Red Deer Rebels forward Josh Tarzwell will be in his 20-year-old season for the Rebels and should be a big part of the offensive mix next season. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)

Red Deer Rebels forward Josh Tarzwell will be in his 20-year-old season for the Rebels and should be a big part of the offensive mix next season. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)

Red Deer Rebels hold plenty of optimism for 2020-21 WHL season

There’s still farm chores to do, even in these crazy times.

Red Deer Rebels owner, GM and head coach Brent Sutter is mostly doing would usually be doing these days, of course, with one eye on what’s happening around the world.

“Staying isolated. The farm is busy, got chores to do every day and still calving. That part’s been fine, just like everyone, it’s so different. It is what it is and we have to get ourselves through it,” he said.

While most of us spend our days worrying about what’s ahead, even if Sutter does too, he’s choosing to take a positive outlook on it all, hoping that we’ll all learn from this or be better for the isolation experience.

“As tough as it is going through this, things happen for a reason and I’m a big believer in that. Hopefully, something positive will come out of this,” he said in a phone interview from his farm on Wednesday.

That positive outlook also translates to his hockey club, with the obvious caveat that he’s still not sure when they’ll be able to get on the ice.

The club had one of their worst seasons in recent memory in 2019-20, finishing with a 24-33-3-3 record, even with five games being whipped off the WHL calendar.

With one of the youngest rosters in the WHL, and four years after hosting a Memorial Cup, the place they are in was somewhat expected. On a day-to-day basis last season, there were disappointments, but overall, Sutter saw progress, which is where the optimism largely stems.

“We know going in we have a bunch of really good young players that took some great strides this year and with our experienced guys, every year, expectations of every player rises,” Sutter said.

“We when met with all the players at the end of the season, it’s about expectations ride from us and from them, to take another step this coming season. I think we’ll be extremely competitive.”

Josh Tarzwell will be coming off a 32-goal campaign, the best of his career and should be a leader in his 20-year-old campaign.

Arshdeep Bains, who will be 19, is also coming off a career year with 51 points in 63 games and should be a huge factor for the Rebels as well.

Ben King, the NHL draft-eligible centre, has already played 117 WHL games and will still be 18 at the start of next season.

Sutter rates that deal, when he shipped out Jordan Borysiuk, Cohner Saleski and Parker Lalonde for King in November, as one of the best of the entire season. He views King as the prototypical centre and couldn’t help but enjoy hia poise in big moments and the ability to play in all situations.

“When Kinger came to us, it took him some time to adjust and adapt to things, just the way we play. From a coaching perspective, you had to pinch yourself sometimes,” Sutter said.

“You put him in every situation, killed penalties, played power play, played key minutes or the last minute of games. Really, really solid at what he did. At the end of the night, you were sitting there saying, he’s only 17 years old. It’s almost like he was a 19-year-old player.”

On the blueline, the Rebels will return everyone but veteran Ethan Sakowich, an encouraging sign. Trey Patterson, who played a handful of games last season looks ready to make the jump and there are a few others knocking at the door, like Jeremy Hancock, Jace Weir or Hunter Mayo when training camp arrives in the fall.

“Patterson came in and he was really impressive, he played extremely well as a 16-year-old. We have a couple of 16-year-old defencemen from last year’s draft, they both had outstanding seasons playing AAA midget,” Sutter said.

“They’re two kids right in the mix. Our backend is solid and we have a couple more kids on our list. We’ll just see how it all unfolds and how it goes.”

If there’s any area of uncertainty, it is in goal.

Sutter has almost never carried a 20-year-old goalie on his team. But with only Josh Tarzwell and Chris Douglas returning as 20-year-olds, the door is potentially open for Ethan Anders to be back next season as the third overage player.

Ideally, though, Sutter wants one of his netminders to play 45-50 games and the other to fill in the remaining 23-28 games. Last year, Anders and Byron Fancy basically split the net 50/50, playing 36 and 35 games respectively.

“We should be in a situation going into next season where our goaltending should be extremely solid. Where that goes, who knows? Can you keep a 19 and 20-year-old goalie happy?” Sutter said.

“The reality of it is, they’re both good goalies but it’s still out there which one can play 45-50 game-guy that can be a top guy in the league. We’re in a situation where we’re not just going to hand that to them. They have to earn that.”

The Rebels won’t get any help from the U.S. Prospect Draft until 2021-22, when first overall pick Graycn Sawchyn joins the fold. With the sixth overall pick in the 2020 WHL Bantam Draft, Red Deer will add another prospect to the deep mix of talent.

Beyond that, the only immediate help coming not via trade for Red Deer will be the 2020 CHL Import Draft in late June. Based on their winning percentage last season, Red Deer should have a high selection there and add an import piece, likely at forward.

Red Deer will have an uphill climb in the tough Central Division, but if it all breaks right, they could be in the hunt come playoff time next in 2021.



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Red Deer Rebels goalie Ethan Anders will likely be one of the team’s options in net when the puck drops on the 2020-21 season. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)

Red Deer Rebels goalie Ethan Anders will likely be one of the team’s options in net when the puck drops on the 2020-21 season. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)