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Draft recap: Rebels first pick Hamilton a potent offensive force and proven playoff performer

Beckett Hamilton couldn’t have written a better Western Hockey League Prospects Draft script for himself.

“I’m very happy. It’s a great place to be and I’m excited,” the 15-year-old Humboldt, Sask., product said Thursday, a few hours after being selected by the Red Deer Rebels in the first round of the Prospects Draft, 18th overall.

“Honestly, I was really hoping to go to Red Deer because it’s such a great place.”

Hamilton turned in a spectacular season with his hometown U15AA Broncos, helping the team win the provincial title by scoring 39 goals and collecting 83 points in 29 regular season games and then cranking it up in the playoffs with 21 goals and 33 points in nine contests.

“I move the puck well. I play with a fast pace and I can shoot,” he said of his style of play. “I play with a bit of grit as well.”

Hamilton finished second on his team in points behind Dayne Beuker, who had 103 points, including 47 goals, and was picked 14th overall in Thursday’s draft by the Lethbridge Hurricanes. 

“That was pretty cool,” said Hamilton. “I don’t know if we were really expecting that, to be drafted that close together. 

“It was a really fun year. We had a great team and I was happy to see five players from our team get drafted.”

Hamilton, whose dad Lee played in the WHL from 1993 to ’97 with three teams and whose great uncle is Bruce Hamilton, the owner, president and GM of the Kelowna Rockets, stayed at home to take in the Prospects Draft then returned to school for his drivers education class. He described Thursday’s happenings as somewhat overwhelming.

“It was exciting, crazy almost.”

Rebels associate GM Shaun Sutter harboured no second thoughts when Hamilton was still available at No. 18, pointing out that the five-foot-eight, 150-pound centre is quite simply a clutch player.

“Since they started keeping stats in Saskatchewan bantam, in the last 20 years Beckett has had the most goals and points in playoffs,” said Sutter.

“We really thought he came on in the second half of the season and he really took his game to another level in playoffs. He’s a guy who has high end skill. He’s a high end shooter and he can make what I call ‘wow’ plays. Whether it’s shooting or passing, you say exactly that.

“He has that kind of offensive ability and he also has some grit to him, some hardness, which kind of matches up with what we’ve built our team around. But the key central part of his game is he’s a very good offensive player.”

The Rebels grabbed defenceman Jake Missura of Saskatoon with their second pick, 40th overall. 

“He’s got a real good skill set and he could be probably the best open ice hitter, or the most physical defenceman in the draft,” said Sutter.

“He’s a guy who’s kind of a hunter out there, another guy who meets the criteria of being a hard, skilled player.”

Missura, five-foot-10 and 154 pounds, scored six goals and recorded 25 points with the Saskatoon Bandits in 26 regular season games — to go with 100 penalty minutes — and added a goal and 19 minutes in penalties in four playoff games. He also played four games with the U18AAA Saskatoon Blazers.

“He’s a big hitter and has that dynamic where he’s a hard guy to play against,” said Sutter.

The Rebels, who didn’t have a third-round pick, went out west for their next player, taking forward Nickolas Kovich of Richmond, BC in the fourth round, 75th overall. 

“He’s a tall kid who can skate and shoot, plus he’s got power to his game,” said Sutter. “He’s also versatile. He’s gone back and forth playing forward and defence.”

Kovich  garnered 36 points, including 17 goals, in 21 games with the Delta Hockey Academy U15 Prep Green during the 2022-23 season.

Red Deer had two selections in the fifth round and snared goaltender Peyton Shore of Winnipeg (pictured below) and right-shot defenceman Millar Kramer of Battlefords, Sask., 100th and 106th overall respectively.

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“(Rebels goaltending coach) Ian Gordon really likes (Shore), he likes his potential,’’ said Sutter. “He had him rated as one of the top goalies in the draft, so we were happy to get him where we did.”

Shore, six-foot and 150 pounds, posted a 4.20 goals-against average and .879 save percentage with the Rink Academy U15 Prep team in ’22-23, then recorded a 1.96 GAA and .936 save percentage in two playoff outings.

With their second fifth-round pick, the Rebels selected Kramer, a 170-pound rearguard who stands a shade under six-foot-one.

“He’s a long guy who can skate and he played on a team where there was a lot of potential and runway with him being a heavy D-man,” said Sutter. “He will play U18 in Battlefords next year and has the potential to play well there.”

The Rebels did not have a sixth-round pick, then selected five players through the seventh to 11th rounds.

“We’re obviously excited about the players we picked,” said Sutter. “Along with the players we selected in the US Priority Draft (on Wednesday) . . . we wanted to add more skill and I think we’ve done that.”

The Rebels’ remaining selections (size, hometown, 2021-22 team and statistics, and quotes from Shaun Sutter):

Seventh round, 150th overall

C Noah Milford; five-foot-10, 148 pounds; Okotoks; Okotoks Oilers U15AAA — 32GP,26G,19A,45Pts,12 PIM.

“He’s a plus skater and was the captain of his team. He’s probably one of the better skating forwards in the entire Alberta U15 league. He has some skill. He can bring some offence and is a really good penalty killer.”

Eighth round, 172nd overall

RW Kade Pierson; six-foot, 170 pounds; Chestermere; Okotoks U15 — 33-13-20-33-50.

“He’s kind of the punisher, he might be the player in the draft who has the most presence. He plays a physical game and everybody feels it when he’s out there hitting people.”

Ninth round, 194th overall

D Nate Yellowaga; five-foot-10, 151 pounds; Calgary; Edge School U15 Prep — 29-4-25-29-20.

“He’s a first-round player who is committed to playing in the AJHL with Brooks. He has a really high end skill set and is going to be a pro one day. We just felt that is he’s going to play anywhere in our league we want him to play in Red Deer.”

10th round, 216th overall

C Nolan Schmidt; five-foot-11, 165 pounds; Edmonton; OHA Edmonton U15 Prep — 15-5-6-11-6.

“He was actually injured for the front half of the season. He’s a big, strong kid who can shoot the puck and because he missed so much time coming off injury it took him awhile to get going. But he’s going to be playing U18 for OHA Edmonton where a lot of players in this draft are going to be playing U17. We thought with his injury and where he’s going to be playing next season that he was a guy to gamble on.”

11th round, 238th overall

D Saul Astill; six-foot, 140 pounds; Edmonton; Northern Alberta Xtreme U15 Prep — 30-2-11-13-10.

“We really thought he improved at the end of the year. He’s got some height to him and we think he’s going to grow some more. We picked Blake Gustafson late one year and wonder if he can be that kind of player — a shutdown defenceman who can move well.”

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