Red Deer Rebels general manager/head coach Brent Sutter was only mildly surprised when Russian forward and first-year Rebel Oleg Zaytsev was ignored in the 2109 NHL entry draft.
The Rebels boss took on another tone Wednesday. Not only was he surprised that two of his key players were passed over in this year’s NHL draft, he was downright saddened.
“It’s disappointing. You know these guys are very good players,” said Sutter, shortly after the draft concluded and neither defenceman Christoffer Sedoff nor forward Ben King was selected.
Sedoff (pictured above) was ranked 63rd among Canadian Hockey League players for the draft and King (pictured below) was ranked 121st. Sedoff, in particular, was considered by several draft pundits as a safe pick.
“The draft is a crapshoot, obviously. But you just know when you see it and go through it . . . it’s just disappointing,” said Sutter. “You know what type of players these guys are and as the draft goes along you see individuals taken, and you go ‘wow’.”
As Sutter noted, Western Hockey League draft prospects — and major junior prospects in general — were at a disadvantage as the draft progressed beyond the third round.
“When you get to that fourth- to seventh-round stretch you don’t see a ton of major junior players picked because of the commitment NHL teams have to make to them within the next two years,” said Sutter.
Players selected from European and North American leagues (high school, junior A) considered below the major junior level are property of NHL clubs for at least four years, whereas major junior players must sign within two years of being selected or become free agents.
“NHL teams own the rights of college kids until their college careers are over, which would make them 22 to 23 years of age,” said Sutter. “They don’t have to worry about contract negotiations and talking to them, while they have to sign major junior players within two years.”
Sedoff developed nicely during his rookie WHL season after being selected by Red Deer in the 2019 CHL import draft. The Finnish rearguard closed out the shortened WHL season with five goals and 19 points in 61 games.
King, meanwhile, scored 16 goals and added 22 assists for 38 points in 46 games after being acquired from the Swift Current Broncos in December of last year. Combined with his production in Swift Current, he finished the season with 20 goals and displayed an ability to play a solid and often impressive two-way game.
The Rebels bench boss is convinced both players will use the NHL draft snub as motivation.
They need look no further than former Rebels forward Brandon Hagel, who as a 20-year-old turned in a spectacular 2018-19 season and earned a contract with the Chicago Blackhawks after not being offered a deal by the Buffalo Sabres, who picked him two years earlier.
“We’ve already talked to the kids about it and it’s a mission now . . . we’ll get them there,” said Sutter. “They were both disappointed today, but they’re still driven and on a mission.”