Two members of the Red Deer Rebels took a big step forward in their hockey careers last Saturday when they were selected in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.
“I’m excited. It was a crazy weekend for me and my family. I’m just overwhelmed,” said Rebels’ defenseman Josh Mahura, who was taken in the third round, 85th overall by the Anaheim Ducks in Saturday’s draft.
Mahura, along with 2016 Red Deer Rebels Hardest Working Player Brandon Hagel, were both in their first year of draft eligibility.
“It’s quite the feeling. It’s a dream come true, for sure. Not many people get this opportunity and it’s one of the best moments of my life so far, that’s for sure,” said Hagel, who was taken in the sixth round by the Buffalo Sabres.
This season was a bit of a breakout year for the 17-year-old left wing from Morinville who scored 13 goals and added 34 assists for 47 points without missing a single game in his rookie year in the WHL.
“I think it helped me out a little bit but I thought just what I had to do throughout the season for me to get to that point and how I developed helped me out a lot,” said Hagel of the impressive season he managed to put up.
He also said he was surprised to hear his name called by the Sabres while watching the draft on TV with his family.
“I had never talked to them all year, so it was a little bit surprising. I was watching it on TV with my family and I found out on TV and then I got a call, probably about 10 minutes after,” he said.
“There was just excitement throughout my entire family. They were super excited that I got to this point. I was just kind of shocked that a year from now playing in midget, I wasn’t thinking that this day was going to come and I guess the work paid off.”
The 2016 season went a little differently for Mahura, who spent all but two regular season games on the sidelines with a serious knee injury suffered in the Rebels’ home opener this year.
“For me a lot of it was just looking at the bigger picture. Obviously when I first found out what had happened to me and how long I’d be out for I was really disappointed. So to rise above that was just knowing that I’d for sure be playing in May with the team and I wanted to be back for playoffs,” he said.
The smooth skating defenseman managed to do just that as he made his return to the ice for the Rebels’ first playoff series against the Calgary Hitmen and played a key defensive role in every one of his team’s matchups during their deep playoff run and during the 2016 MasterCard Memorial Cup tournament.
“I think the playoffs helped in getting me some views and I think the Memorial Cup helped me in that way too, just getting me those extra viewings that I didn’t get throughout the season.”
The 18-year-old Edmonton native said the Ducks must have seen some potential in him during the time that he did play this year.
“I think they saw some potential in me. Obviously I didn’t play too much this year, but I think they see me as a mobile guy and a guy that can fit into the organization whenever they see fit and being a contributor.”
Now both players are preparing to attend their respective NHL teams’ prospect camps, with Mahura leaving for Anaheim this Wednesday and Hagel expecting to jet off to Buffalo sometime in early to mid-July.
“It’s been crazy, I don’t even know if I’ve wrapped my head around it all yet. I’m excited to get out there,” said Mahura of his impending trip.
“I’m anticipating probably a working week and having fun with it too.”
Hagel echoed that sentiment, noting that he’s looking forward to meeting the other prospects and getting to know the new team.
“I’ll be up against a lot of good hockey players and I’ve just kind of got to stick to my game and show them what I can do,” he said, adding part of the reason he thinks the Sabres had interest in him was his work ethic.
“People see me as a hard working player that has some good hockey sense. If I was to take people’s word for it, and how I feel as well, I think it was my work ethic and my hockey sense.”
Both Mahura and Hagel will likely be back with the Rebels next season after attending prospect camp and training camp at the beginning of the year.
“I’m planning on going in and working and trying to be a big part of the team next year and trying to take on a bigger leadership role. I think we’re going to be a good team next year, we’re going to compete,” Mahura said.
“The next step is getting that contract. So I want to come into the season as a key player next year and develop a ton,” Hagel added.
The Red Deer Rebels pre-season gets underway on Sept. 5th when they host the Edmonton Oil Kings at the ENMAX Centrium. Their first regular season game is on Sept. 26th at home, also against the Oil Kings.