Newly acquired Red Deer Rebels defenceman Nicholas Andrusiak from the Portland Winterhawks on WHL trade deadline day. (File photo by Portland Winterhawks/Chris Mast)

Newly acquired Red Deer Rebels defenceman Nicholas Andrusiak from the Portland Winterhawks on WHL trade deadline day. (File photo by Portland Winterhawks/Chris Mast)

Red Deer Rebels add depth to defensive group on WHL trade deadline

Sutter likes his ability to skate and pass

The Red Deer Rebels had a relatively quiet Western Hockey League (WHL) trade deadline day but didn’t let the day pass without making a deal.

On Tuesday afternoon the Rebels traded their seventh-round pick in the 2024 WHL Prospects Draft to the Portland Winterhawks in exchange for 2004-born defenceman Nicholas Andrusiak.

Owner, president, and general manager Brent Sutter explained the move adds depth to their defensive group.

“You get into this part of the season down the stretch in the playoffs you’ve got to have the depth to go through the schedule,” he said.

“You never know what to expect with sickness, injuries, or whatever so you’ve got to make sure you have the bodies.”

The 18-year-old left-shooting defenceman from Tisdale, Sask. was signed by Portland in September of 2021 and has played two games this season with the Winterhawks.

He’s spent the last two seasons with the Melville Millionaires in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League and 20 games into the 2022-23 season he has a pair of goals and one assist for three points.

“We thought we needed to add somebody there that could make sense for us. Someone that could skate and move pucks, which he can do. He’s a strong kid so we love having to be taken to the bank on it,” Sutter added.

With a recent injury to defenceman Marek Schneider and defenceman Quentin Bourne out with sickness on their recent road trip to Saskatchewan the Rebels were down to just five defencemen. Sutter said they’re hoping to get Bourne back Wednesday night but Schneider will not return just yet.

Injuries have gotten the better of the Rebels lately with captain Jayden Grubbe suffering an injury in Prince Albert last weekend and goaltender Kyle Kelsey who hasn’t played since the first game back from the holiday break. Forward Dwayne Jean Jr. is also away attending to a family matter.

Despite spending most of the season in the SJHL, Andrusiak will play with the Rebels for the remainder of the season and will be in the lineup Wednesday night against the Moose Jaw Warriors.

“He can really skate and makes a good first pass. That’s what we were looking for on defence … He’s a really good teammate and he’ll be a good soldier in the dressing room,” Sutter said.

On the days leading up to and on trade deadline day teams such as the Seattle Thunderbirds and the Kamloops Blazers beefed up their roster to make a run at the Memorial Cup.

When asked if the Rebels have done enough to compete with those teams Sutter simply said there’s only one puck to play with.

“You’ve still got to play a structured team game and we like our team. We’re where we’re at because we’ve played well,” he said.

“If there was something that made sense that we could have made a deal, we would have done it but not at the point where we’re going to hurt our franchise moving forward.”

Ben King, who’s been out with a lower-body injury since Oct. 22, will be back in the lineup in 10 days according to Sutter.

“We’ve only had him for five games this year and hasn’t been in our lineup for quite some time. We’re excited about getting him back it’ll be a big boost for our group,” Sutter said.

With 30 games remaining, the Rebels are sitting comfortably on top of the Central Division, 10 points ahead of the second-place Calgary Hitmen.

Most recently the Rebels were swept on their two-game road swing in Saskatchewan against the P.A. Raiders and the Saskatoon Blades. This week Red Deer returned home and will take on the Moose Jaw Warriors Wednesday night and the Edmonton Oil Kings on Friday before heading to Lethbridge on Saturday.

“There are a lot of attributes to winning and having success. You need your big guys… but we need that group under them to take a step here too and to be better players for us. It pushes them all to be better and it also pushes the older guys,” Sutter said.

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