11.Red Deer Rebels-The second round series of the 2015-2016 WHL Playoffs pitting the Rebels against the my hometown Regina Pats was easily some of the most exhilarating hockey I've had the pleasure of watching. Not since the 2006-2007 final that saw Medicine Hat take on Vancouver have I been so invested in a series but unfortunately for us in Regina, Red Deer prevailed in a tight knit seven games. The Rebel brand that Coach and General Manager Brent Sutter has implemented throughout his on and off stay was strayed away from while they were working their way to hosting the Memorial Cup Tournament.Historically, the pattern that has been followed is a rugged team that prides itself on a unrelenting forecheck but in this past Memorial Cup year they were a puck possession team and Brent Sutter specifically brought in players that fit that mold at the trade deadline. Some will argue with this opinion which I can respect but let's take a second to understand that Luke Philp isn't an overly physical player. I as well was wrongly under the premise that Philp favoured the heavy hitting game before he came to Red Deer but seeing him enough in the second half I slowly started to understand that the actual strength of Luke's game is, aside from being a premier penalty killer is to get infront of the net and wreak havoc for the goaltenders. Luke recurrently would engage in a cycle game and more times than not would shy away from the big hit to make certain the cycle created open space for the snipers like Michal Spacek and Jake DeBrusk at the hash. Ironically it was the player who nearly missed the entire campaign with a wrist injury that showed no fear taking opposing defenceman for a ride in Connor Bleackley. A fallacy heading into the season is that the Rebels are losing all of their expected contributors. Bleackley is gone as he's now signed with the St.Louis Blues, but aside from the overagers that have exhausted their junior eligibility and defenceman Haydn Fleury that's all from the crop that won't return to Red Deer. And yes, if you didn't notice that is me making the bold proclamation that Jake DeBrusk will return for another year. DeBrusk struggled last year. I equate it partially to adapting to a new environment but other than that, their are some deficiencies in his game that need correcting and although I classified him as a "sniper" earlier, an adjective I feel guilty about using, he really needs to uncover more of a complete game. I'll grant you he had a better Memorial Cup tournament but don't let the point per game pace in the playoffs fool you, he was invincible 95% of the time.
I saw Red Deer enough through the regular season to form enough strong opinions but the fact I was able to see them up close and personal substantiated some of my beliefs. First, let me lay the foundation for my thoughts towards Adam Musil. To ensure the proper groundwork is laid, I have ton share that I was very lukewarm with his brother David during his stint with the Vancouver Giants. He just like Adam was hyped about coming into this league and was essentially able to pick his own landing spot due to a loop hole in his declared residency(another blog post for another day). With the Giants, Musil didn't live up to the unfair pedestal he was put up to, From my viewings in the last year while a member of the Bakersfield Condors, his overall game has improved. A Musil will always come with some skating deficiencies but as he's matured he's been able to put his body to good use. It was the underwhelming advancements when David was being coached by legendary junior general Don Hay that left me skeptical when the name Adam popped up in WHL prospect circles. Not much vividness from how he performed in his rookie 2013-2014 season but the only thing I took away then was his lack of compete more than anything else. Transitioning from year two to last season for him was a ravishing change. His foot speed had come leaps and bounds to a point where he was assigned to take face offs against a lot of the top centers from across the league. From what I was reading as the 2015-2016 playoffs were commencing, a lot of our so called "insiders" were marvelling at Musil's faceoff acumen and back checking strength but to be fair to the player, his point production was a little more than half ass. Everytime I was privy to the Rebels a consistent observation I left with was that Musil and Evan Polei were there two best players. Statistics don't cement this opinion however sometimes a players worth goes well beyond the statistics and that's exactly the case with these two., Aside from the fact that the two impressed me personally and I'm not naive enough to know that's subjective but what maybe catches the eye more than anything is the chemistry these two have developed. They possess such corresponding skill sets. The way they skate to the way they forecheck, off the top of my head I can't single out any duo in the league that better compliments each other. You just know that Brent Sutter will have no problem lunging out these two in key situations. Primarily used as a third line shut down role a year ago, with the some of the key cogs from last year's Memorial Cup now gone, at the very least they'll lock down second line minutes with the outside possibility of them seeing top line time. An unfailing trait of this preview is to give attention to the more unheralded players. I enjoy doing this as it's one thing to share thoughts on a player that a million others already have, it's another thing to dig deep on the unsung heroes. A unsung hero on this club is somebody I thought was destined to be drafted but wasn't in Brandon Hagel. I think I've came up with the reason for why Brandon didn't have his name called to the podium, it's his leisurely approach to how he conducts himself on the ice. When he finds himself in an offensive situation as was often the case playing alongside Michal Spacek and Jake DeBrusk when the now departed Import Nikolishin was injured he looked good paired with the two future NHL'ers(how could you not) but it was his carelessness with the backcheck that likely shied some pendants away. I'm absolutely guilty of doing this personally and so are many others and that's we forgets these are kids. The Morinville product will turn eighteen in a few short days and I have to constantly remind myself of that because he lacks an overall maturity in his game. To improve this reputation amongst NHL scouts because I wholeheartedly he has professional potential he'll need to rely on Sutter who has been through the gamut in the show and knows how to instill work ethic in this players, I mean isn't a Sutter family trademark. Whether or not DeBrusk is returned, and it would clearly benefit Brandon if this happens he'll be handed an increased role granted he buys into the all around game philosophy that Sutter will hammer down and could very well play alongside the aforementioned Polei and Musil, wouldn't that be a fun line to watch! I need to see because I full well know he's capable at least a sixty point campaign out of him.
Is there a more imposing enigma in the Western Hockey League, specifically the Central Division then Colton Bobyk? If I was a General Manager heading into this season, Bobyk would be on my wish list, although it's not as if he's available, or I wouldn't imagine he would be anyway. Skeptics would tell you that there are more holes in his game then a Graham DeLaet putter but I'm willing to ignore the shortcomings to glamour over the striking strengths. He's an asset if for no other reason then his booming shot but what I saw was someone who took pride in using his shot as a decoy and often times would dump it off to Nelson Nogier or Josh Mahura. That's very important as when I reminisce over a players who are physically superior to their opposition, the usual outcome is they try to outdo their capabilities thinking they can push through everybody. Former Swift Current Bronco and Saskatoon Blade Davin Heintz was a good example of a player who tried to parlay his rambunctious style and just run through everybody and his statistical line suffered because of it. I bet you weren't expecting a Heintz reference in this posting but the reason for the inclusion is to provide an adverse example of what a player like Bobyk could've been and it's about time we shower respect his way as he's earned it. I'm always left fascinated on what a year after hosting the Memorial Cup looks like. Generally speaking there's enough holdover that the team remains competitive, it's the following year that major growing pains persist. Someone like Bobyk will benefit from this but so should newly selected Russian Alexander Alexeyev. Brent has been critical about some Europeans in recent memory so I'll take solace in knowing that if Brent was satisfied enough to merit a selection because there have been times, one year anyway when it was decided to go import-less when a spot was open that he has major junior calibre. Hypothetically, if he materializes he could be a three year Rebel with the late 1999 birthday and that could be a blessing or a curse. I know virtually nothing about Alexeyev so I'm not going to pretend that I do but the reason I brought him up was the age because as the roster is shaking out for 16/17, he could be the youngest commodity because my current projection has no 2000 born players this go around. Jacob Herauf will be in consideraion for a spot but something worth noting is that Sutter is very loyal at times almost to a fault but with many Rebels scaling back their roles at the betterment of the team Brent will want to reward those individuals were permanent spots. Herauf's time will come, just not sure how much ice in Red Deer he'll see this year,
Let's break this down..... Perhaps it's a reach predicting that Jake DeBrusk will get returned for his overage season as I suggested earlier in this entry but if that comes to fruition, an interesting dilemma will have been created. Bobyk, being a local product and all should be safe however with the lack of respect he gets, that's not a formality. Polei is a certainty so what this boils down to if all three come back where does that leave Rylan Toth? Trevor Martin is gone to Junior A, that's known but has Toth shown enough compounded by the fact that there a plethora of goaltenders on the market who could be construed as upgrades. This is likely a non starter as I'm sure I'm the only one on this planet that has Jake getting more junior seasoning but IF it does I would imagine Toth would be exiting Red Deer. #Sorrynotsorry when I say that I'm left disenchanted everytime I'm privy to Toth between the pipes. When scouting goaltenders if I haven't already made it clear enough I'll again endorse the viewpoint that statistics pay little dividends when assessing goalies, I look for the subtle idiosyncrasies that differentiate this rare brand apart, how do they recover after a goal against, do they get riled up easily? Questions like this are significant for determining if building around said goaltender is sustainable? Inconsistencies are why I'd move away from Rylan but I doubt they will.