wanted to upgrade, and that’s our skill level.”
Wallin spoke to Green on Tuesday and got positive feedback.
“Obviously, it’s a lot for him to digest. Being a Winnipeg kid who played three years in Brandon, he was disappointed about being traded,” said Wallin. “He’ll need a couple of days to digest it all, but I think he’s excited to be a Red Deer Rebel.
“We talked about the organization and I think he’s excited about where we anticipate the team is heading. He understood the situation in Brandon, where they had too many 20-year-olds and decisions were going to be made on a couple of them. He knew there was a possibility he could be traded.”
Barring one or more off-season deals, Green will be one of five overage players checking into the Rebels camp, joining defenceman Cullen Morin and forward Jordie Deagle, Cody Esposito and Cody Gross.
“So we’ll have a decision or two to make as well,” said Wallin.
• NOTES: With the first-round selection they received from the Rebels, the Wheat Kings chose Finnish forward Toni Rajala, a fourth-round selection of the Edmonton Oilers in last weekend’s NHL entry draft. The Portland Winter Hawks had the second overall pick in the import draft, after Saint John of the QMJHL, and took Swiss forward Nino Niederreiter . . . The Lethbridge Hurricanes named former Calgary Flames assistant coach Rich Preston as their new general manager/head coach on Tuesday. A former WHL and NHL player, Preston was an assistant coach with the Chicago Blackhawks for four seasons before signing on as the Regina Pats bench boss in 1995. He spent the last 11 years with the Flames.