Red Deer Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter was determined to carry eight defencemen on his Western Hockey League roster this season.
Smart decision, as it turned out.
The Rebels lost Alex Alexeyev to an upper body injury last Friday. The Russian defenceman, listed as week-to-week, will be on the shelf for an undetermined period of time, but the presence of rookies Hunter Donohoe and Sam Pouliot provide depth on the back end.
“You always know that injuries are going to happen throughout the year,” said Sutter. “There are things that come up throughout the year that you hope don’t come up, but they do, that’s the reality. You need to have the depth to make sure you can cover that.”
The loss of their best blueliner is a gut punch to the Rebels, but as Sutter noted, it gives Donohoe and Pouliot the chance to step up and play more meaningful minutes.
“With Alex out, that’s a very good player out of our lineup, but we’re going to have him back at some point and (in the meantime) it’s going to give one of our other two young defencemen a chance to play if we dress six defencemen,” said Sutter. “And if we dress seven they’ll both play. It will help out with their development.”
Most of the extra duty will fall to the club’s other five rearguards, of whom only Brandon Schuldhaus has played more than 100 games in the league.
“I told them that the reality is ‘guys, you’re all experienced players and we expect you to play like experienced players’,” said Sutter.
“We’re not going to make excuses on anything, we’re just going to continue to forge ahead. When you go through the process of developing these guys, as they go along their roles grow.
“I’m not asking anyone to be Alex. It’s just that they have to continue to be a solid group.”
Donohoe has appeared in three of the 3-2 Rebels’ five games this fall, while Pouliot has drawn into the lineup once. Before they are given regular minutes they’ll have to show they are capable of carrying that added responsibility, but they’re being prepped on a regular basis.
“It was important with both that we get them through some practices and that they understand how things work off the ice with their training,” said Sutter.
“When they get into the lineup they have to be ready to play, ready to go.
Whether they play five minutes a game or 15 minutes, you don’t know. But they have to be ready and the reality is whether it’s those guys, or whoever, they have to treat practices like games and make themselves develop through practice.”
Rowland, Borysiuk on Team Alberta WHL Cup roster
Two of Red Deer’s nine selections in May’s WHL bantam draft will compete in the WHL Cup Oct. 18-22 at the Markin MacPhail Centre in Calgary.
Forwards Ethan Rowland of Calgary and Jordan Borysiuk of Mannville will suit up for Team Alberta in the competition for players born in 2002.
Notable by his absence among the four Western Canada provincial rosters is forward Kyler Kovich, the Rebels’ fourth-round pick (Rowland and Borysiuk were selected in the first and third rounds), who didn’t crack the roster of Team B.C. Kovich, a product of Coquitlam, was taken in the fourth round (the Rebels didn’t have a second-round pick) after coming off a sensational season with the Western Canada major bantam champion Burnaby Winter Club Bruins.
He remains a top prospect of the Rebels.
“We really like him as a player,” said Sutter. “We think he’s going to be a heck of a (WHL) player. He’s a big strong guy who can skate, shoot the puck and check, and he has a mean streak to him. He has skill and he’s smart. He’s kind of like the full package.
“At the end of the day (provincial team) coaches can only take so many kids, but that doesn’t have any bearing on what we think of him.”
Kovich has yet to sign with the Rebels, but Sutter said talks are ‘ongoing’. “If he makes the decision to play in Red Deer he’s certainly going to be a very important part of our team in the future,” said the Rebels boss.
Just notes: Alexeyev and teammate and defenceman Dawson Barteaux have been identified by Central Scouting as two players to watch for next year’s NHL entry draft. Alexeyev is ranked as a ‘B’ prospect as a player projected to go in the second or third round, while Barteaux is a ‘C’ prospect (fourth to sixth round) . . . The Rebels return to action Saturday against the visiting Brandon Wheat Kings. The puck drops at 7 p.m. . . . Former Rebels defenceman Haydn Fleury has cracked the regular-season roster of the Carolina Hurricanes. Fleury was selected by the ‘Canes in the first round of the 2014 NHL entry draft and played last season in the American Hockey League.