Rebels will select ‘best player available’ in WHL bantam draft
With the 22nd and final selection of the opening round, the Red Deer Rebels won’t be, well, picky when choosing their first player in Thursday’s WHL bantam draft in Calgary.
In short, assistant GM/director of player personnel Shaun Sutter won’t be focused on nabbing a prospect based on his position, but will stick with the ‘best player available’ routine.
“Since we pick late again, we’ll just be looking at the best player,” said Sutter. “The only thing we know for sure is we probably won’t be looking at a goalie at 22.”
The Rebels had the 20th selection in last year’s draft, but dealt the pick to the Vancouver Giants to move down and took netminder Byron Fancy with the second pick (24th overall) of the second round.
For the record, likely the most coveted goalie in this year’s draft is six-foot-three, 204-pound Sebastian Costa from the Fort Saskatchewan Rangers. But as Sutter noted, it’s highly doubtful that he’ll be coming to Red Deer.
The 2017 bantam draft isn’t overly deep in talent, Sutter said.
“I think the consensus is that maybe it’s a bit of a down year overall,” he stated. “There are still good players as usual, especially at the top of the draft, then it falls off after a bit.
“I’d say it’s similar to the ’98 age group (the 2013 draft in which Tyler Benson went first overall to the Giants and the Rebels took Jeff de Wit at No. 14), probably not as strong but similar in terms of what the age group looks like.”
In Sutter’s eyes, the top five forwards — in no particular order — available in the draft are all from academies — Ethan Bowen of Yale in Abbotsford, B.C., Jake Neighbours and Connor McClennon of the Pursuit of Excellence in Kelowna, Justin Sourdif from Delta (B.C.) and Seth Jarvis from Rink Academy in Winnipeg.
On defence, the top prospects include Kaiden Guhle of the OHA Academy in Edmonton, who could easily go first overall, Ryan Helliwell of the Burnaby Winter Club, Luke Prokop (POE) and Aiden De La Gorgendiere of Yale.
Locally, Sutter is confident that at least three members — defenceman Ronan Seeley and forwards Noah Danielson and Brett Meerman — of the Red Deer Rebels bantam squad will be selected.
Danielson was the top scorer in the Alberta Major Bantam League with 36 goals and 78 points, while fellow Red Deer native Meerman was ninth with 67 points — including 33 goals — and Seeley, of Olds, was fourth among rearguards with 38 points (8-30).
“Justin (bantam Rebels head coach Jarmolicz) did such a good job with a lot of those kids that if people go by the rate of improvement throughout the year and from watching them play through the second half of the season, then I do think that besides those three, there might be anywhere from two to four other kids who have a chance,” said Sutter.
Forward Silas Buijs, Sutter noted, might be selected partly due to his size (six-foot-three, 155 pounds), and defenceman Alex Litster of Red Deer County could be taken in a later round.
“It is a weak year so I think teams will be all over the map,” he added.
Based on the final 2016-17 standings, the Rebels would draft ninth in this year’s draft but that selection belongs to the Swift Current Broncos due to the December 2015 trade that brought forward Jake DeBrusk to Red Deer.
The Rebels got the 22nd pick from Regina in January’s transaction that sent defenceman Josh Mahura and de Wit to the Pats in exchange for forward Lane Zablocki and defenceman Dawson Barteaux, along with two conditional first-round selections — this year and next — and a swap of conditional thirds.
Barring any last-minute trades, Red Deer will pick in every round Thursday except the sixth.