25th Anniversary Special – Top 25 Rebels in franchise history; No. 19 Haydn Fleury
He’s seemingly close to realizing his dream of playing in the NHL, thanks in part to a coming-of-age final season with the Red Deer Rebels.
Haydn Fleury played his best hockey of his four-year WHL career down the stretch of the 2015-16 campaign and including the Memorial Cup tournament hosted by the Rebels in May.
“Haydn started off really good last year, then he went through a third of the season where his game dropped off,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter.
“Then the last third of the season and in the playoffs, he was lights out. And in the Memorial Cup he was awesome. He took a big leap last year . . . just maturity in his preparation and attitude and doing things the right way.”
Fleury was a second-round pick of the Rebels in the 2011 WHL bantam draft and played four games with the team as a 15-year-old.
He joined Red Deer full-time in the 2012-13 season and right off the hop displayed his offensive skills. An excellent skater with good puck skills, the Carlyle, Sask., product scored four goals and collected 19 points in 66 games as a Rebels rookie.
He continued his upward development the next season and quickly became a mainstay on the Red Deer power play. His numbers improved to 8-38-46 with a plus-15 plus/minus rating.
Fleury caught the eyes of numerous pro scouts with his two-way talents and he was selected seventh overall by the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2011 NHL entry draft. His time with the Rebels came to an end at the conclusion of the Memorial Cup, in which he was named to the tournament all-star team. With a three-year entry-level contract in his pocket, the 20-year-old attended his third development camp with the ‘Canes during the summer.
It was mentioned to him by NHL.com correspondent Kurt Dusterberg that there would possibly be a spot open on the Carolina blueline in the fall due to the buyout of veteran James Wisniewski. Clearly, Fleury was already well aware of that fact.
“Ever since Wisniewski was bought out, that’s the only thing that’s been on my mind,” he told Dusterberg. “It’s extra motivation for me in the gym and on the ice the rest of this summer.”
Fleury had to feel confident in his ability to earn an NHL job in the fall because of the Hurricanes willingness to insert young defenceman into their lineup.
Noah Hanifin was just 18 when he made the team in the fall of 2015 and fellow U.S. college blueliners Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pearce were 21 when they auditioned with the ‘Canes.
Fleury was in the mix last year but was returned to the Rebels for one final winter of seasoning. He admitted it was the proper move and credited the Red Deer coaching staff with helping him development into an even more complete player.
“As a young defenceman, it’s never easy,” he told Dusterberg. “Going back to juniors was the right thing for me. I learned a lot. I owe my coaches in Red Deer a ton for all the help they gave me. I became a better player for it.
“I don’t think I’m the same player I was last year. I’m way more rounded and two-way, and I’ve improved in all areas.”
The six-foot-three, 207-pound rearguard, who last winter was a member of the Canadian team in the world junior championship in Finland, was obviously in the running for permanent employment with the Canes when training camp opened in September.
Fleury was eventually sent to Carolina’s American Hockey League team — the Charlotte Checkers — to begin his pro career. He has contributed three goals and five assists in 25 games with the Checkers and is a plus-one player.
How long Fleury, who also suited up with Canada West in the 2013 Under 17 Challenge and helped Canada win gold in the Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament the same year, will have to wait before being promoted to the Hurricanes remains to be seen.
“I know they have a lot of good, young defencemen (in Carolina),” said Sutter. “The biggest thing with Haydn is just being committed to dialling in every day, working hard and wanting to be the best-conditioned athlete. “Don’t treat practices like they don’t mean something, treat practices like they’re important to you. That was a learning curve for Haydn.
“I think he’s got a bright future ahead of him. If it’s not in Carolina, it will be somewhere else.”