The Red Deer Rebels coaching staff got a closer look Tuesday at two of the club’s prime prospects for the 2012-13 Western Hockey League season.
Defencemen Haydn Fleury and Kevin Pochuk were in uniform as the Rebels doubled the host Medicine Hat Tigers 6-3 and — by all accounts — looked right at home on the Red Deer blueline.
Rebels director of scouting/player development Randy Peterson confirmed that both midget AAA players are in the team’s plans for next season. Fleury, 15, is currently a member of the Notre Dame Argos, while 16-year-old Pochuk is with the Winnipeg Wild.
“Fleury has had a great year. He’s playing very well and he just keeps getting bigger and stronger,” said Peterson.
“He’s been a key player for his Notre Dame team, he’s playing more and more key minutes.”
The six-foot-one, 187-pound Fleury — the Rebels’ second-round pick in the 2011 WHL bantam draft — has shown an offensive touch with the Argos with six goals and 15 points in 31 games, to go along with 46 minutes in penalties.
“He’s definitely been a big contributor for his team,” said Peterson. “His physical play is picking up and the (two) games that he’s played with us (as an affiliate) have just brought his confidence level way up. He should have a good crack at making our lineup next season, for sure.”
Pochuk, taken in the fifth round of the 2010 bantam draft, has excelled offensively this winter and was a member of Team West for the recent World Under Challenge.
He’s the top-scoring defenceman in the Manitoba Midget AAA League with 56 points (16g,40a) in 38 games with the first-place Wild and sits sixth in overall league scoring.
The six-foot, 195-pound rearguard has also racked up 56 penalty minutes.
“He’s another kid who’s had a real good year and whose confidence level is up,” said Peterson.
“He’s gotten bigger, stronger and smarter. He’s playing for a very good team but he’s also probably the top D-man in that league.
“It looks very promising for both of these kids to be in Red Deer next season. We’re going to lose some guys (Justin Weller, Aaron Borejko and likely Alex Petrovic to graduation and the pro ranks) so they’ll have to be ready.”
Another 15-year-old who is basically a lock to earn full-time employment with the Rebels next winter is promising forward Conner Bleackley.
The High River product has appeared in five games with the big club this season and scored his first-ever WHL goal in a 4-2 win over the visiting Vancouver Giants last week.
Bleackley, a six-foot, 195-pound centre, has excelled with the UFA Bisons of the Alberta Midget League with 12 goals and 16 points in 23 games.
“Conner got off to a bit of a slow start and that’s sometimes common for 15-year-olds in that league,” said Peterson.
“Once he started to figure out that it was going to take a consistent effort game in and game out, he became a better player.
“Conner is starting to contribute a lot more (with the Bisons), he’s putting up more points and his compete level is more consistent. When he’s been up with us he hasn’t looked out of place.”
Other candidates for future employment (with age, current team and quotes from Peterson) include:
Scott Feser (16, Red Deer midget AAA Optimist Rebels)
“Scott will play in the (AMHL) all-star game (Sunday). What he brings to the table is his strong hockey sense and compete level. He’s also putting up some pretty good numbers (13-16-29 in 29 games) with a strong team in a strong league.”
Scott Ferguson (16, Red Deer midget AAA Optimist Rebels)
“Fergy has had a pretty good year. He’s going to have to have a strong camp to make our team next season but he’s knocking at the door, for sure.”
In 28 games, Ferguson has garnered 10 goals and 19 points.
Rod Southam (15, Saskatoon midget AAA Contacts)
“Rod got off to a slow start but he’s played some of his best hockey as of late. He’s a real smart kid with a solid compete level. Rod has got to get a little quicker but he thinks the game well.”
Southam has potted 10 goals and contributed seven assists in 36 games.
Chase Thudium (15, Red Deer minor midget AAA North Star Chiefs)
“Shaun (Rebels senior scout Sutter) just saw him recently and really likes his hockey sense and compete level. It looks like he’s going to have a good opportunity to play for us down the road.
“Maybe not next year, but the year after. He’s doing very well and we really like what he brings to the table.”
Thudium is ninth in South Division scoring with 22 goals and 34 points in 27 games.
Dexter Bricker (16, Swift Current midget AAA Legionnaires)
“Dexter plays with a lot of intensity and has been OK in the (three) games he has played with us.”
Bricker has scored four times and collected 15 points in 29 games.
Trace Elson (17, St. Albert midget AAA Raiders)
“He was with us during the preseason and was fine in the (one regular-season) WHL game he has played.”
Elson is 19th in AMHL scoring with 32 points (15-17) in 24 games.
Spencer Kryczka (16, Okotoks Oilers, AJHL)
“He’s playing third- and fourth-line minutes with his junior A team and for the most part has had a pretty good year at that level.”
Kryczka never attended the Rebels training camp last August, instead opting to keep his NCAA eligibility by joining the Oilers.
“But his family hasn’t ruled out the possibility of him coming to our team. He’s a big body and a kid who can play for us next season. We’ll just have to continue to work on him.”
Kryczka, six-foot-one and 185 pounds, has collected five goals, 11 points and 72 PIMs in 44 games.
Earl Webb (15, Calgary minor midget AAA Blackhawks)
“He’s a big power forward. We signed him out of camp and we think he can bring a physical presence to the team down the road.”
Webb has nine goals and 24 points in 26 games.
Grant Naherniak (15, Moose Jaw midget AAA Generals)
After a somewhat so-so start, the Moose Jaw native has rebounded nicely and own’s the SMAAAHL’s second-best goals-against mark of 2.20 and also boasts a .908 save percentage.
“Something that we talked with him about was game preparation . . . being ready right off the hop. In the early part of the season he would let in a soft goal here and there early in a game.
“That seems to have changed and it looks like he has more power in his movements. He’s been doing a lot of work that way and has really been playing consistently well.”
Matt Mitchell (16, Pursuit of Excellence, Kelowna)
“We listed him recently after Shaun (senior scout Sutter) and I watched him play at the World Schools tournament in Calgary. He’s a kid who was a small bantam but he’s now six-one and 175 pounds and we think he has a chance to push for a spot with our team.”
Mitchell has a 10-9-0-0 record with the POE midget 1 team.
Blake Weyrick (15, Shattuck St. Mary’s U16)
The Californian attended the Rebels spring prospects camp in Penhold last June. His statistics are unavailable.
Alex Orth (16, Fraser Valley major midget Bruins)
Orth is the No. 1 stopper with the Bruins. His statistics are not available,
Vukie Mpofu (15, Saskatoon midget AAA Contacts)
“For a 15-year-old D-man, he’s real smart, real steady and plays in all situations for the Contacts. We’d like to see more offence out of him but during the first of the season the coaches there really wanted to make sure he learned the team’s defensive systems.”
Mpofu has scored five goals and added 11 assists in 36 games this season.
Jake MacLachlan (15, Pursuit of Excellence, Kelowna)
“He’s a big, steady, stay-at-home guy who moves real well. We think he was a real good find for being a late (draft) pick. He needs to use his size a bit more but that will come as he gains more confidence.
“He and Haydn Fleury will provide us with two big bodies on the back end down the road.”
MacLachlan, six-foot-one and 180 pounds, has one goal and six points in 34 games with the POE midget 1 team.
Other listed skaters/goaltenders and college list players:
Forwards — Chase McMurphy (17, Calgary Mustangs AJHL; has committed to U of Alaska Fairbanks); Nikolas Olsson (17, U.S. Development Program); Brett Smythe (15, St. Albert minor midget AAA Flyers, second in North scoring with 19-26-45 in 25 games); Cole Chorney (15, Leduc minor midget AAA Oil Kings, 17-14-31 in 23 games); Anthony Orubor (15, Calgary minor midget AAA Blackhawks, 10-7-17 in 26 games); Lynnden Pastachak (15, Yorkton midget AAA Harvest, 13-15-28 in 36 games); Owen LeClaire (16, Beardy’s midget AAA Blackhawks, 12-12-24 in 36 games).
Defence — Davin Stener (17, Drumheller Dragons AJHL, has committed to U of Alaska Fairbanks); Tanner Reynolds (Calgary minor midget AAA Blazers, 3-6-9, 110 PIMs in 24 games); Matthew Benko (15, Edmonton minor midget AAA United Cycle, 1-12-13 in 26 games); Nick Seeler (18, Muskegon USHL, Minnesota Wild fifth-round NHL pick in 2011, committed to U of Nebraska-Omaha); Cole Nicholson (16, Lloydminster midget AAA Bobcats, stats unavailable).
Goaltenders — John Keeney (18, Muskegon USHL).