Time flies by like a rocket when you’re having fun.
And Alex Petrovic has enjoyed himself during his four-year career as a Red Deer Rebels top-flight defenceman.
“I remember talking to you when I was 15 at spring camp. It’s been a great ride and the time has obviously flown by very fast,” the Florida Panthers prime prospect said Thursday as he looked ahead to his final two WHL games — tonight against the visiting Lethbridge Hurricanes and Saturday versus the Edmonton Oil Kings, also at the Centrium.
“My billet family said the same thing and they said they’re going to miss me a lot. I just kind of have to enjoy my last weekend here, for sure.”
The six-foot-four, 200-pound rearguard came into the league as a 16-year-old and developed into the player the Rebels anticipated he would when they selected the Edmonton native in the second round of the 2007 WHL bantam draft.
The ever-emerging Petrovic was plucked by the Panthers in the second round of the 2010 NHL entry draft and signed with the club last April. He will join Florida’s AHL team, the San Antonio Rampage, on Tuesday.
“I know a bunch of guys there from (Florida’s) main camp. It’s going to be fun,” he said. “The guys are a lot smarter there and the game is a bit faster. I’m going to watch a game Tuesday and I’ll play my first game Thursday.”
But first he’ll appear in his final two games as a Rebel. Make that two emotional games, at least for his mother.
“That’s what my mom said. She’s going to be pretty emotional herself after watching me play here over the years,” said Petrovic.
“But it is what it is. That’s life and time goes on. You have to move on and I think I just have to enjoy this last weekend.”
Petrovic was quick to credit Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin and a handful of former and current teammates for aiding with his development.
“Cullen Morin was my defensive partner my first couple of years here. He taught me a lot. He was a great leader and he taught me some good on-ice habits,” said the 2010-11 Eastern Conference all-star, the winner of the Rebels top defenceman award each of the last two years and the hands-down favourite to make it three in a row this season.
“Cullen was always there for me, as were guys like Colin Archer and Justin Weller. Whether it be during a game or working out in the gym, I learned a lot from those guys.”
As for Wallin’s influence on the probable future NHL defenceman . . .
“Jesse has been an outstanding coach for myself and everyone else,” said Petrovic. “He taught me so much and I truly believe that I wouldn’t be in the situation that I am without him. I can say that from the bottom of my heart.”
Wallin was equally as complimentary when discussing Petrovic and his contributions to the Rebels since he joined the club full-time as a raw rookie in the fall of 2008.
“In my mind he’s right up there as one of, if not the best defenceman in the league,” said Wallin, who was promoted to head coach just prior to Petrovic’s rookie season.
“Petro played a number of games with us as a 15-year-old and when he came in at 16 he was an impact guy right away and just continually improved. He’s gone through some ups and downs as all young players do, but I think that last year he really come into his own and this season, especially, he’s been very good.”
Wallin sees Petrovic as pretty much the whole package.
“He’s a guy who can dictate the pace and the flow of the game with the way he controls things from the back end,” said the Rebels bench boss.
“He has a lot of attributes. He’s a big, strong guy who can play the game any way you want. He has some offensive ability, is very sound defensively and being a good skater, he’s strong on his feet.
“He also plays with an edge and he has pro player written all over him.”
As good as Petrovic has been on the ice, he’s been equally as easy to deal with off the ice, said Wallin, who added that the big blueliner has emerging leadership skills.
“He’s a tremendous kid and his leadership is something that is still developing,” said Wallin. “He definitely has the qualities and the personality to really become a solid leader at the next level.
“I feel he has the potential to be a leader at the pro level given the type of player he has the potential to turn into. That’s something that he’s still developing, but certainly he’s a tremendous young man and has a great future ahead of him. He’s a solid, character human being.”