The Red Deer Rebels are hoping quantity over quality will be in their favour at the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft.
This season marks just the second time in the last 10 that they do not own a first-round pick, only missing out on the opening round in 2016.
Still, the Rebels own 10 picks on Thursday, including a pair of second-round selections that they hope to make good on.
Assistant GM Shaun Sutter finished his spring scouting tour Sunday at the Alberta Cup, the final stop of four bantam-age Western provincial tournaments designed to showcase eligible players one final time before the draft.
“At the end of the day, these kids are 14. It’s different for NHL scouts, evaluating 17 and 18-year-olds. You can talk to these kids and you’re not going to get a lot out of them. You get to know them by the way they play. Their personalities kind of match up with the way they play,” Sutter said.
“There are a lot of guys that can really mature and figure it out– can gain confidence and strength and all of a sudden they go from a mild-mannered guy to being a real competitive guy. That’s the fun of the bantam draft and it being a bit of a crapshoot. This is a year where there are a lot of guys in a big group.”
— Red Deer Rebels (@Rebelshockey) April 30, 2019
Red Deer does not own a first-round draft choice in 2019, after sending it to the Kootenay Ice (now the Winnipeg Ice) in a package to acquire Cam Hausinger and Brett Davis ahead of the trade deadline.
The Ice will pick first overall, as well as in the Rebels spot at nine. St. Albert native Matt Savoie, who was denied exceptional status by Hockey Canada and committed to the University of Denver in the NCAA, is expected to be the first overall selection.
Sutter noted that with it being a bit of a down year overall in terms of 2004-born players and a lot of the talent being relatively level, their two selections in the second round and one in the third should be able to address certain needs.
Those needs are hard to project, considering players from this draft can’t play in the WHL immediately and are likely two years away from having an impact on the roster.
That’s where Sutter and his scouting staff have to really work, trying to figure out how the puzzle pieces fit down the road. Typically, earlier on in the draft, teams tend to pick the best player available.
“Every year changes, I think this is the type of year that we might identify the things that you maybe want to live with and go with those,” Sutter said.
“With it being somewhat of a down year overall, compared to past years. At the end of the day, you still have to find players. Someone out of this age group is going to play, so you gotta go through that part.”
In 2018, the Rebels selected two players in the first round, both Alberta-born players. They took forward Jayden Grubbe seventh overall and defenceman Kyle Masters with the 16th pick.
In his first season at the Midget AAA level for the Calgary Buffaloes, Grubbe had four goals and 22 assists in 32 games. In the playoffs, he had six goals and nine points in 11 contests. The 16-year-old also added five points in seven games at the 2019 Telus Cup, the National Midget AAA Championship.
Central Albertans to get the call at WHL Draft
Even though the Rebels aren’t likely to make it into the first round, expect a good contingent of Central Alberta locals to hear their names called early.
Red Deer’s Nate Danielson, a five-foot-11, 147-pound right shot centre is projected to be picked in the first round. He is the younger brother of Noah Danielson, who was picked by the Medicine Hat Tigers in the fourth round, 87th overall in the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft.
2019 Alberta Cup All-Stars:
Forward: #14 Rieger Lorenz, Alberta Green
Forward: #18 Bowden Singleton, Alberta Green
Forward: #17 Liam Watkins, Alberta Red
— Hockey Alberta (@HockeyAlberta) April 29, 2019
Danielson had a good showing at the Alberta Cup along with nine of his Red Deer Bantam AAA Rebels teammates. Sutter thinks that showing bodes well for that group heading into the WHL Draft on Thursday.
“You really see these kids develop, not only as individuals but then really learn how to play as a team. They all get faster, their skills really seem to come to the forefront,” said Sutter of the Bantam AAA Rebels.
“I think Justin (Jarmolicz) has a pretty good future as a coach. That’s something you don’t see– there’s teams that win but don’t develop. They don’t get any better in the end. I think that is why you’ll see a lot (those) kids, whether they’re drafted or not move up and play junior hockey at some point, because of that base they’ve been provided with.”
Locals that could hear their names called include Forwards Nolan Larson, Ty Daneault, Nash Bamford and Tyler MacKenzie along with defencemen Avery Trotter, Kaiden Ellertson, Connor Claughton, Cole Fox and goalie Kaden Toussaint.
The WHL Bantam Draft is set for Thursday at the Cambridge Red Deer Hotel and Conference Centre, with the first selection by the Winnipeg ICE at 8:30 a.m. It is not open to the public, but hockey fans can follow along the live draft tacker at WHL.ca
The WHL Awards will also take place in Red Deer on Wednesday.