Bringing in prospects benefit to both players and Rebels organization
It’s a glimpse of the future for both the players and the organization.
For years the Rebels have brought in signed prospects late in the regular season and into the playoffs to get a feel for their potential and for the players to become acquainted with their surroundings.
The prospects, for the most part, skate and practice at a different time than the players on the regular-season and playoff rosters and watch games from high in the stands.
The tradition is also for developmental purposes, said Associate General Manager Shaun Sutter.
“It’s sort of a segue for them for their off-season, to understand the level of the pace and where they can be better on the ice and off the ice after they’ve been around our team and seen some games,” said Sutter.
“For the players, it’s about development, so when they do come back the next training camp with the plan to become a full time player they can just focus on the hockey part. They know what the building looks like, the schooling and the workouts.
“They can just come back and focus on earning a role on the team.”
The prospects on hand this season included forwards Escalus Burlock (pictured above) and Zane Saab, both from Edmonton and both of whom saw limited WHL action this season, with Burlock playing eight games early in the season and Saab (pictured below) suiting up for the March 24 contest in Lethbridge.
The others included netminder Chase Wutzke, who played three games with the Rebels on an emergency basis in 2021-22 and four games this season, again due to injury reasons.
Also brought in were forwards Evan Smith, Jeramiah Roberts and Matthew Gard, and defenceman Derek Thurston. Four of the seven have since returned home, with Burlock, Wutzke and Roberts still with the team.
All, with the exception of Roberts who’s from Colorado, were selected in the 2021 WHL Prospects Draft and have signed with the Rebels. Roberts, who signed in September, was the team’s first round pick in the 2022 US Prospects Draft.
The practice of introducing prospects to the organization is also beneficial to Rebels GM Brent Sutter and the team’s scouting staff, said Shaun Sutter.
“Our scouting staff watched them through the previous season so it’s nice for them to see where these players are at now. A lot of these kids change over the summer.
“Mainly a lot of it is for the players to get familiarity and build relationships so when they do come back you don’t get the situation where they walk in the room and don’t know anybody, they don’t know what the expectations, standards and accountability are like. The way kids are it helps them a lot to get familiarized with everything.”
Included in that is the level of competition.
“Late in the season your team is firing on all cylinders and they can see that. You can talk to them all you want, when they see it that’s the best development thing for themselves,” said Sutter.
Some of the club’s signed prospects are also brought in during the Christmas break for a short period. The length of time they spend around the team, both midway through and late in the season, is kept to a minimum.
“At this time of the year it’s once their seasons are over, so it doesn’t always work for everybody,” said Sutter. “We try not to keep them from their schooling for long.”
Sutter stressed that although the current attendees are committed prospects, the team still thinks highly of some of the 2022 draft picks who remain unsigned.
“We’ve had some pretty good players who didn’t do this, then come to camp and show they’re better than other players,” he said. “A bunch of them are good players. Because they’re not signed yet doesn’t mean they’re not in our plans.”
As an example of the benefits of bringing in prospects for a look-see, Sutter noted that one player who took advantage of the team’s advice concerning his off season habits is current forward Carson Birnie, picked in the eighth round of the 2020 draft.
“He came in and practiced and we told him that he had to work on his legs and core, that he needed to be in the gym five days a week. Credit to him, he came in last fall and was one of our best conditioned athletes.
“He didn’t play early but once he got into the lineup he never came out.”
Notable: The Rebels, with their 4-2 win on the road Monday, took a 2-1 lead in their WHL Eastern Conference quarterfinal with the Calgary Hitmen. The best-of seven series resumes Wednesday in Calgary, with Game 5 slated for Friday at the Peavey Mart Centrium. A sixth game, if required, will go Sunday in Calgary and a seventh contest, if needed, will be played two days later at the Centrium.