Brent Sutter certainly doesn’t want to portray himself as a modern-day Nostrodamus, but he saw it coming.
Sutter, the owner, chairman and managing director of the Red Deer Rebels, who until last season was also the club’s head coach, knew the potential of the group he had helped develop.
After going 4-15-4 last season, the Rebels have had a remarkable turnaround, going 35-15-2-1 this year, third in the Eastern Conference and in a battle for the top spot in the Central Division.
“Last year, the situation was completely different from normal circumstances… the whole environment was so different. For me, you really had to be careful how you looked at your team and how you looked at individuals across this,” he said.
“I had a very good feeling that if we could do the right things this summer, adding the players we had, we could have a very good team…I thought we did this summer.”
Beyond a number of additions this offseason, including the arrival of new head coach Steve Konowalchuk, the Rebels got more than they bargained for from two known products.
Ben King, whom Sutter acquired in November 2019 for a prospect package, leads the WHL in goals with 43 goals in just 53 games.
His goal tally this season is among the all-time highs for the Rebels over the past 30 years. With 15 games remaining, King is tied for eighth on the all-time list, behind single-season goals from Rebels legends like BJ Young, Kyle Wanvig and Arron Asham.
“Shaun (Sutter) and I felt at the time – we knew we were trading for a player who was hugely talented, a good-sized player and just needed to understand some things,” Sutter said.
“Shaun and I both told NHL teams late last year that we were hoping he would have been drafted last time because he was going to come back to major junior hockey and lead our league in goals or being one of the top two or three guys. He is that.
“He can shoot, he’s smart and he’s playing a good game from 200 feet now.”
The 19-year-old has been left out of the last two NHL drafts and Sutter believes it shouldn’t happen a third time.
“It’s hard to believe anyone can watch him now, with the season he has at 19, before this draft,” Sutter said of the former first-round pick in the WHL Bantam Draft. .
And his chemistry with teammate Arshdeep Bains, who leads the WHL in points with 80, was something to admire. The Rebels added Bains to their protected roster in 2017 and the team recalled him from the BC Major Midget Hockey League that season.
Sutter said he always saw potential in the 20-year-old, but this year he found a way to take his game to a new level.
“During his 16-year-old season, he led the Midget Triple-A league in British Columbia in points. We brought him in and every player develops at different stages… it’s taken him this long to get to where he is,” Sutter noted of Bains, who has 21 points in the last nine games.
“It’s a merit for him to stick with that, to not give up, to stay positive – keep working and keep improving every day…I think he’s done a really good job and he is rewarded.”
Bains, with 29 goals and 51 assists in 53 games, has sparked some interest in the NHL this season, but Sutter said as the lights brighten he’ll have to keep shining if he wants to land a professional contract. .
“He was watched. Great games for these kids, you should always keep the scouts in mind when they leave the building that there is something there. Bainsy always had the skill to produce runs and stuff, it was just about understanding the game,” Sutter said.
The Rebels are back in action Friday night on the road when they take on the Regina Pats, before visiting the Saskatoon Blades on Saturday.