Tuesday, August 29, 2017

2017-2018 Western Hockey League Preview(Team 9)

9.Red Deer Rebels: Huge props go out to Owner/General Manager/Coach Brent Sutter for adequately restocking the shelves so soon after making a serious push as host team at the 2015 Memorial Cup. Brent wears a lot of hats within the organization and knew what the mandate was as that 2015/2016 campaign pushed forward, stockpile as many assets as possible without keeping a watchful eye on the future. We're going to see more of the same this year out of Regina, the May of 2018 hosts of the Canadian Hockey League championship but where I must give Brent full marks is restoring relevance for this franchise in such short order. Naturally last year was a rollercoaster as the team had limited resources to choose from but when I project this year's edition any acquisition that was completed for that special season bares no real consequence when addressing the depth of the Rebels.Not rushing players who were fringe on reaching the league and shrewd trades has meant that there's no doubt in my mind that Red Deer will prove to be competitive and we're arising to the point in these rankings where the number nine rated Rebs are in the darkhorse classification. A few timely bounces go their way and a spot in the Conference final is an attainable goal.

Two years ago, the reputation this organization had developed was one of truculence. They were big, difficult to play against and didn't take any short cuts. Two of my favourite Western Hockey League players over the last decade were Adam Musil and Evan Polei. As this league and hockey in general is evolutionzing into a speed and skill game, Musil and Polei were throwbacks and bucked that trend. For nostalgic reasons and it's easy to ascertain judging from the title of this blog that  I was/am a huge fan of the Mighty Ducks trilogy everytime I witnessed Adam and Evan step out on the ice I immediately reminisced. the infamous Bash Brothers. From all accounts both Evan and Adam displayed exemplary leadership on the ice and if you were on the fence as to whether that was true, the awarding of captaincy for the 2016/2017 to the big #25 Musil should cement that thought. They were always the spark, when they got down a crash N' bang shift lifted the morale instanteously. The legendary Dean Portman and Fulton Reed fulfilled the same semblance. That's a long tangent for two players that are no longer with the organization but the importance of that inclusion is because that WAS how the incarnation of Rebel teams conducted themselves but with the group assembled, the game plan will be a far cry from yesteryear. The 2017/2018 cast of characters upfront will be built around finesse. The only current top six forward that plays with even a little bit of sand paper is Lane Zablocki and as Lane illustrated during his magical playoff performance he has the propensity to fire a puck or two in the net.  The theme of finesse could be directly correlated to their blockbuster summer acquisition, re-acquiring former Rebel Mason McCarty from the Saskatoon Blades. The trade took me by surprise, not necessarily because Saskatoon shipped him out which was forced due to a influx of quality twenty year olds on Saskatoon's roster but mainly because  I didn't expect Red Deer to be active seeking veterans. Before the McCarty trade I saw promise but I would qualify that by saying that best case scenario would've been a first round playoff exit at the hands of the Lethbridge Hurricanes to now like I forecasted earlier will be in competition with Medicine Hat for a conference final berth. It does beg the question how Sutter intends to use his former pupil.Even though he's listed as a right winger courtesy of Eliteprospects.com, I know factually that he has played some center past, the extent of that center repetition I can't explicitly say but because Lane Zablocki is better suited remaining at  right wing thanks to the advantages he creates retrieving pucks from the corners based off of his size, I suffice to say that on this team transitioning to a permanent number one center is a safe bet.  For someone who purportedly despises the Import 'draft'(don't we all) he's had a recent string of good luck. From Michael Spacek who enjoyed two monstrous seasons in the black,red and white to Alexander Alexeyev who I'll share my thoughts when the defence analysis commences, finding one yet alone two impactful imports is unique but another one has entered the stable who has thick NHL bloodlines with Robert's son Kristian Reichel entering the fray. Two immediate thoughts when it comes to Robert's kid and that is for starters for WHL standards it's becoming rarer and rarer for teams in the league to recruit kids with World Junior experience for which the Czech Republican has in spades, in other words it's reassuring for the coaching staff and the fan base that someone with a solidified track record is coming over and be counted on to play top line minutes.Robust Red Deer supporters along with essentially all other markets throughout the CHL have seen Europeans come and go that they didn't know a lick about prior only to see them fall flat on their face and look completely out of place.. Remember the likes of Tomas Polak and Alexei Zhurba? No, well Brent Sutter wishes he didn't either. Secondly with Kristian's birth year being 1998 it signals a  sign of confidence from Brent to the rest  of his players that he strictly believes that his troops have what it takes contend otherwise he would've settled for a younger, developmental piece. The momentum it should provide the locker room will hopefully have a ripple effect as the McCarty's and Zablocki's of the world can grasp on meaningful hockey potential while inserting another 1998 into the lineup leaves breathing room for the future in a point worth repeating that the more capable veterans you have the better some of the incoming rookies and second years will be for it. Two of the more captivating prospects are Justin Svenson and Chris Douglas and getting tutelage from someone like Kristian who is slated to again suit up for the Czech Republicans for a second consecutive efforts will only reap benefits.

The Red Deer Rebels barring any more trades will unquestionably ice the youngest blueline in the league come opening night and that's not meant as a negative connotation. No twenties, two nineteens but one of which is Jared Freadrich who could be argued he's destined for a 4/5 role, the rest of the crop is eighteen years of age or younger.  Trading Josh Mahura was a necessary evil at the sake of long term betterment which opened the door for some that maybe didn't expect to compete for top four minutes so soon. At the top of the barrel(I feel like I'm using rural references too often, no idea why) is someone that rose to the occasion of lofty expectations until sustaining a freak lower body injury that shut him down for the second half of the season in Alexander Alexeyev. Aside from and I concede this is high praise but aside from Edmonton's Will Warm and Moose Jaw's Josh Brook he's a top three 1999 born defenceman in this league.  This hulking 6'3 186 pound defenceman plays mean and towards the end of his shortened campaign I was beginning to notice he was growing a penchant for controlling the puck, making calm passes inside the trolley tracks and beginning to evolve into more of a complete player whereas in the first handful of games he just sat back and didn't get involved in the offensive zone.  A player that came into his own during this rookie season in the Dub was Carson Sass. In a regular season game against Regina at a juncture where Red Deer still laid claim to Mahura there may have been an injury or two which elevated Carson in the lineup and let me tell you he didn't look out of place and at least from my inspections this was his coming out party. Ironically enough for Pat fans he spent most of the game paired alongside Mahura and it was one of those afternoons where Mahura couldn't do anything right but the seventeen year old Sass was the last line of defence and worked his team out of unenviable positions. Regina won the game but Sass may of won the proverbial war as perhaps Sutter  saw enough out of the Melville,Saskatchewan product that day that he felt the need to allocate more playing time which in the long run saw Josh switch addresses. Sass wasn't drafted last year much to my chagrin but a full year healthy because keep in mind that Sass spent his sixteen year old season in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League so my working theory is that National Hockey League scouts need  to see more of him to justify a selection. With Alexeyev a lock to have his name called next summer and Dawson Barteaux a high probability if Sass can work his way into the good graces there's an outside chance that Red Deer could have an unprecedented three defenceman drafted from the same class heck maybe even if a fourth if former sixteenth overall Bantam selection Jacob Herauf blossoms into a consistent WHL'er. In summarization, there likely isn't a brighter defensive core league wide and you can presume that the ranking of ninth means it'll be a tall order to catch the league's elite this winter but if the defence continues to gel together around the 99/00 age groups then we'll be discussing the strength of the team that could catapult them to a 2018/2019 league championship.

Grayson Pawlenchuk and Mason McCarty are virtual overage locks and there's one other headed to camp this fall, that being Danish Lasse Pettersen. Now because they've only enlisted three twenty year olds to training camp, technically they don't have to make any rash decisions with Lasse however by saying all of that it would be a backwards decision to retain an overager as a back up by virtue of Riley Lamb back in the fold and it's my vantage point that Riley is deserving of another full year between the pipes.  A winning record of 14-12, a save  percentage of .899 on a team that had  a minus nineteen goal differential is respectable and when you compare those to Lasse's numbers his record and save percentage were inferior so I can't fathom the purpose of holding onto him. The optimal solution for Lasse is spend the first month or so being a  supportive battery mate of Riley until the Rebels administration can scour the market for another overage position player and if he performs well you never know how the goaltending is going to shake out in the markets of Moose Jaw or Tri-City so a door may open unbeknownst to him. The likely more important justification for not securing Pettersen's services for the duration of this year is because of who's next in line, this is a young individual who I'm prematurely labelling the next Carter Hart in Byron Fancy. The truth of the matter is universally goaltenders are not ready to play at the age of sixteen but when you're dealing with the best goaltender to come out of the Bantam Draft since, as I said Carter Hart then it becomes imperative to slowly work him in. This is how I foresee the dilemma panning out, it'll be a three goaltender rotation for the first month until a propitious destination for Pettersen is agreed upon and from that point forward Byron can learn the league while being mentored by Lamb. Once the year of mentorship has been exhausted then you're probably staring your 2018/2019 starting netminder in the face. Again, tremendous upside and depth for this organization in all facets. This season will be good, next season promises to be extravagant.

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