When Red Deer Rebels GM/head coach Jesse Wallin decided to move a couple of players in late December, he naturally wanted a fair return.
Since neither of the soon-to-be-departed were of the star variety, Wallin was simply hoping to land a up-and-coming, solid blueliner who could develop with his young team. Two months later, he’s convinced he hit a home run with the acquisition of Devan Fafard.
“He’s just a solid guy who competes very, very hard,” Wallin said this week, in reference to the six-foot-one, 191-pound Fafard, whom the Rebels obtained — along with a seventh-round pick in this year’s bantam draft — from the Saskatoon Blades in exchange for defenceman Matt Pufahl and forward Locke Muller, both 18.
“We had a couple of guys we wanted to move out who weren’t fitting in, so it was about getting some return for them and he (Fafard) was a guy who was available,” Wallin continued. “We did a lot of research on him. We have a scout in Saskatoon, Chris Jacobson, who saw him play quite a bit and really liked him and he’s been everything we thought he was going to be — a real strong kid, a Saskatchewan boy who plays the game hard.”
The trade caught Fafard — a native of Carlye, Sask., who played his midget AAA hockey with the Yorkton Harvest — off guard. He was 23 games into his Western Hockey League rookie season and the notion of being moved never entered his mind.
“It was a bit of surprise at the time but it turned out for the best. Red Deer is a great organization and I’ve enjoyed my time here,” said Fafard, who will celebrate his 18th birthday in April and is eligible for this year’s NHL entry draft. “Making the move here was no big deal. Really, it’s been a smooth transition.”
Fafard sustained a concussion during the third week of January and missed 11 games before returning for the Rebels’ first game of a four-game B.C. Division road trip last week at Prince George.
“Yeah, the time I missed set me back a bit, but it’s been more of a conditioning thing. I’m just getting back into shape and trying to play my best,” he said.
Fafard notched his first-ever WHL goal in his third game back following the head injury — a 4-3 shootout loss to the Rockets at Kelowna.
“The draw was won and the puck came back to me at the point,” said Fafard, while describing the goal set up by Brooks Maxwell and Chad Robinson. “I just kind of let ‘er buck and it went through a screen and caught the top corner. It was pretty exciting.
“It took long enough, but I finally got my first goal. It was about time.”
The goal also represented Fafard’s first point as a Rebel and his third point of the season after he recorded two assists with the Blades. But then again, he’s not exactly a prototypical offensive defenceman — his first priority is taking care of his own end.
“I’m just a steady, stay-at-home guy and I try to contribute in any way that I can,” said Fafard. “That’s what the coaching staff wants from me . . . just to play a steady, all-around game . . . play hard every night and try to be a plus player.”
Fafard heads into tonight’s contest at Prince Albert — the first of a four-game East Division swing — at minus-13 overall in the plus/minus category through 36 games. But he’s an impressive plus-1 with the Rebels.
“He’s just a no-nonsense, tough customer,” said Wallin, who has appreciated Fafard’s contributions more and more as the season has progressed. “He brings some toughness, he’s a very good teammate and he’s just one of those guys who comes to the rink and shows up to do his job. He doesn’t complain about a whole lot and he’s brought us a solid presence.
“But for everything he’s brought this year, he’s just going to continue to develop and be a real good player over the next two three years.”
Indeed, the Blades’ eighth-round pick in the 2009 WHL draft is looking forward to growing with his new club.
And he, along with the other first-year Rebels, may be ahead of the developmental curve thanks to the extensive playing time they’ve received due to an inordinate number of injuries this season.
“One positive about these injuries is that a lot of the younger guys are getting a lot more ice time and experience,” said Fafard. “They’re getting put into situations that they normally would not be in their first year in the league.
“Personally, it’s a nice switch. It’s great to get a lot of ice time and play against some of the top players in the league.”