As the 2018-19 hockey season progressed the Calgary Buffaloes upped their game, as did 15-year-old centre Jayden Grubbe.
Grubbe, the Red Deer Rebels’ first pick in the 2018 Western Hockey League bantam draft, scored a mere four goals during the regular season — albeit he added 22 assists for 26 points in 32 games — then cranked it up down the stretch, notching 11 goals in the Alberta Midget League playoffs, the Pacific Region final versus the Caribou Cougars and ultimately the Telus Cup, the national midget AAA championship tournament.
The Calgary native said the Buffaloes surprised even themselves with their run to the Alberta League title.
“It was a little different,” he said Saturday at the Penhold Regional Multiplex, the site of the Rebels spring prospects camp. “We weren’t really expected to make it that far. We started the season 1-4 and we just kind of stuck together through playoffs and came up big in the end.”
As for his own game, which elevated as the season unfolded . . .
“Through the regular season I was a little off, but in the playoffs I started playing like myself,” said Grubbe. “I came up big at the end and I think that helped me a lot . . . knowing how I have to play to keep that up.”
Grubbe was excellent down the stretch, scoring three goals in the Pacific Region final — including an overtime winner — which the Buffaloes swept in two games, then adding two goals and five points in seven Telus Cup contests.
“Here’s a kid who throughout the winter just got better and better,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter, who undoubtedly has already pencilled Grubbe into his 2019-20 opening night lineup. “He’s a big kid who plays the game the right way, a kid who was one of the Buffaloes’ top players down the stretch, in the playoffs and in the Telus Cup.
“That’s phenomenal to go through that experience at such a young age and be someone the coach can really count on . . . someone who can play in key situations and on the power play. He played really strong minutes for them.”
Grubbe, along with another Rebels’ premier prospect, defenceman Kyle Masters, suited up with Team Alberta in the Canada Winter Games in Red Deer in February and contributed five assists in five games as the provincial squad won bronze.
The winner of the 2017-18 Alberta Major Bantam League scoring race with 29 goals and 66 points as the captain of the Calgary Bisons, Grubbe is confident — due to his extended 2018-19 season — that he’ll be able to perform at an acceptable rate in the WHL starting next fall.
“I think I grew a lot last season, going that far at the end of the year just helped me a lot,” he said. “Just the experience and just pushing through the bigger, heavier games in the playoffs . . . that’s more like next season will be like so I think that experience will help a lot.”
Grubbe’s plan, obviously, has everything to do with cracking the Rebels’ next season and he’ll work hard during the summer to achieve that goal.
“I’ll do more one-on-one drills, skill stuff like shooting and stick handling and maybe power skating,” he said.
Sutter can see where Grubbe already has a head start.
“He’s now a year older, a year more mature and physically stronger,” said the Rebels boss. “He’s a big kid already, but he’s just even stronger now. You can see that with his skating, which is a lot better than a year ago.”
Grubbe carries 190 pounds on his six-foot-three frame, giving Sutter even more confidence that the physical play of the major junior game won’t bother the rookie.
“The thing about him is at 16 he’ll handle our league with no problem at all,” said Sutter. “He’s a guy you’re not going to worry about playing against other team’s certain players because of his strength.
“He’s got a mean streak in him, an edge to him, and you have to love that about him.”
The Rebels prospects camp opened Friday and concludes Sunday with a 9-11 a.m. on-ice session.