Rookie defencemen playing solid minutes for Rebels
The unavoidable growing pains have diminished to the point where the discomfort, for the most part, is actually no more.
The Red Deer Rebels first-year defencemen — Carson Sass, Ethan Sakowich and Alex Alexeyev — don’t necessarily perform like seasoned veterans on a consistent basis, but they’re not playing like raw rookies, either.
The fact that they take a scholarly, attentive approach to the game has helped with their progress through the first six weeks of the WHL season, Rebels associate coach Jeff Truitt opined Monday.
“You take a look at all three, they are different types of players but all three are very studious and have come a long way in a month and a half, two months,” said Truitt, prior to a practice session at the Kinex.
“They pay attention to details and they have great instincts among their natural abilities. They’re still learning but they’re also seeing some key moments for us.”
Alexeyev has the most offensive upside of the freshmen trio, having scored twice and garnered seven points in 12 games. He’s also racked up 12 minutes in penalties and is plus-7 in the plus/minus column.
That’s more than impressive, considering he’s a true WHL rookie after coming out of the CHL import draft, while Sass (three games) and Sakowich (four games) each experienced a small sample of major junior action last season.
“Alex is a guy with a lot of skill. He can move the puck and he has a good stride,” said Truitt. “He’s in our top four and Sakowich and Sass are guys who can at any time inter-change in those spots.
“Just because of the quality of guys we have back there we can inter-change quite a bit.”
Sass has picked up a pair of assists in 14 games this season and Sakowich has contributed a single point — his first-ever WHL goal scored in Friday’s 4-3 win at Spokane.
“Sass is a defending type of defenceman, a guy who blocks a lot of shots and takes a lot of pride in his defence,” said Truitt.
“Sakowich is a lot of the same — and it was great to see him get his first goal the other night — in that he does a good job of angling guys down low in our zone.
“Both of those guys are aware of plays coming at them. They’re not surprised by rush attacks.”
Barring the unforeseen, all three will to continue to improve. Sass and Sakowich are both 17 years of age, while Alexeyev turns 17 next week.
Truitt insisted that they’re already regular contributors, regardless of their birthdates.
“All three of those guys have been great for us.”
Alexeyev, the largest of the three rookies at six-foot-three and 190 pounds, was conspicuous by his absence during the last four games due to an ‘upper-body’ injury he suffered in a 5-2 home-ice loss Oct. 28 to the Medicine Hat Tigers.
He’s listed as day-to-day and may be on the team bus when the Rebels head out Wednesday on a four-game jaunt into the East Division.
“He’s a big body back there, a guy who can move his feet, escape pressure and make good first passes,” said Truitt. “He also plays on our power play and likes to shoot the puck.
“He’s been missed but give a lot of credit to the other guys who have stepped up.”
Jacob Herauf, 16, was summoned from the Sherwood Park midget AAA Kings and filled in for Alexeyev during the club’s recent road trip which included stops in Victoria, Everett and Spokane. He received passing grades from Truitt.
“He was really good. Jacob came in and it was kind of like fire by baptism, a bit of that type of situation for him,” said Truitt. “But he saw some good minutes and made some great plays.
“To me, he’s stepped up since training camp with his confidence and just moving pucks and seeing things. He was more aggressive and it was great to see.”
The Rebels open their upcoming trip with a Friday afternoon engagement with the Brandon Wheat Kings.
From there, the Rebels will visit the Moose Jaw Warriors Saturday, will be in Regina to face the Pats Sunday and will conclude the jaunt Tuesday versus the Swift Current Broncos.
Red Deer’s next home game is Nov. 18 against the Medicine Hat Tigers.