Times, they are a-changing for the Red Deer Rebels.
The perianal playoff contender in the WHL has been on a slide of late and is in the midst of nine losses in its last 10 games.
But down the prospect pipeline, comes something that the club hasn’t had much of since they hosted the Memorial Cup in 2016 – hope.
The WHL Cup, which was a week-long tournament featured the top Under-16 players in Western Canada, was a prime example of what Rebels fans might be able to look forward to down the line.
“We were proud of all our guys,” said Rebels assistant GM Shaun Sutter.
Hunter Mayo was part of the Rebels prospect trio that helped Saskatchewan win its first WHL Cup in the latter days of October, along with Jhett Larson. Both had one assist in the gold medal win over Manitoba.
Mayo, 15, and Rebels earliest pick in the 2019 Bantam Draft had three goals in the tournament and drove the bus offensively for Saskatchewan in the tournament.
“Hunter is one of the top defencemen. He scored some big goals and played a shutdown role. Killing penalties against the oppositions’ best players. Was a guy they went to in clutch situations,” Sutter said.
“They’re not a team with a lot of stars, but collectively as a team, they worked and played hard and I think that’s why they won.”
Larson, 15, an eighth-round pick in the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft had a strong showing, recording a goal and four assists over five games.
“Jhett is basically functioning like a top two round player,” Sutter said of the five-foot-six, 141-pound forward.
“He outplayed a lot of guys that were drafted in the top two rounds. We were pretty happy with how he played. He’s kind of a throwback in terms of he’s got a real good skill-set and a good brain for the game. He’s just one of these guys that plays like he’s six-foot-four.”
Parker Lalonde, the Rebels sixth-round pick in that draft was the third Rebels prospect representing Saskatchewan. The forward has five points in 10 games with the Saskatoon Blazers in Midget AAA play this year.
“He thinks the game and has some skill, even though he’s 15 he’s playing with other good players on the Saskatoon Blazers, who have one of the top midget teams in Saskatchewan. We’re pretty happy with his development,” Sutter said.
The biggest surprise from the WHL Cup might have been Jace Weir, whom the Rebels selected in the second round of last year’s draft. He was a standout for B.C. in a bronze medal performance at the WHL Cup. He had a goal for B.C., but Sutter liked his play and said the 15-year-old has made big strides with the Okanagan Rockets of the B.C. Major Midget Hockey League.
“He’s a big riser in the age group. He was an assistant captain for Team B.C. and plays on one of the top midget teams (in B.C.). He’s playing a lot and playing really well,” Sutter said.
“We didn’t have a first-round pick but some of our guys, including Jace, the way they’re developing to this point, that’s not going to be a concern.”
Goalie Justen Maric stood out as well at the WHL Cup, suiting up for Alberta. What has been truly impressive about the 15-year-old is making the jump to Alberta Midget AAA Hockey League play. Few netminders at that age play Midget AAA and in four starts for the CAC Canadians, he has a 3.92 goals against average, along with a .896 save percentage.
“He had some good games and give his chance to win,” Sutter said of Maric at the WHL Cup.
“He’s one of two goalies in Alberta playing major midget, it’s hard to play midget triple-A as a 15-year-old, especially as a goalie. I think that’s a pretty big positive.”