Competition will be hot and heavy through Rebels training camp, preseason games
One glance at the Red Deer Rebels prospective training camp roster reveals just how competitive the camp, which opens on Sept. 4, will be.
With up to 20 forwards expected to audition for full-time roles with the club during the 2021-22 WHL season, the competition will undoubtedly heat up through training camp and the preseason schedule.
“That’s all part of competition. It’s good to have depth, kids who can all play in our league,” said Rebels owner and GM Brent Sutter.
The Rebels will have 12 returning forwards in camp, but with the addition of Kai Uchacz and Liam Keeler via the off-season trade route and CHL import draft pick Frantisek Formanek — all of whom are expected to be with the team — there won’t be room for everybody on the regular season roster.
There’s every possibility that the top six will consist of Jayden Grubbe, Ben King, Kalan Lind, Arshdeep Bains (pictured above), Keeler and perhaps Uchacz or Formanek. That still leaves up to 14 skaters, including 16-year-olds Talon Brigley and Arjun Bawa — both taken in the second round of the 2020 WHL bantam draft — vying for lesser roles up front.
“Obviously our goal is to be successful this year. It still comes down to your roster and that’s what I like about the group coming in this year. We have more depth with 19 to 20 forwards who could possibly be on the team or play elsewhere in the league,” said Sutter.
“They’ll sort it out through camp and exhibition.”
Listed forward Josh Schenk of Whitehorse, Yukon, is among the new hopefuls. Schenk, who turns 17 next month, scored three goals and added two assists in six games with the midget AAA Notre Dame Hounds last season.
The Rebels will have six returning defencemen in camp as well as Finnish rearguard Kristoffer Sedoff, who will be back for a second season after playing overseas in 2020-21 due to the pandemic. Due to travel restrictions, he and Formanek won’t be in Red Deer until mid September.
Twin towers Matteo Fabrizzi and Logan Wright will also be in the hunt. The six-foot-four, 229-pound Fabrizzi, and the six-foot, 190-pound Wright, an American, were drafted in 2020 and 2019 respectively.
“These kids are going to get a good look,” said Sutter.
The return of veteran defenceman Chase Leslie, who has a history of concussions, is up in the air.
“We’re still a couple or three months away from seeing where this goes,” said Sutter. “Obviously we just have to be patient and see what happens. I know we have to make plans to move forward like there’s a chance he’s not going to be able to play.
“That’s how we have to look at it.”
While jobs are up for grabs both up front and on the back end, the goaltending situation seems to be set with recent acquisition Connor Ungar and returnee Chase Coward pretty much pencilled in.
Veteran netminder Byron Fancy, 20, will not return after being placed on waivers.
“Obviously we want to have a real good season this year. We have a very good coaching staff, now we just have to get everybody in here to get going,” said Sutter. “Within a week to 10 days all the coaches will be in.
“The key is still the whole culture within the organization as to what our expectations are and how we have to be both on and off the ice. That doesn’t change no matter who the coaches and players are.”
Meanwhile, Shaun Sutter will remain in charge of the Rebels’ scouting staff following his recent promotion to associate general manager.
“He will spend more time with me with decision making, but really his role hasn’t changed a lot regarding the scouting side. Shaun’s role to me is still really important — to make sure he continues to oversee the scouting side of the organization,” said Brent Sutter.
“I believe that truly is Shaun’s good, solid strength. He has a very good eye on that and manages it really well.”
The Rebels boss, who stepped down as head coach in April and in June hired Steve Konowalchuk to fill the role, will also spend more time with the team’s scouts.
“Obviously with me stepping away from coaching and bringing in a new coaching staff it gives me more time with our scouting staff and front office staff,” he said.
“I’ll be able to spend more time watching other teams in our league and getting out and doing some scouting.”
The Rebels GM, who has made numerous hires in both the front office and hockey operations this spring and summer, said Shaun Sutter and the Red Deer scouts will be extremely busy through the season.
Due to the pandemic, much of the 2020-21 minor hockey season was cancelled which will result in this year’s WHL bantam draft — for players born in 2006 — being held in December. The 2022 draft, for 2007-born players, may return to its regular time frame in May.
“The scouts are going to have to watch two age groups. They’ll be busy watching bantam and midget players and I can get out and watch some of those players too while also being involved here,” said Brent Sutter.
“Shaun is not going to be around the team this season as much as he had been.”