Wednesday, September 16, 2015

REBELS: Big Men, Young and Old, Looking To Make Statements This Season



We’ve known for four years that Kayle Doetzel is one of the toughest defencemen to play against in the entire Western Hockey League.

His hard hitting, dependable play in his own zone earned him Rebels Defenceman of the Year honours last year. Now, the 20-year-old blueliner is looking to add more dimensions to his game.

“I worked a lot on my mobility and puck work,” Doetzel said Tuesday regarding his work in the off-season. “For a bigger guy, that’s something you need is to be able to catch some of the smaller guys [in the league].”

Doetzel also said he’s worked hard to become an even more physical player. So, there’s that.

The Rosedale, Saskatchewan native has plenty to prove heading into the new season. After receiving NHL camp invites each of the past two year from Nashville and Toronto, Doetzel found himself left out this year while eight of his Rebels teammates left to skate with big league clubs.

His coach says his first step in getting back on the pro scene is to get off to a strong start to the year.

 “He’s got a history since he was here as a young guy that he doesn’t play to his abilities that both he and we would like [early in the season],” says Brent Sutter. “In the last half, he turns it around and gets going. That’s probably affected him to some degree as to why he’s not at a pro camp this year.”

It is the expectation of both Sutter and Doetzel for #8 to be a standout among what could be the deepest defense corps in the WHL Eastern Conference.

“We’re expecting him to be a leader for us,” says Sutter. “We’re expecting him to be a shutdown defenceman and be a big, strong, solid guy that can log some big minutes. Then, perhaps he can sign a pro tryout again next year and maybe sign a pro contract.”

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While it’s still only the preseason, Austin Pratt seems to be making a smooth transition to major junior hockey.

The six-foot-two Shattuck’s St. Mary’s alum scored once in each Rebels preseason game this past weekend, a 5-3 win over Tri-City and a 5-3 loss to Spokane.

“He certainly has been good,” Sutter admits. “He’s a big body but his conditioning has been really good and he’s played a hard game, and that’s what he has to play.”

While comfortable, Pratt says his first taste of WHL preseason action has been a learning experience.

“I’ve been expecting it but how hard the hits are and how big and fast the guys are, it still takes time to get used to.”

As far as Sutter is concerned, the sky’s the limit for the Minnesota native.
“When he’s moving and engaged and finishing his checks he can do a lot of things that other 16-year-olds can’t.”

Pratt has been mostly playing on a line with Grayson Pawlenchuk and Jeff De Wit. This will likely continue this weekend as the Rebels take their shorthanded lineup into their final two preseason games Friday versus Edmonton (in Red Deer) and Saturday versus Medicine Hat (in Stettler).

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** Keep an eye on @RebelsThisWeek and @247RedDeer for video stories on Doetzel, Pratt and this weekend's final preseason games.