Darcy Kuemper is leaving behind some pretty big goalie skates to fill.
While the Red Deer Rebels are still high on prospect goalie Bolton Pouliot and last year’s back up Dawson Guhle showed well in the playoffs, there was little doubt they would be looking to the blue paint come Wednesday’s Canadian Hockey League Import Draft.
With their 59th pick in the first round of the draft the Rebels selected Czech goalie Patrik Bartosak.
“We’ll go into training camp and see what the guy brings. Hopefully he’s a guy that looks like he’s ready to go,” said Red Deer Rebels head coach and general manager Jesse Wallin. “We’ll see what he brings and we’ll go from there.”
Wallin added that he doesn’t expect the team to add another goalie to the battle for the starter’s spot before training camp which begins Aug. 28.
Kuemper led the Rebels to the second round of the playoffs with a record-breaking season in which he led the Western Hockey League with a 1.86 goals against average, a .933 save percentage and 13 shutouts to go with his 45-12-3-2 record. He was named the top goalie in the WHL and also collected league MVP honours.
Guhle meanwhile was 4-3-2-2 with a 3.87 GAA and a .863 save percentage while Pouliot was just 0-2-0-0 with a 3.32 G.A.A and a .857 save percentage in limited action.
This past season Bartosak had a stellar 25-12 record a 2.75 G.A.A. and a .914 save percentage with HC Vitkovice in the Czech U20 league.
He started the year with the club’s U18 team and in 13 games posted a 2.38 G.A.A. and .934 save percentage.
The native of Ostrava, Czech Republic is also on the Czech national team’s radar.
The biggest strength to his game reportedly is consistency.
“It’s a decent league (he played in) as far as European leagues are concerned, so he faced some pretty decent competition and they play a lot of international tournaments over there so he has some of that experience as well,” said Wallin. “He’s had decent numbers and from what I’m told he’s very consistent. he’s not a guy who’s up and down . . . he’s just very solid and consistent — a reliable guy who was always there for you night-in-and-night-out.”
Despite getting passed over in the NHL Entry Draft last week, he was definitely on a few team’s radars. In an event such as the import draft where CHL scouts, GMs and coaches have not seen most of the players drafted, Wallin leaned heavily on NHL personnel to help narrow down a suitable prospect.
“The NHL teams I talked to all had him on their draft list. Some of them had him ahead of guys that did get drafted,” said Wallin. “He didn’t end up getting drafted, but from the sounds of it, he’s a pretty good sized kid who is pretty reliable. The guys we’ve talked to sounded pretty confident that he could be a solid junior goalie and just a steady reliable guy that you know what you’re going to get.
“But you never know until you get him over here. There are so many factors, how they adjust and everything else. But for all the work you can do I feel very confident in what we got.”
Had the Rebels wanted to, they could have made a pick in the second round as well — CHL teams are allowed to carry two import players on their rosters — but they are expecting Sweden native John Persson to be back in training camp this fall. He was selected in the fifth round 124th overall by the New York Islanders on Saturday.
Persson took a huge step forward in his development last season with the Rebels, scoring 33 goals and 31 assists in 68 games, good enough for fourth on the team in scoring. In his first season with the Rebels he managed just seven goals and four assists in 62 games.
Wallin is hoping there is another gear yet to Persson’s game.
“He’s a guy who took a great step last year and hopefully he can continue to progress. You want him to keep moving forward.
“Much like (Andrej) Kudrna did last year, he put up pretty good numbers at 18 and took him to another level at 19. We’d like to see not just Johnny do that but a number of guys. That’s the evolution, you need your young guys to progress and take things to another level for you, and I think we’ve got a number of guys who can do that — Daulton Siwak and Colten Mayor and those types of guys that have been in the league for a couple of years now and heading into that 18-year-old season. We need all of those guys to continue to progress.”
• The WHL also released it’s schedule for the 2011-12 season.
The Rebels open their campaign Sept. 23 at home against the Kootenay Ice. The Rebels also host the Edmonton Oil Kings Sept. 25 before hitting the road for three games, beginning Sept. 30 in Saskatoon.
The Rebels’ busiest night during the season is Saturday, playing 13 times. They have 11 games on Friday, six on Wednesday, three on Tuesday, two on Sunday and one on Thursday Dec. 29.
The Rebels will be on the road for close to three weeks from Feb. 11 to March 2 as the Scotties Tournament of Hearts takes over the Centrium. The women’s national curling championship runs from Feb, 18-26.
“Overall I think we’re satisfied with it,” said Wallin. “There’s always a couple of things you don’t like but it’s not an easy process to pick games and get exactly what you wanted.
“It’s a little different than what we had the last couple of years. We normally do a road trip out to Saskatchewan in early October. We weren’t able to do that this year with the challenges in our building with our unavailable dates . . . and other teams lose their buildings at other times as well. A couple of different factors didn’t allow us to make that trip early in the year — you alter one week and it shifts different things throughout our schedule. Given the circumstances I think it turned out pretty well.”