Photo by Rob Wallator
The goal that Lane Zablocki scored Tuesday — his first as a Red Deer Rebel — was indicative of the Wetaskiwin product’s style of play.
Zablocki notched Red Deer’s final marker in a 4-1 win over the visiting Prince George Cougars by poking a loose puck past goaltender Nick McBride while crashing the net.
“The last couple of years I’ve scored goals from mostly in front of the net,” the six-foot, 184-pound winger said Wednesday. “When I was younger I was a little more skilled, but I settled into my role and found what I do best.
“I can’t complain. Goals are goals and if we’re winning I’m happy.”
Zablocki, acquired from the Regina Pats a few hours prior to Tuesday’s WHL trade deadline in a four-player transaction that also involved several bantam draft picks, is somewhat of a masochist in that he enjoys toiling in the difficult — and often painful — areas of the ice.
“I take pride in my game and being tough to play against,” he insisted. “It’s just the way I’ve played since peewee. I love it.”
There’s not a single coach who doesn’t appreciate that type of drive and determination in a player, including Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter.
“I think you guys saw what type of player he is,” Sutter told the local media following Tuesday’s contest. “He brings speed and he’s going to get scoring chances. He plays hard and that’s the beauty about this — he has hardness in his game and he’s smart, he knows how to play.”
Zablocki is more than a one-dimensional player, as Sutter noted. While he’s willing to play a hard-nosed style, he’s also capable of putting up points.
Now in his NHL entry draft season, the just-turned 18-year-old (Dec. 27) was disappointed to leave the championship contending Pats, but is pleased with the fact he’ll play a bigger role with his new club.
“It was tough to leave Regina. I’d never been traded from one team to another before,” he said. “But I’m excited about coming here.”
He was playing on the third line with the Pats due to their depth of skilled forwards, and will get top-six minutes with the Rebels which will aid his development and perhaps even his draft ranking.
“Whenever I have a chance to contribute and help the team out and get more minutes to develop my game, I’m always going to be happy,” he said.
Zablocki was a minor hockey phenom in his hometown, scoring 50 goals and recording 92 points in 22 games at the bantam tier 2 level.
As a 14-year-old, he put up 24 goals and 45 points in 33 games with the Leduc major bantam Oil Kings in the 2012-13 campaign and scored twice in two games with the minor midget AAA Oil Kings the same season.
He joined the minor midget AAA squad full-time the following year — exploding for 45 goals and 81 points in 37 games — and also suited up for six games with the midget AAA Oil Kings, contributing three goals and two assists.
Zablocki joined the Sherwood Park Crusaders of the Alberta Junior Hockey League as a 16-year-old and turned in a 25-point season (15g,10a) in 55 outings, then started his WHL career in the fall of 2015.
“It was a good stepping stone for me. It was a big jump but it helped me coming into this league last year,” he said of his time at the junior A level.
Zablocki, whose WHL rights were acquired by the Pats from the Prince George Cougars in August of 2015, turned in an impressive rookie campaign as a 17-year-old, recording 18 goals and 37 points in 72 regular-season games. He was even more impressive in last spring’s playoffs, finding the back of the opposition net on seven occasions and picking up a pair of helpers in 12 contests.
Still, he admitted that even after playing with the junior A Crusaders, adjusting to the major junior level wasn’t something that happened overnight.
“Just the speed of the game and how quick you have to make your decisions,” he said of the difficulties he faced. “I had a good start and then kind of cooled off after that. The big thing was just adapting to the speed and the quickness of the game.”
The fact that he posed an obvious threat to the Rebels in Red Deer’s eventual seven-game conquest of the Pats in an Eastern Conference semifinal last spring, convinced Sutter that Zablocki was a player who would fit in well with his team.
“He has offensive skill and he’s a hard player to play against,” said Sutter. “He was outstanding against us last year in the playoffs and the two times we played them this season he was a thorn both nights.”
Zablocki caught a flight out of Regina Tuesday afternoon and arrived in Red Deer roughly an hour before the puck dropped.
“I only got here 10 minutes before the warm-up, but the players welcomed me and I feel like I’m at home already,” he said.
While the Rebels don’t possess the overall skill and experience of the Pats, Zablocki is confident he and his new team can be a threat over the second half of the season and into the playoffs.
“We have four lines here who can go and we’re tough to play against,” he said. “Come playoff time, anyone can win.
“This team reminds me of our team in Regina last season.”
The Rebels depart for Saskatchewan Thursday morning and begin a three-game road trip Friday at Prince Albert.