If at first you don’t succeed . . .
Jacob Herauf, one year after being selected by the Red Deer Rebels in the first round of the 2015 Western Hockey League bantam draft, had his heart set on playing at the major junior level in his first season of eligibility.
But although he cracked the Red Deer lineup at the start of the 2016-17 season, the Sherwood Park product was reassigned to his hometown midget AAA club in mid-October.
Rather than treating the demotion as a slight, Herauf, then 16, went right back to work, continued to hone his skills with the midget AAA Kings and basically took it upon himself to get back to the big club as soon as possible.
His determination and competitiveness paid off in spades, as he was recalled to the Rebels in December and hasn’t looked back. The blueliner appeared in 37 games last winter and four more in the playoffs, and has been a regular this season.
“Going into last season I guess I put too much pressure on myself,” Herauf said Thursday. “I wanted to make the team. Obviously things didn’t go so well and I get sent home, but I used that as motivation.
“Coming back up and playing in those games, especially late in the season with Alex (fellow blueliner Alexeyev) injured, helped me a lot in my development.
“This year I just came running right in.”
While he’s still in search of his first WHL goal, Herauf registered five assists last season and has recorded six helpers through 22 games of the current campaign.
He has shown some offensive abilities, but he’s mostly known for his motor.
“He’s a competitive guy, he likes to be in the battle,” said Rebels associate coach Jeff Truitt, who works with the club’s defensive corps.
Herauf has taken on a bigger role in recent games and hasn’t flinched in the process, Truitt noted.
“We’ve moved him up with Alex as a pairing and he hasn’t been intimidated by anything speed-wide or strength-wise. He loves to compete and he makes good plays with the puck.
“There’s going to be some mistakes but his effort has been there and he’s shown that he’s not afraid of (playing against) those top two (opposition) lines.”
Herauf was only too happy to take on the heavier minutes on the Red Deer blueline and skating alongside Alexeyev, who’s projected as a possible first- or second-round pick in next year’s NHL entry draft, has been a plus for the 17-year-old.
“I like it a lot. I’m playing on my off-side, which I haven’t played since bantam or first year of midget,” he said. “But Alex is a reliable player out there. and I know that if I can get him the puck that he can make a play with it.”
Herauf isn’t an imposing physical presence at six-foot and 176 pounds, but his competitive nature and strength more than make up for any perceived lack of size.
“He’s actually lighter this year. He came into camp in really good shape. He leaned out a bit which probably helped his skating, his speed,” said Truitt.
“But he’s always been a pretty strong guy and when you put that physical strength with his mental competitiveness, it doesn’t really matter what size he is. He seems to stick his nose in there and wins more battles than he loses.”
Herauf’s play and potential hasn’t gone unnoticed by the pro scouts this season. Earlier this month he was listed as one of Central Scouting’s ‘players to watch’ for the 2018 NHL draft.
“It’s a nice accomplishment but I’m trying to not dwell or focus on it too much,” said Herauf. “It’s early in the season, a lot can happen. Right now I’m just trying to focus on helping my team win some games here and working on my play.
“I feel I’ve developed a lot this season, especially from last year. I’m just taking each day as a new day, working as hard as possible. I feel like I’m a better all around player this year, but I still have a lot more to do.”
The Rebels head into Friday’s home game versus the high-flying Portland Winterhawks as losers of their last three contests and nine of their last 10. Still, morale remains high, Herauf insisted, adding that this week’s practice sessions have been buoyant in nature.
“We’re not playing our best hockey right now and we know that. We’re in a bit of a slump,” he said.
“But the guys have been upbeat and positive in practice, and we’ve had hard practices, up-tempo practices . . . we’re working hard. The guys are having fun out there and you can see the smiles on their faces. We’re enjoying ourselves out there.”
The Winterhawks recorded their eighth consecutive win Wednesday with a 7-3 romp over the host Calgary Hitmen. Portland sits atop both the U.S. Division and the Western Conference with a 17-4-0-0 slate and is the fourth-ranked team in the CHL . . . Portland C Cody Glass, a first-round pick — sixth overall — of the Vegas Golden Knights in this year’s NHL entry draft, is seventh in league scoring with 38 points (12g,26a), while LW Skyler McKenzie (19-15-34) and LW Kiefer Bellows (18-15-33) are 10th and 12th in the league. Henri Jokiharju is the ‘Hawks’ fourth-leading scorer and is second among WHL defenceman with 28 points (6-22). LW Joachim Blichfeld is also averaging a point per game or better with 17 (6-11) in 16 games, while C Alex Overhardt (5-9-14) and D Matthew Quigley (2-9-11) are also in double figures for points . . . Bellows (NY Islanders, 2016) and Jokiharju (Chicago, 2017) join Glass as NHL first-round picks. McKenzie (Winnipeg, seventh round 2017), D Brendan DeJong (Carolina, sixth round 2017) and Blichfeld (San Jose, seventh round 2016) are Portland’s other NHL-drafted players.
Injuries: Portland — C Ryan Hughes (lower body, week-to-week). Red Deer — D Dawson Barteaux (upper body, day-to-day).
Special teams: Portland — Power play 31 per cent, third overall; penalty kill 83.5 per cent, third. Red Deer — Power play 17.8 per cent, 17th overall; penalty kill 76.1 per cent, 14th.
If at first you don’t succeed . . .