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Rebels’ first pick in bantam draft plays at top speed and with a competitive edge

The Red Deer Rebels’ first pick in the WHL bantam draft held Thursday in Calgary was pretty much in the dark regarding his eventual suitor.
And then his day brightened.
“I had no idea, I was just hoping for the best,” said centre Ethan Rowland, who was selected by the Rebels 22nd overall in the lottery of players born in 2002.
As it turned out . . .
“It was wicked,” said Rowland, a Calgary product who suited up with his hometown Northstar Sabres during the 2016-17 season, scoring 14 goals and recording 39 points and 52 minutes in penalties in 34 games. “It’s nice that (Red Deer) is close.”
Rowland himself didn’t have any discussions with the Rebels prior to the draft.
“But my dad talked to a few guys and my representative (agent) did as well,” he stated.
The five-foot-eight, 162-pound forward plays bigger than his size, a fact that both he and Rebels assistant GM/director of player personnel Shaun Sutter confirmed.
“I feel that I’m a speedy, hard-working centreman who likes to finish his hits,” said Rowland, who emphasized that he’s “really looking forward to” attending the Rebels prospects camp in June at Penhold.
Sutter insisted that there’s plenty to like about the club’s first pick, including his speed and spark.
“He’s really fast, one of the quicker, faster players in the draft,” said Sutter. “His pace is probably at an elite level and he’s a real competitive kid. He plays with a lot of fire and determination.”
Rowland not only projects as a top-six player with the Rebels, but one who could one day wear a letter with the team.
“He has leadership and is kind of one of those guys who always finds a way . . . a guy who is going to go through the wall,” said Sutter. “He’s skilled, he can make plays and he can score goals, but he’s also a guy who whether he has the puck or not, you will always find him on the ice.
“He’s a responsible player and a guy who coaches are always going to like a lot.”
The Rebels didn’t have a second-round pick after relinquishing the selection to Saskatoon Wednesday in a deal that brought forward Mason McCarty to Red Deer.
With their third- and fourth-round picks, the club took centre Jordan Borysiuk of Mannville and Kyler Kovich of Vancouver at Nos. 63 and 74, respectively.
The five-foot-10, 166-pound Borysiuk notched 16 goals and added 24 assists for 40 points in 30 games with the Pursuit of Excellence bantam prep team in Kelowna.
According to Sutter, Borysiuk’s assets include a strong understanding of the game, among several others.
“He’s a real cerebral player who is skilled and can shoot, score and skate,” said Sutter. “He’s a good penalty killer as well, so he plays kind of a responsible, all around game and is a real smart player.”
Kovich, at least on paper, looks like a major steal considering the numbers he put up with the Western Canada champion Burnaby Winter Club Bruins — a whopping 139 points, including 67 goals, in 67 games, along with 78 penalty minutes and a staggering plus-125 rating.
He also checks in at five-foot-11 and 160 pounds.
“There weren’t a lot of power forward types, but rather a lot of smaller, skilled guys in this draft,” said Sutter. “We almost feel like because we didn’t have a second-round pick, that he is our second-round pick.
“He’s a real good player. He scored in a lot of big games and was his team’s best player. When you’re the best forward on a team like that . . . that says quite a bit.”
Kovich will almost certainly grow before he suits up for the Rebels full time, which, potentially, will make him even more valuable.
“He’s a guy who will make a lot of room for his linemates, he’ll complement them well,” said Sutter. “He’s a big bodied, strong kid who can throw his weight around.
“He can also make plays and score and there’s not a lot of guys like that around. He’s definitely a Rebels type player. We had him ranked in the second (round) and got him in the fourth.”
Defenceman Jace Isley of Grande Prairie and centre Jaxsen Wiebe of Moose Jaw rounded out the Rebels’ top five picks at Nos. 107 and 141, in the fifth and seventh rounds.
Isley, who contributed one goal and 14 assists and recorded 32 penalty minutes in in 23 games with the OHA Academy in Edmonton, started the season as a forward and moved to the back end out of necessity.
“The team had two defencemen hurt during the first tournament of the season and they asked him to play defence,” said Sutter of the five-foot-11, 177-pound rearguard. “He did for the majority of the rest of the season and looked like a really good defenceman.
“He sees the ice and he competes. As a defenceman he moves the puck and as a forward he’s a real good, two-way player. He has some versatility to his game and is a guy who we wanted to take.”
Wiebe, meanwhile, plays with an edge and has an offensive touch, as his 21 goals and 40 points in 27 games with the Moose Jaw Warriors would suggest. The five-foot-10, 160-pound forward also racked up 44 minutes in penalties.
“He has a real good skill set and he’s a guy who likes to play physical, who has a real bite to his game. He has the rare ability to almost want to run guys through the boards,” said Sutter.
The fact Wiebe is related to former Brandon Wheat Kings scorer/shift disturber Jace Hawryluk is another plus, Sutter noted.
“He’s a cousin of Jace Hawryluk and there are similarities in how both guys play,” said Sutter.
The Rebels closed out the draft by selecting two players in the eighth round — defenceman Chase Leslie of Camrose (163rd) and left winger Nickolas de Beurs of Cochrane (167th) — and blueliners Anthony Williams of Trail, B.C., in the ninth round (185th) and Blake Gustafson of Sherwood Park in the 10th (207th).
“We always try to have balance. To be honest, there were lots of forwards we wanted to draft but you always have to take defencemen too,” said Sutter, in reference to the team selecting five forwards and four rearguards.
“We got a little bit of everything in terms of our forwards with guys who are skilled and have power. On the back end, all of our guys have vision, they can see the ice well.
“Long story short, we tried to find guys who are smart players, who see the ice and want to be Red Deer Rebels. That was kind of the main thing about all the players we picked.”
Following are itemized summaries of the Rebels’ eighth- to 10th-round selections, including size, statistics (games played, goals, assists, points and penalty minutes) and quotes from Sutter:
Chase Leslie, Camrose Red Wings; five-foot-nine, 147 pounds; 32-3-10-13-52.
“He skates well and moves the puck. He’s competitive and has some size in his family so we think he’ll grow. He’s a guy who pushes the play up the ice and has some offensive upside to his game, although maybe his numbers don’t show it.”
Nickolas de Beurs, Airdrie Xtreme; five-foot-11, 165 pounds; 24-13-6-19-8
“He’s kind of a 200-foot player who is smart and responsible without the puck. He thinks the game, sees the ice and can make a play. He really came on down the stretch, including in the playoffs versus Lethbridge. He can play physical and is another player who has some versatility to his game. He’s a real responsible guy who competes and skates.”
Anthony Williams, Trail Bantam T2; five-foot-11, 156 pounds; stats unavailable.
“He has some size to him and does have some offensive upside. He plays a real hard, man’s game in how he defends, how he leans on guys and makes them pay a price. We like his potential, his upside, and those are the guys you want to take a chance on.”
Blake Gustafson, Sherwood Park Flyers; five-foot-11, 150 pounds; 21-0-7-7-4.
“He’s going to be a real huge kid. He has size 13 feet and a lot of size in his family. He’s big already and he thinks the game well, has a real good stick defensively and his positional game is good. He sees the ice and can move the puck. He’s a big, stay-at-home guy, but he also has some offensive potential. He was injured for the bulk of the season, but we watched him in playoffs and thought he was arguably Sherwood Park’s best player, and that’s when you expect a guy to elevate his game.”
Three members of the Red Deer Rebels bantam squad were selected Thursday, with defenceman Ronan Seeley going in the first round — 20th overall — to the Everett Silvertips and centre Noah Danielson (fourth round, 87th) and left winger Brett Meerman (fifth, 110th) both taken by the Medicine Hat Tigers.

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