Rebels take WHL Cup standouts with first four picks of Prospects Draft
Character, skill and perseverance — three terms that describe the Red Deer Rebels’ first pick in Thursday’s WHL Prospects Draft.
The Rebels were thrilled to select centre Ollie Josephson of Victoria, B.C., with the fifth overall pick in the draft, a player who excelled at the WHL Cup in Red Deer in October, helping lead Team BC to a gold medal despite not playing at full speed.
“Ollie was injured in the WHL Cup and played at probably 50 to 60 per cent,” said Rebels associate GM Shaun Sutter. “But that’s the type of person and player that he is. Ollie is the type of guy who every person who’s coached him loves him.”
Josephson finished fourth in WHL Cup scoring with four goals and three assists in five games, all while playing with a strained hip flexor.
“I’m very excited. It’s an honour to be drafted by the Red Deer Rebels and I’m already excited for next year,” said the six-foot-one, 175-pound 15-year-old.
Josephson (pictured above) is a member of the U18 AAA South Island Royals and this season has scored six goals and collected 15 points in 10 games. He’s also played five games with the junior A Victoria Grizzlies of the BCHL, scoring once.
“It was a big jump but I thought I figured it out pretty good,” he said of his junior A stint.
Josephson not only has excellent offensive skills, he takes pride in playing a well-rounded, two-way game.
“I can definitely play penalty kill, power play . . . all over the ice. That’s what I bring to a team,” he said.
“The words trust and responsibility come to mind,” said Sutter. “Ollie is a great skater and a smart player with a lot of layers to his game. He can play in any situation and make other players around him better.
“Going back to July when these kids started playing again, Ollie has been a favourite of our team. We believe that your best players have to be guys who set the tone and an example for other players. Ollie is a person and a player who is going to do that every day.”
The Rebels looked to Saskatchewan for their second-round pick, 40th overall, and nabbed goaltender Chase Wutzke of the U18 AAA Saskatoon Contacts.
The native of Debden, Sask., played for his provincial squad in the WHL Cup and made 31 saves as Team Saskatchewan defeated Team Manitoba 3-2 in the bronze-medal game. He appeared in four games overall, posting a goals-against average of 4.51 and a save percentage of .889.
“We made the decision going into the draft that we wanted to target a goalie early and take one of the best goalies,” said Sutter. “Chase is a goalie who has really risen since the WHL Cup, he’s been a difference maker for the Contacts.”
“For sure,” Wutzke agreed. “I’m very calm when I’m playing and I gained a lot of confidence making Team Saskatchewan.
“It feels great, awesome, to be drafted by the Rebels.”
The six-foot-one, 146-pound stopper has posted a 2.50 GAA and .913 save percentage while recording a 9-6-0 record with the Contacts this season.
“He’s been their starting goalie and has been winning games for them. On most nights he’s their best player,” said Sutter. “You look at a lot of other goalies playing midget triple A at 15, they’re not necessarily the starters on their teams, whereas Chase is the go-to-guy for his team.
“He just keeps getting better and better, probably due to his mentality. He’s a guy you trust to win the game.”
With their third-round selection, the Rebels were tickled to land forward Zane Saab, an Edmonton product who starred in the WHL Cup with Team Alberta, placing fifth in tournament scoring with five goals and six points in five games with the silver medalists.
“We wondered about taking a defenceman because we didn’t pick again until the fifth round,” said Sutter, “but in all honesty, Zane is a player we had highly rated the whole year.
“He’s such a good player that we felt we couldn’t pass on him.”
Saab, six-foot-one and 175 pounds, tied for most goals in the WHL Cup but insisted there’s much more to his game than an ability to find the back of the net.
“There’s lots more to my game than that but that’s the one thing I do best, I guess,” he said, adding that he’s looking forward to attending Rebels training camp next fall.
“It’s a really great town and I like the rink. During the WHL Cup there was such a good environment. And it’s close to home too, just an hour and a half away, so that’s also good.”
“He’s a very competitive player, everyone witnessed it at the WHL Cup,” said Sutter. “He’s a player who can score and he has good size and a good compete level. We can see a player like that paired with a guy like Ollie — one guy who can score and another who plays a two-way game, a real good combo.”
Saab (pictured below) has excelled with the OHA Edmonton U18 prep team this season, notching 10 goals and adding six assists in 18 games.
Sutter and the coaching staff decided to roll the dice with their first of three fifth-round picks and nabbed defenceman Keith McInnis of Red Deer 91st overall.
McInnis would have been taken near the top of the draft except that he’s already made it known that he plans to play junior A hockey and chase a U.S. college scholarship.
“If Keith was committed to the WHL he would have been a top-three pick,” said Sutter of the WHL Cup all-star, who tallied twice and added one helper in five games with Team Alberta and this season has scored once and collected four assists in 10 games with the Yale Academy U18 Prep team based out of Abbotsford, B.C.
There have been cases of NCAA players who were picked in the NHL entry draft and then asked by their team — after signing — to play a season of major junior hockey.
“If you look back at previous WHL drafts, players who were elite and honest with their intentions, they often went in the draft,” said Sutter. “You see guys who go the NCAA route and sign with their team and decide to leave school early . . . if Keith, being a local guy and the type of player he is, was going to play anywhere in the league we’d love to have him play here with the Rebels.”
Following are the Rebels’ other fifth-round picks and those selected from the sixth to ninth rounds, including position, hometown, size and 2021-22 season stats, with quotes from Shaun Sutter:
Fifth round, 95th overall
F Evan Smith, Kamloops, BC; 6-0, 160 pounds; Yale Academy U17 Prep (4GP, 2g,4a,6pts), Yale U18 Prep (2-0-1-1).
“Evan broke his arm earlier in the year so for a lot of teams the viewings were limited. We felt like we had a little bit of an advantage because the daughter of Al Cyr, our BC scout, billets Evan in Abbotsford. We liked him as a player in our early viewings, we feel that he’s a lanky guy who can skate and competes. He can shoot and is a smart player. He’s a guy we actually talked about taking in the third round, but he slipped and we see him as a sleeper who could really rise.”
Fifth round, 98th overall
D Samuel Rousseau, Saskatoon; 5-11, 160; Saskatoon Riverkings U18AA (19-1-6-7)
“Our Saskatchewan scouts, Thomas Miller and Randy Peterson, have watched him play. He’s a really smart player, another guy who needs to get stronger, but the long term potential is really quite high. We’re hoping he can be a real good (midget AAA) player in Saskatoon next year but the hockey sense and IQ are really high. Long term projection is another sleeper type.”
Sixth round, 112th overall
D Derek Thurston, Delta, BC; 5-8, 126; Delta Academy U16 Prep (18-4-13-17)
“Derek is a player whose brother (Trevor) plays in Lethbridge and he plays a similar game. Derek is a real smart player who plays his position well. He has a mean streak and some hardness to his game. He makes a good first pass and he’s a gamer. He’s a smart player with some lineage and a guy we wanted to take a chance on because he’s a guy who’s going to find a way.”
Sixth round, 113th overall
F Kanye Huang, Saskatoon; 5-10, 165; Saskatoon Contacts midget AAA (18-5-9-14)
“Kanye is a guy who’s another Contacts player and like Chase seems to get better and better. The coaching is excellent there. Kanye is a guy with a ton of energy, he’s all over the puck. He plays in all situations and plays top minutes for a 15-year-old on a good team. We’re always trying to find the next Jhett Larson and he’s one of those guys who Thomas Miller was pounding the table to take Kanye. You want to see where it goes with him because he has such determination and character and that compete level to find a way.”
Seventh round, 135th overall
RW Escalus Burlock, Edmonton; 6-1, 175; Edmonton CAC U16AAA (15-14-5-19)
“He’s a tall lanky guy who can skate and make plays. He’s a guy we’ve talked about all year and we think he has a high ceiling. With us not having a fourth-round pick this year you look at players who can maybe rise. He’s a tall kid growing into his body but a lot of the elements are there with his hockey sense, skill set and compete level. He’s a guy our northern Alberta scout Chad MacLeod was pounding the table for us to pick and we went in that direction.”
Seventh round, 145th overall
LD Rylan Bray, Neepawa, Man.; 6-2, 170; Yellowhead Chiefs midget AAA (21-1-8-9)
“Rylan plays for a real good program and Scott Unger, our Manitoba scout, has watched him play quite a bit. He’s just 15 but he plays upwards of 25 minutes a game and plays in all situations. He’s kind of a hard-nosed, two-way type who has good character and is a good all around defenceman. We took the position this year to let our area scouts make the picks in the later rounds and Rylan is a guy we want to bank on for his character.”
Eighth round, 157th overall
F Grant Young, Boulder, CO.; 5-9, 140; Windy City Storm 15AAA (34-20-29-49)
“We discussed at length taking him with one of our two picks in the US Priority Draft. As it was we selected two players who we believe have strong interest in playing for the Red Deer Rebels, whereas Grant’s No. 1 goal is to play for the US National Development team and he’s probably in strong consideration for that. Grant is an elite player and we felt he’s a guy we just wanted to take a chance on. Who knows where it goes but it could be a home run type of scenario.”
Ninth round, 179th overall
F Mason Karakochuk, Saskatoon; 5-10, 155; Saskatoon Riverkings U18 AA (19-16-17-33).
“Randy Peterson and Thomas Miller really like this player, they feel he has a real good IQ and skill. Mason is a guy who long term his ceiling could be really high. Both Thomas and Randy went to bat for Mason and we didn’t want to leave him on the table.”
When the long day was done, the Rebels scouts felt like they’d just overseen a successful draft.
“There are 22 teams in the WHL and every team, if you talked to them, they’d all say they had the best draft,” said Sutter.
“I know we got a lot of good kids and good players and that’s something we focused on. We talk about mindsets and having the mentality and the drive to get better. We feel a lot of the kids we picked today have that.”
Notable: The Rebels, idle since last weekend, are back in action Friday when they visit the Lethbridge Hurricanes. The Medicine Hat Tigers visit the Peavey Mart Centrium Saturday . . . Besides McInnis, there were several Central Albertans selected in Thursday’s draft, including forward Caleb Hadland of Sylvan Lake, picked in the first round, 22nd overall, by the Brandon Wheat Kings, and Coy Pighin of Alix, taken in the sixth round by the Lethbridge Hurricanes. Both played for Team Alberta in the WHL Cup — Hadland was captain of the squad — and both are with the Yale Academy U18 Prep team. Others drafted included goalie Connor Baumbach of Red Deer, in the seventh round by the Prince Albert Raiders and rearguard Rhys Pederson of Stettler, picked by the Edmonton Oil Kings in the fifth round. Baumbach is with the U15 Red Deer North Star Chiefs and Pederson plays with the Northern Alberta Xtreme U16 Prep team. Rounding out the Central Alberta draftees were goalie Spencer Michnik of Sylvan Lake and defenceman Ryan Seeley of Olds, taken by the Seattle Thunderbirds and Moose Jaw Warriors, both in the fifth round, and forward Will Jamieson of Delburne, a fifth-round selection of the Spokane Chiefs.