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Rebels without a first-round pick in this year’s WHL draft, but that could change

If the Western Hockey League bantam draft was held today, the Red Deer Rebels would not have a first-round pick.

But that may change when the club participates in the draft Thursday at the Cambridge Hotel and Conference Centre, formerly the Red Deer Sheraton.

“Who knows, maybe we’re moving up in the draft. You never know,” Rebels assistant GM Shaun Sutter said Tuesday.

“We’ll look to take the best player (available), but there are certain things you know you have to get early in the draft or you’re not going to get them.”

As it currently stands, the Rebels won’t pick until the second round, 31st overall, after surrendering their first-round selection as part of a deal last November that brought forwards Brett Davis and Cam Hausinger over from the Kootenay (now Winnipeg) Ice.

But considering this year’s bantam draft isn’t considered to be particularly deep in talent, moving up might be the only way to land an impactful prospect.

The chances of snaring a hidden gem in later rounds is slight, Sutter noted.

“With the way everything (WHL scouting) is now, there are no hidden players,” he said. “Some teams might have a better book on the American kids, but even among the U.S kids, everyone knows who the top guys are.”

Forward Matthew Savoie of St. Albert is the consensus best player available in the draft, but there’s some doubt that he’ll be the first pick due to the fact he’s made a commitment to the University of Denver.

Forward Bowden Singleton, who had a monster Alberta Cup tournament with 16 points in five games, may also be ignored by some teams due to the fact he’s also a NCAA commit.

There are other top draft prospects who have committed to U.S. colleges, but like Savoie and Singleton, they aren’t signed, sealed and delivered to the American schools.

“There are (NCAA) rules in place that they have to make the commitment now or they will miss the window,” said Sutter. “But no one will really know until the draft is over whether they will (actually) be going to college.”

Savoie, fellow Albertan Koehn Ziemmer, Conor Geekie of Winnipeg and Red Deer’s Nolan Danielson are among the cream of the crop of available forwards, while Keaton Dowhaniuk of Sherwood Park, Mats Lindgren of North Vancouver and Danton Mateychuk of Dominion City, Man., are at or near the top of the list of defencemen.

Danielson starred with the Red Deer major bantam Rebels during the 2018-19 season and will likely be just one of several Rebels players selected Thursday.

“The team had a great season and while the draft is going to be a bit all over the map, I would think they could have a large numbers of kids who have a chance to be drafted,” said Sutter.

That number would include Danielson’s linemates Ty Daneault and Tyler MacKenzie, along with defenders Kaiden Ellertson and Avery Trotter and netminder Kaden Toussaint.

The Rebels also own Moose Jaw’s second-round pick (38th overall), as well as Seattle’s third (51st), and also have picks in each of the following rounds, with the exception of the seventh.

The bantam draft will be preceded by Wednesday’s WHL awards luncheon, also to be held at the Cambridge Hotel and Conference Centre.

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