First-round pick Vlooswyk watched draft unfold while on vacation
The Red Deer Rebels’ first-round pick in the 2022 WHL Prospects Draft was up and about extra early Thursday morning.
Defenceman Luke Vlooswyk is on vacation with his family in Hawaii and wasn’t going to miss the event which started at 9:30 a.m. Mountain Time and 5:30 a.m. in Maui.
He expected to see his name on the WHL website draft page and he was tickled when the Rebels selected him 17th overall.
“We had to get up at 4:45 for the draft but it was worth it,” said the 15-year-old from Calgary. “It’s crazy, it’s something I’ve dreamed of since I was a little kid watching the WHL while growing up.
“I couldn’t be more happy to be selected by the Rebels organization and I can’t wait to be a Rebel. I wish camp started tomorrow. I’m thrilled.”
Vlooswyk was sure he was going to be picked Thursday and probably sooner than later.
“Every single team reached out to me before the draft so there was definitely a lot of interest,” he said.
The Rebels followed a specific pattern with some of the skaters they picked in the draft for 2007-born players.
“We have a theme going with a few of the kids,” said associate GM Shaun Sutter, who focused on landing tall and athletic youngsters early and at various other points in the draft.
Vlooswyk, a six-foot-two, 160-pound right-shot rearguard is a prime example of what the team was looking for.
“He’s a long, athletic kind of rugged defenceman,” said Sutter. “There wasn’t a lot of defencemen in this draft and we feel he has a high ceiling. He shoots right and complements what we already have in the system. We have some other defencemen in our organization who are also good players.”
Vlooswyk appeared in 33 regular season games as captain of the U15 AAA Calgary Bisons this winter, scoring eight goals and collecting 25 points while racking up 34 minutes in penalties. He stepped it up offensively in the playoffs, scoring twice and adding seven assists in five games.
Maturity is another of his strengths, Sutter noted.
“You talk to him and he really grows on you,” he said. “You want him on your team after you talk to him.
“He’s one of these guys who keeps growing. He’s probably going to be a really tall kid. He has to get in tune with his body and smooth it out but there’s a lot of potential there. He has a long stride and good feet. He’s an athletic player with the way he moves.”
Confidence is another of Vlooswyk’s strong points.
“I would describe myself as a big, two-way defenceman who dominates at both ends of the ice,” he said. “I can be the guy you can put out there in the last minute of a game, you’re down a goal and need that goal.
“Or when you’re up by one and it’s crunch time and you need that guy who can go in, block a shot and be clutch that way. I’m a versatile player in that sense.”
With their second-round pick the Rebels nabbed six-foot-one, 150-pound forward Matthew Gard of Winnipeg (pictured below). He recorded 42 points, including 10 goals, in 27 games with his hometown Rink Academy U15 squad during the 2021-22 season.
“He’s long and athletic and can skate,” said Sutter. “Actually this was his first year playing forward. He was a really good defenceman before this season and we feel he has a lot of potential, a high ceiling.
“He probably projects to be a power forward type.”
The Rebels did not have a third-round pick this year but gained an extra fourth-round pick in a trade with Moose Jaw which sent netminders Connor Ungar, 20, and 18-year-old Justen Maric to the Warriors in exchange for goalie Kyle Kelsey, 18 (see details below).
In the fourth round the team selected defenceman Tate Dolinksy of Winnipeg and winger Carter Cole of Edam, Sask.
Dolinsky, who’s a shade under six-foot-one and checks in at 156 pounds, was nearly a point-per-game defender with the Rink Academy U15 prep squad, scoring 10 goals and garnering 28 points in 29 games.
“He’s another guy in the same theme, really long and athletic,” said Sutter. “He’s another kid who’s going to be really tall and can skate and move the puck. We felt he got better towards the end of the year. He’s another guy with a high ceiling who’s still growing.”
Cole, a five-foot-nine, 133-pound forward, recorded 17 goals and 44 points in 30 games with the U15 AA Battleford North Stars.
“He’s a real gritty guy who plays fast and has skill and tenacity,” said Sutter. “He plays bigger than his size and has a lot of energy to his game.”
With their final six picks the Rebels drafted two goaltenders, three forwards and a defenceman.
The Rebels’ fifth- to ninth-round selections (size, hometown, 2021-22 team and statistics, and quotes from Shaun Sutter):
D Reece Gault; five-foot-seven, 130 pounds; Oakbank, Man.; Eastman Selects U15AAA; 31GP,7G,15A,22Pts,16 PIM.
“He’s a guy who has a lot of skill and deception to his game. We expect him to be an offensive defenceman who can run a power play. He’s another guy we feel is going to grow. We were looking at him earlier and then he slid to us and we’re happy to get him.”
G Taylor Tabashniuk; 6-0, 160lbs; Regina; Regina Monarchs U15AA; 16GP, 3.49GAA, .899 save %, 2 SO.
“We liked both him and Matthew Kondro, who we picked later. We were debating which one to take and ended up getting both of them. Taylor is going to play with the (midget AAA) Regina Pat Canadians next year which is an excellent program for development, particularly for goalies.”
F Steven Steranka; 5-6, 134lbs; Regina; Regina Monarchs U15AA; 18GP, 20-14-34-20.
“He’s another player who’s going to play for the Pat Canadians. He’s a small player who has a lot of skill and hockey sense and can contribute offensively. We have a history of drafting players like that, like Jhett Larson, and we’re hoping he can be one of those guys. He’s under-sized now but he has the brain and skill to be an offensive player.”
G Matthew Kondro; 5-6, 116lbs; St. Albert; St. Albert Sabres U15AAA; 18GP, 1.55, 9.29, 3 SO.
“He’s smaller now but we think he’s going to grow a lot. All he does is win. He’s a really good goalie who is physically under developed now, but has the type of talent with his technical ability and hockey sense to be maybe the best goalie in the draft.”
C Cole Connolly; 5-10, 166lbs; Beaumont, Alta.; Saints Pro Hockey Academy U15 Prep Blue; 36-25-36-61-32.
“He’s kind of a hard working, two-way player. Two of our Alberta scouts, Chad McLeod and Sandy Henry, really like him so we said let’s get him in to camp and see where he’s at.”
F Jovan Sandhu; 6-0, 163lbs; Surrey, B.C.; Delta Hockey Academy U15 Prep Green; 30-9-15-24-14.
“Our BC scout, Al Cyr, really liked Jovan all year. He’s kind of a long, lanky guy who can skate and has some power potential with how he moves. We like his two-way game. He’s another of those long, athletic guys who can think the game.”
Trade with Warriors solidifies goaltending position
By trading for Kyle Kelsey, the Rebels picked up a goaltender who will likely share duties with Chase Coward next season.
The Rebels had no plans to keep Connor Ungar as an overage stopper and also shipped 18-year-old Justen Maric to Moose Jaw for Kelsey, who last season suited up with the Victoria Grizzlies of the junior A BCHL.
In 28 games with the Grizzlies the Maple Ridge, B.C., product posted a 14-12-1 record with a 2.80 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage.
“He was a good goalie last year in the BCHL and we like that he has some junior experience,” said Sutter. “Similar to what we had this season with Chase Coward and Connor Ungar, we want to have a good tandem.
“We’re fortunate we have those two goalies with experience, but Chase Wutzke, a 16-year-old, will probably push too.”