Smith’s growth in size and ability makes him a top Rebels prospect
As a five-foot-nine bantam player, Zak Smith showed plenty of promise and displayed a solid work ethic.
Less than two full years later and now close to five inches taller, the Austin, Man., native is a front-runner to earn one of a small handful of available forward positions with the Red Deer Rebels for the 2017-18 Western Hockey League season.
And Smith, who was passed over in the 2016 WHL bantam draft, still harbours the same work habits along with some impressive offensive abilities.
The Rebels listed Smith last winter after senior scout Randy Peterson made a return trip to Manitoba to catch the youngster in action. Peterson had seen Smith in a provincial bantam showcase event and was eager to observe how the then 15-year-old could perform at the midget AAA level with the Central Plains Capitals, based out of Portage la Prairie.
Needless to say, he came away impressed.
“He was one of the guys we wanted to get a better read on,” Peterson said Friday, during a Rebels main training camp session at the Centrium. “I watched him play in Portage, on a smaller ice surface which was the midget team’s home rink.
“You can learn a lot (as a scout) from that . . . how the players play in short spaces, small spaces, and how much hockey sense they have . . . how they think the game. He (Smith) showed a lot and he was used in every situation by his team.
“Plus, he grew a lot last year, he’s now a six-two kid whose hockey sense drew us to him.”
The 181-pound winger, as it turned out, enjoyed a sensational midget AAA season with the Central Plains program, notching 22 goals and collecting 56 points during 44 regular-season outings and adding a goal in three playoff games while performing against players up two years older.
“It wasn’t all me,” Smith insisted. “It was my teammates. I was on a great line with great players, we were great as a team with great coaching.”
The big winger insisted he used the fact that he was igorned in the WHL bantam draft as a progression tool.
“Last year I was a lot smaller. I wasn’t drafted so I had some motivation when Red Deer listed me,” said Smith, who attended Lethbridge’s training camp last fall but wasn’t listed by the Hurricanes.
“ They (Rebels) told me I was an underdog and I used that motivation to bring me up. That gave me motivation and it’s helped along the way.”
Smith realizes he’s facing a golden opportunity with the Rebels, but isn’t looking too far ahead.
“You never know. It’s camp and you never know,” he said. “Anyone can make the team, it’s just who works the hardest and wants it more and who has the heart for it.”
Smith describes himself as an all-around player who takes as much pride in setting up a goal as scoring one.
“I think I’m a 200-foot player,” he said. “I like to work in the corners. I’m not really a shoot-first guy. I’m more of a look-for-a-pass guy.”
Peterson returned to Manitoba in December of last year to further evaluate Smith.
“It was 30 (degrees) below and I made a special trip, but it was worth it,” said Peterson. “I think we got a pretty good kid who shows a lot of ability.
“We’ve seen him play against some pretty good teams. He’s a great kid and a hard-working player.”
Rebels main training camp continues Saturday with 90-minute practice sessions set to start at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
Rookie camp opens Sunday and training camp concludes Wednesday with the 7 p.m. Black and White game.
The Rebels will open their preseason schedule with home games versus the Calgary Hitmen and Edmonton Oil Kings Sept. 1 and 2.
Main camp roster (with year of birth and hometown; x-returnee):
Goal — x-Riley Lamb, 1998, Rivers, Man.; x-Lasse Petersen, ’97, Swan River, Man.
Defence — x-Alexander Alexeyev, ’99, St. Petersburg, Russia; x-Brandon Schuldhaus, ’98, Calgary; x-Carson Sass, ’99, Melville, Sask.; x-Jared Freadrich, ’98, Camrose; x-Ethan Sakowich, ’99, Athabasca.
Forwards — x-Brandon Hagel, ’98, Morinville; Kristian Reichel, ’98, Most, Czech Republic; x-Lane Zablocki, ’98, Regina; x-Grayson Pawlenchuk, ’97, Ardrossan; x-Austin Pratt, ’99, Lakeville, Minn.; Mason McCarty, ’97, Blackie; x-Dawson Martin, ’98, Winnipeg; x-Reese Johnson, ’98, Saskatoon; x-Akash Bains, ’99, Delta, B.C.; x-Jordan Roy, ’98, Lethbridge.
Goal — Byron Fancy, 2001, Claresholm; Ethan Anders, ’00, Regina.
Defence — x-Jacob Herauf, ’00, Sherwood Park; Nic Draffin, ’01, Lethbridge; Hunter Donohoe, ’00, Surrey, B.C.; Sam Pouliot, ’00, North Vancouver; Ryan Gottfried, ’01, Winnipeg; x-Dawson Barteaux, ’00, Foxwarren, Man.
Forwards — Reilly Funk, ’00, Portage la Prarie, Man.; Jayden McCarthy, ’01, Morris, Man.; Zak Smith, ’01, Austin, Man.; x-Brandon Cutler, ’00, Spruce Grove; Austin Schellenberg, ’00, Grande Prairie; Justin Svenson, ’01, Ile Des Chenes, Man.; Arshdeep Bains, ’01, Surrey, B.C.; River Fahey, ’01, Campbell River, B.C.; x-Chris Douglas, ’00, Richmond, B.C.; Blake Sydlowski, ’01, St. Albert; Riley Johnson, ’00, Winnipeg; Chase Lowry, ’00, Sherwood Park.