U.S. pick gets a taste of the WHL

With his late-summer schedule pretty much settled, Nikolas Olsson decided now was the time to check out the quality of play at a Western Hockey League camp.

Nikolas Olsson cuts his hockey stick with the help of athletic therapist Terence Robertson at the Red Deer Rebels spring camp at the Arena Saturday.

With his late-summer schedule pretty much settled, Nikolas Olsson decided now was the time to check out the quality of play at a Western Hockey League camp.

The lanky forward from Escondido, Calif., plans to attend his cousin’s wedding in Sweden in late August, meaning the Red Deer Rebels’ ninth-round selection in this year’s WHL bantam draft will be unable to attend the club’s main camp.

“I wanted to come up here now and see what it’s all about,” Olsson said Saturday, following the second day of the Rebels’ spring camp at the Red Deer Arena for prospects 15 and 16 years of age. “It was tough out there. The (calibre) was similar to what I played last year (bantam AAA), but the players are bigger.”

Olsson caught the eye of Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin during a WHL prospects camp in Anaheim in April. However, after talking to scouts representing the Regina Pats, Portland Winter Hawks and Seattle Thunderbirds, the 15-year-old was somewhat surprised he was picked by Red Deer, 186th overall.

The five-foot-11, 157-pound winger admitted he’s intrigued by the notion of one day — possibly as early as next year — playing in the WHL, but he’s far from committed to competing at the major junior level.

“I could maybe play here, but I might take the college route. The NCAA is a possibility,” said Olsson, who has been short-listed for the U.S. national under-16 program. “This experience is definitely something I’ll be thinking about.”

Wallin likes Olsson’s size and his tendency to play a physical game.

“He’s already a big kid and he has a real edge to his game,” said the Rebels bench boss. “He also has very good hands and just a very high ability level. I thought he was probably the top kid at the WHL camp in Anaheim.

“Certainly, he competed very hard there. When he was stripped of the puck he was determined to get it back. I see him as a well-rounded, intelligent and skilled player, a big guy who should be able to handle the physical part of the game.”

Wallin suggested that Olsson looked more confident and relaxed in Anaheim than he did through the first two sessions of the Rebels spring camp.

“In Anaheim he was in his comfort zone, where he knew most of the players. This was all new for him so he was feeling his way around. Still, his talent level was very evident through the first two days here,” said Wallin. “I’ve certainly been very happy with him this weekend. He’s shown some signs of the player he can be, a guy we’d be excited to have.”

The Rebels spring camp concludes today with the final session set for 10:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m.

Contact Greg Meachem at gmeachem@bprda.wpengine.com

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