With two picks in the first round of this year’s WHL bantam draft set for Thursday at the Red Deer Sheraton, the Red Deer Rebels won’t favour position over pure talent.
In other words, they’ll take the best players available while selecting seventh and 16th overall, the second first-rounder coming courtesy of the 2017 trade deadline deal they worked with the Regina Pats.
“With the picks we have we have identified a lot of good players at those spots, so we’ll take the best player as he comes up,” Rebels assistant GM/director of player personnel Shaun Sutter said Monday.
“As you start to get some guys in the fold then maybe you start looking more towards positions. But the focus will be on taking the best player. We don’t see it that you take one position over another.”
The Rebels own five picks in the first three rounds, including their own second- and third-round selections and a second third rounder via the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
“It gives up some ammo to do some different things, whether it’s trading for players in the league or moving up or moving back (in the draft) to pick players,” said Sutter. “We have a lot of different options.”
The Rebels will also pick a player in each of the following rounds, with the exception of the sixth.
Red Deer should get a promising skater with the first of their two first rounders, if not both.
“There’s kind of a layer of players, then a whole bunch of guys that I think are all good players,” said Sutter of the depth of talent available in the draft. “But they’re all really close. It depends on what you’re looking for.
“I don’t know if there’s a consensus No. 1 in this age group. There could be up to four guys, or maybe there’s a couple of guys that teams might consider.”
Near the top of the list, if not at the top, is defenceman Carson Lambos of Winnipeg, who played for the Rink Academy in his hometown this season.
“He’s right up there, along with Sean Tschigerl (forward, OHA Academy in Edmonton), Zack Stringer (forward, midget AAA Lethbridge Hurricanes) and Logan Stankhoven (centre, Yale Academy). Those are some of the top names.”
Stringer is a particularly intriguing prospect, considering the six-foot-one Lethbridge native played at the midget AAA level this past winter, accumulating 30 points — including 17 goals — in 23 regular-season games and adding 11 goals and 16 points in 10 playoff outings.
He also finished second in Telus Cup scoring (seven goals, 11 points in seven games) while helping the Pacific Region champion ‘Canes capture bronze at this year’s national midget championship in Sudbury, Ont.
“Some would argue that he’s the best player in the draft,” said Sutter.
Other players who could be among the top 10 players picked in the draft include forward Jayden Grubbe of the Calgary Bisons, defenceman Graham Sward of Yale Academy and forwards Zack Ostapchuk and Dylan Guenther from the Northern Alberta Xtreme Academy.
Defenceman Aiden Hreschuk of Los Angeles, forward Trevor Wong of Vancouver (St. George’s Academy) and rearguard Corson Ceulemans of OHA Edmonton, would also be in the top-10 mix except that they have already committed to NCAA schools Boston College, Denver and Wisconsin.
“If they were not college guys they would be right up there, towards the top (of the draft),” said Sutter.
The Central team captured the Alberta Cup championship the past weekend in Spruce Grove, with several players standing out in the process while garnering interest among WHL scouts.
Included were both goaltenders — Drew Sim of Tees, who was at the OHA Academy this season, and Red Deer County resident Colby Knight.
“They both showed good signs throughout the year,” said Sutter.
sOther ‘local’ prospects who could be in the draft mix Thursday are defencemen Boston Lajeunesse of Red Deer and Charlie Wright of Olds, who served as captain of the Red Deer major bantam Rebels, forward Zachery Burns of Eckville, and forwards Fox Doell and Myles Hilman of Blackfalds and Jayden Henderson of Sylvan Lake.
“Those are players who I can see being of interest to WHL teams at some point (in the draft),” said Sutter. “There could also be a couple of others from the Red Deer bantam team who might come into the mix.”
Sutter identified Alberta as the province holding the bulk of this year’s draft talent, while admitting that he and other WHL scouts had their work cut out for them while attempting to properly evaluate the academy and Alberta Major Bantam League players at this year’s Alberta Cup.
“That was the tricky thing for us this year, with so many kids out of academies playing against each other,” he said. “It plays tricks on you watching these kids from the AMBHL. You think it’s weaker competition, then you see these academy teams that are kind of loaded. They’re winning all these tournaments and these good players are all playing with other good players.
“We saw a bit of that last year with the Pursuit of Excellence, in terms of having all these high end players playing together. This year there were a number of teams similar to that.
“You watch some of the AMBHL teams and you wonder if it’s inferior competition or how these guys would look if they were playing with academies, and vice versa. And then you go to the Alberta Cup and you see these AMBHL guys playing real well and in some cases even outplaying some of the academy guys.
“You see the academy guys being split up and kind of on their own, and some of the guys thrive and some of the guys . . . it maybe raised a question that they may have to play with other better players to make themselves better.”