There was a time, not so long ago, when the Red Deer Rebels were convinced that bigger was better.
Clearly, they’ve changed their approach when it comes to the Western Hockey League bantam draft, at least somewhat.
The Rebels selected two relatively small forwards in Thursday’s draft at Calgary, taking five-foot-seven, 132-pound Mason McCarty of Blackie in the fourth round — 69th overall — and five-foot-five, 120-pound Brayden Burke of Edmonton in the seventh (145th).
McCarty was by far the best forward on a weak Okotoks Oilers major bantam team in 2011-12, scoring 22 of the team’s 78 goals and adding 17 assists for 39 points despite missing 10 games due to injury. He also racked up 60 minutes in penalties and impressed the Rebels’ scouting staff at the recent Alberta Cup in Lethbridge, where he had three goals and four points in five game.
“There are a lot of similarities to (current Rebels forward) Joel Hamilton, but we feel Mason is more skilled and as we all know Joel is a very good player,” said Rebels senior scout Shaun Sutter.
“He can be dynamic, he can beat guys one on one, and although he’s smaller in stature he plays big and hits to hurt. Mason is a close friend and former linemate of (Rebels 2011 first-round pick) Conner Bleackley and we feel he’s a player who really complements a lot of our younger forwards.”
Burke, meanwhile, finished fifth overall in Alberta Major Bantam League scoring, putting up 63 points (23-40) in 32 games with the Edmonton Canadian Athletic Club.
“He’s a small guy but he has real good skill and hockey sense,” said Sutter.
“He plays bigger than his size and he’s one of the most competitive players in his entire age group.
“Brayden is a playmaker and a guy who we felt was definitely worth taking as a small player. You see these (smaller) players running around in Tri-City getting a bunch of points, and also to the north of us with the Edmonton Oil Kings. If Brayden can get to five-nine that would be great, but he was definitely worth taking a chance on because he’s proven everyone wrong every step of the way.”
The Rebels went big with their third-round pick, taking six-foot-two defenceman Austin Strand of Calgary 48th overall.
Strand put up five goals and 20 points — along with 78 penalty minutes — in 33 games with the Calgary Northstar Sabres.
“He’s a towering defenceman and his opponents know when he’s on the ice,” said Sutter. “He’s feared and he’s in your face. He plays an aggressive game and makes a good first pass.
“I wouldn’t classify him as a skilled defenceman, but he does have the ability to get pucks to the net. He’s a good all-around defenceman. He can work on his skating, although that has improved quite a bit through the year.”
The remaining Red Deer picks (with 2011-12 bantam team, size, stats and analysis quotes):
Grayson Pawlenchuk, fourth round, 74th overall; Sherwood Park Flyers; 5-8, 150; 20-15-35 in 32 games.
“He has great hockey sense, good hands and touch and can make plays. He plays honest all the time. He has real good upside and we project him to be over six feet. He’ll be tough to handle as he grows.” — Sutter.
Meyer Nell, fifth round, 96th overall; Boissevain, Man.; 5-8, 155; 19-18-37 in 33 games.
“We had him ranked higher than this. He’s very similar to Pawlenchuk and compares to former WHL player Brad Twordik. He plays a good two-way game and has an accurate shot and good hockey sense. We really like him.” — Peterson.
Alexander Winters, sixth round, 118th overall; Kamloops; 6-0, 163; 14-21-35 in 44 games.
“He’s a guy that I myself compare to (former WHLer) Derek Claffey from Red Deer. He has real good feet and a real high character, he’s a player who punishes opponents and in the last couple of minutes of a game it’s not uncommon to see him throwing his body in front of shots. To say we were pleased to get him where we did is basically an understatement.” — Sutter.
Bo Hanson, seventh round, 140th overall; Phoenix Firebirds (USA); 5-11, 148; 2-3-5 in nine games.
“His familiarity with the WHL is not the same as for a kid from western Canada, but he and his family really want to come to our spring camp and also to main camp to see where he fits and how things work here. He’s a player we can get and we feel he can be a top-four defenceman for us. He’s big and skilled and we’re hoping he can be Justin Weller with more offence. If he was from western Canada he would have been a top-three round pick.” — Sutter.
Daniel Nault, eighth round, 162nd overall; Okanagan Hockey Academy; 5-11, 170; 23-50-73 in 63 games.
“It’s funny because we targeted a very small group of forwards before the draft, about 10 players that we thought we wanted to get. We ended up getting a lot of those players and he’s one of those guys. We had him rated pretty high. He’s a kid who really improved over the second half of the season. He has good size and a good hockey sense, he just brings a lot to the table. Some people think these late-round picks are just long shots or projects, but he’s a guy we feel will play in the WHL and we’re very excited to get him where we did. We feel he has a bright future as a skilled power forward.” — Sutter.
(See the WHL website at whl.ca for entire draft results)