Last week was a busy one for the Red Deer Rebels.
With the WHL trade deadline just a week away, the team has begun loading up for their Memorial Cup run, making no less than four moves in the past week alone.
It all kicked off on Dec. 27th when Rebels GM and Head Coach Brent Sutter announced the team had acquired forward Jake DeBrusk from the Swift Current Broncos in exchange for Lane Pederson, a first round pick in the 2017 Bantam Draft and a third round pick in 2016.
“I’m loving it. I haven’t been here for too long and I already like it. It’s Alberta, so back close to home. I just really like it and, you know, I’m really excited about joining the team and helping to win some games here and make a push,” DeBrusk said.
The addition of DeBrusk brings even more firepower to an already explosive Rebels offence that already has the third best goal differential in the league.
DeBrusk has wasted no time making an impact on the roster. Debrusk potted a pair of goals and an assist in his first two games as a Rebel.
“It’s always nice to get some points, especially with a new team. That’s one of the things that I was told. You don’t want to be waiting too long to get the first goal or things like that,” DeBrusk said during an interview last week.
The next day the Rebels added 17-year-old forward Taden Rattie of Airdrie from the Portland Winterhawks for a fourth round pick in 2016.
Rattie’s brother, Ty Rattie, is a St. Louis Blues prospect who put up 348 points over four seasons with the Winterhawks and is currently playing up and down with the Blues and their AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves.
But the two Ratties could not be more different in their playing styles. While Ty is a pure goal scorer who at one point held the Alberta Bantam scoring record, Taden takes a slightly more aggressive approach.
The WHL rookie stands an imposing 6’4”, making him the tallest player on the Rebels’ roster. He’s also not afraid to get his hands dirty, racking up 212 PIMs in the AJHL so far this season.
The trade frenzy continued late last week when the Rebels finalized a deal that sent captain Wyatt Johnson, prospect Eli Zummack, a 2016 second and a 2017 fifth to the Spokane Chiefs in exchange for 20-year-old Adam Helewka, another high scoring forward.
“To get something really good you’ve got to give up assets to do it and unfortunately it’s taken a player and a person like Wyatt out of our dressing room. That part stings, no question about it,” Sutter said during a press conference on Thursday. He added that giving up a good young prospect and a second round pick was no small decision either.
“With that being said, we’re getting a player that from our standpoint is probably one of the top three players in our league and a forward, a big forward that puts up numbers. He’s a gamebreaker,” he said.
Helewka was Spokane’s leading goal scorer with 13 goals and 16 assists in 19 games this season.
The big winger made his Rebels debut last Saturday night, playing on a line with DeBrusk and leading scorer Ivan Nikolishin when they hosted the first place Brandon Wheat Kings.
And what a debut it was.
Helewka’s line combined for a total of 13 points on the evening as his new team surged to a 10-0 victory.
“Those players have amazing skill. I think, already, through just one game we’ve kind of found some chemistry together and hopefully we’re going to have a great season ahead of us,” said Helewka, who himself had a goal and three assists and earned a second star selection.
In fact, all three Rebels newcomers looked really good during the game. DeBrusk scored a hat trick and added an assist, earning a first star nod. Taden also performed well. Although he didn’t have the high offensive output the other two did, he did have a couple of shots and at least one good scoring chance as well as a few good hits.
“Obviously when you get a line like that that can play at that level it’s huge for you. But, again, we’ll see how it goes once we get everybody back and healthy and get guys back from World Juniors,” Sutter said of the DeBrusk-Helewka-Nikolishin line.
Finally, last Sunday morning the Rebels sent Presten Kopeck and Ryan Pouliot, along with a prospect and two draft picks, to the Kootenay Ice in exchange for team captain Luke Philp.
“He’s strong on pucks, he knows the game, he makes plays, he’s skilled. And what’s impressive with Luke, too, is the fact that he’s continuing to get better every year,” Sutter said.
Philp, a 20-year-old, was named captain of the Ice earlier this year and will bring another offensive boost to the team, as well as a little bit more leadership.
“I was extremely excited to hear I was coming to Red Deer,” said Philp after arriving in Red Deer on Monday.
The 5’10”, 174 lb. centreman has racked up 29 points for the Ice in 22 games this season. He has been sidelined since early November with an ankle injury, and while there is no official timeline for his return to the ice, he said he’s working towards getting back quickly.
“There’s no specific date right now, but I’m just taking it every day, trying to get better every day, trying to get more range of motion every day and stuff like that, so no specific date yet,” he said.
With the trade deadline looming on Monday, there may still be more moves to make for the Rebels, who currently sit just two points out of first place in the Central Division.
With all of the leadership now in the dressing room (with the exception of Taden, all of the Rebels’ new acquisitions wore letters for their respective teams) the team has no shortage of choices as to who will replace Johnson as captain. Despite that, though, Sutter said the team will take its time.
“We’re not going to rush into that. We’re just going to let it unfold and see where the team goes and see how things fall in place here over time,” he said, adding there is a possibility the team won’t name a captain at all.
“We don’t really need to name a captain either. Sometimes that’s overrated, too. There’s been teams that have gone whole seasons without someone wearing a ‘C’, so that’s not something we have to do right away.”