Red Deer Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter was borderline giddy after three days of watching the teams top prospects in Penhold.
That’s saying a lot for the usually stoic, longtime hockey man. But Sunday, he gushed about the ability he saw from the 27 players that Red Deer brought in for their annual prospect camp, which also serves as a orientation for the young players to learn what the team is all about.
“I thought the camp went really well. It’s arguably our best camp we’ve had,” Sutter said.
“There’s a lot of talented young players out here. Lots of skill, good size and guys that aren’t quiet as big but are tremendously gifted, like our first two picks in this year’s draft. They stand out in their own way.”
In the hours following the final ice time Sunday, Sutter went to work securing the future of several talented players at the camp, including 2017 WHL Bantam Draft first round selection Ethan Rowland and third rounder Jordan Borysiuk.
Proud to have signed with such a great organization in Red Deer! pic.twitter.com/5Z2gNVs4Rn
— Jordan Borysiuk (@J_borysiuk) June 5, 2017
— Ethan Rowland (@ethanrowland158) June 4, 2017
“We have a lot of speed out here which is very intriguing to me and a lot of hockey sense. You can see it,” Sutter said.
“It’s a little bit of everything. Young players need to work on everything in their game. These kids are all pretty committed and dedicated young men. It’s always exciting come fall time to see where they’re at again.”
While Sutter was impressed with the talent in the first-year crop, he also pointed to the growth of the returning players and the potential they have considering how far they’ve come since last year.
“I was impressed with each and every one of them. Just seeing the growth of these kids. For the kids that were here last year to where they are now is night and day,” Sutter added.
“It’s really good for me personally to see all these players for the first time, the ones that were drafted this year, to see where they’re at. Now you can visualize where they’re going to be come fall camp.”
One of those players is Nic Draffin, a six-foot-two, 198-pound defenceman, who joined the Rebels late in the season last year, but never dressed for a game. The 16-year-old said speed has been a big focus from last summer to now, and he hopes to keep improving that heading into fall camp.
“I’ve worked a lot on my mental side. Just getting ready for games and moving the puck a lot faster. My game has gotten a lot faster since last year and also my physical side. I’ve tried to lose some weight, just get thinner and be ready for the ice and the quicker pace,” Draffin said.
Draffin added as one of the older players at orientation camp, he tried to take on a leadership role, passing on his experience to the newcomers.
“Trying to be a leader out there and showing the younger guys how to relax and play out there. Just be a part of the team and have a little fun,” he noted.
That role will be reversed come fall, when the 16-year-old is among the younger players at training camp, but even with that experience on the horizon, he expects to embrace what he knows best.
“Try not to go out of my role. Just be a part of what I am,” he said. “Doing what I do as a good two-way defenceman. Making quick first pass and being that go to guy that cane be a big part of the game.”
Sutter even said the difference in the players from day one to three was noticeable, he believes that’s a testament to their comfort level on the ice and with the organization, something that he hopes will extend to fall camp.
“This camp has always been a very good camp,” Sutter said.
”From an organizational standpoint… I know for the parents it’s very informative for them too. The kids, it’s great for them in the situation where they can get to know each other then when they come back to fall camp they’re not so uptight… That’s another thing that’s important, allow the kids to come to camp and be at their best.”