Top Rebels go prospecting

Jesse Wallin speaks from experience when he suggests that Red Deer Rebels defenceman Alex Petrovic should relish the opportunity to participate in today’s CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Windsor, Ont.

Jesse Wallin speaks from experience when he suggests that Red Deer Rebels defenceman Alex Petrovic should relish the opportunity to participate in today’s CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Windsor, Ont.

The Rebels head coach and former team captain, along with Red Deer teammates Lance Ward and Jon Zukiwsky, played in the inaugural Top Prospects Game at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens in 1996. Wallin and Ward were selected in the first round of that year’s NHL entry draft — by Detroit and New Jersey, respectively — and Zukiwsky was picked by St. Louis in the fourth round.

“None of us knew what to expect going in there,” Wallin said Tuesday. “It was all new to everybody and it turned out to be a lot of fun. For me, it was the first opportunity to see and meet with guys from across the country.

“Some of these guys you’d heard about, and now you got to meet them and play with them, so that was kind of a neat experience. The world was a little smaller place back then than it is now.”

Petrovic will suit up with Don Cherry’s side in tonight’s showcase of the top North American players eligible for June’s NHL entry draft.

Among his Team Cherry teammates are Windsor Spitfires forward Taylor Hall and defenceman Cam Fowler, the first- and third-ranked skaters in the mid-season Central Scouting rankings.

Bobby Orr’s team features Edmonton Oil Kings defenceman Mark Pysyk and was to include Prince George Cougars forward Brett Connolly, the top-ranked Western Hockey League skater and Central Scouting’s No. 4 player overall who is still hampered by a hip problem.

Also skating with Team Orr will be the second-ranked Central Scouting skater — forward Tyler Sequin of the Plymouth Whalers.

Wallin suggested that Petrovic should be able to use the experience as an evaluation tool. “It’s an opportunity for him to get out on the ice with all these other top prospects and kind of see for himself where he fits in,” said Wallin. “Hopefully he can use that to come back and propel himself to a strong last third of the season.”

Meanwhile, with defenceman Nick Bell set to return to the lineup for Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. WHL meeting with the visiting Moose Jaw Warriors, the Rebels’ injury list consists of just one player — overage centre Nathan Green, who has been out since late October with a leg fracture and likely won’t be back in uniform until early March.

Bell has missed 34 games with a severe ankle injury and his presence will force the coaching staff to shuffle the roster even more than was the case during the club’s B.C. Division road trip last week.

“We hadn’t had an opportunity to make lineup decisions based on performance in a while,” said Wallin, in reference to the team’s ongoing injury woes. “We were able to do that on the road trip and hopefully that’s going to continue to push some guys here.”

The Rebels bench boss considered using Bell on the four-game B.C. jaunt, but decided to wait another week.

“He likely could have played on the road trip but we were in the situation where we didn’t want to rush him,” said Wallin.

“We had six healthy (defencemen) and we want him to be feeling confident when he returns, not only regarding his injury but his conditioning and his play. We’ll get him into a few more practices this weeks and have him ready to go on Saturday.”

Netminder Darcy Kuemper, who suffered a groin injury last Saturday at Kelowna and didn’t dress for Sunday’s contest at Chilliwack, will practise today and will likely start against the Warriors.

• The Rebels will engage a group of atom players in a pond hockey game Thursday at 6:45 p.m. at the West Park community rink.