Zaitsev signs with Rebels, de Wit added to players list

The Red Deer Rebels will have either two or three import players on hand when the Western Hockey League team opens training camp Aug. 22 at the Centrium.

Veteran defenceman Alex Alexeyev, taken by the Washington Capitals in the first round — 31st overall — in June’s NHL entry draft, and newly acquired Russian centre Oleg Zaitsev will be at camp, but the jury is still out on the inclusion of Belarus forward Ivan Drozdov.

The Rebels selected Zaitsev 17th overall in the recent Canadian Hockey League import draft and nabbed Drozdov 77th overall, but the six-foot, 174-pound winger who turns 19 in November might not be in the Rebels’ plans considering CHL teams can carry only two imports. 

With Alexeyev all but certain to be back with the Rebels in the fall and Zaitsev officially signing with the team on Friday, Drozdov might at least temporarily fit into the picture in the event that Alexeyev is late returning from Washington.

“We haven’t decided if we’ll bring him (Drozdov) to camp. We have to talk to his agent,” Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter said Sunday.

The Rebels boss was tickled to get Zaitsev’s name on a contract and sees the 17-year-old playing a major role with his team in 2018-19.

“He’s an elite level player, a stud,” said Sutter of the six-foot-one, 185-pound dazzler. “Right now he’s the best Russian centre iceman in his age group. 

“We’re very excited about adding him to our team. He’s signed a contract. He’s all in.”

Rebels add a familiar face

Former Rebel Jeff de Wit has been added to the team’s players list and  if he attends training camp he will potentially be one of five players in the running for the three allotted overage spots. 

Forward Reese Johnson, who will attend the upcoming New York Rangers rookie camp and has already been appointed Rebels captain for the 2018-19 campaign, will definitely claim one of the 20-year-old spots. Brandon Hagel, who attended the recent Montreal Canadiens prospects camp and has been invited to the team’s rookie camp, will be another shoo-in if he returns to the Rebels, while de Wit, defenceman Colin Paradis and possibly goaltender Riley Lamb are also in the picture.

“I’m going to talk to Lamber in the next 10 days and we’ll discuss his future here,” said Sutter.

Hagel would be welcomed back with open arms and Sutter believes the Morinville native would be one of the WHL’s better 20-year-olds. 

“We think he can be an elite overage player in our league,” he said. “There’s a lot of players who come back, have great seasons as 20-year-olds and sign pro contracts. Moose Jaw had two guys (Tanner Jeannot and Jayden Halbgewachs) who did that last season.

“Hages’ last two years have been hit and miss. We think he has to have a really good 20-year-old year and we’re expecting that from him. What Montreal is thinking, I’m not sure. Obviously he wants to go to their camp and push to get to main camp and try and get a contract. We do know that he’ll be one of our 20-year-olds if he’s back.”

Red Deer native de Wit, meanwhile, was the Rebels first-round pick in the 2013 WHL bantam draft. He was dealt to the Regina Pats in January of 2017 and has also played with the Kootenay Ice and Victoria Royals.

“We’ve added Jeff to our 20-year-old list and I’ve been in discussions with him,” said Sutter.

Kovich remains unsigned

Kyler Kovich, a fourth-round pick in the 2017 bantam draft, has expressed interest in attending the Rebels training camp in August although he’s already committed to the Nanaimo Clippers of the BCHL for the upcoming season.

Kovich, 16, was drafted by the Rebels after putting up an impressive 139 points (67g,72a) with the Burnaby Winter Club bantams in 2016-17. Last season he had 15 goals and 41 points in 37 games as a 15-year-old with the Vancouver Northeast Chiefs of the BC Major Midget League.

“He wants to play junior A next year but he still wants to come to our camp,” said Sutter. “Could that change between now and training camp, yes, perhaps.”

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