Ryan Rehill on the ice during his team’s power play?
Ryan Rehill, who has been responsible for about three boatloads of opposition power plays through his first three WHL seasons?
That Ryan Rehill?
“It’s a little different,” the Kamloops Blazers defenceman says with a laugh. “It’s pretty well the first time in my career that I’ve been on the first power-play unit so I’m still trying to get used to it.”
Yes, that is Rehill, a 20-year-old Edmontonian, manning one point on the Blazers’ first PP unit. Your eyes aren’t deceiving you.
And, yes, that’s Rehill who often is lugging the puck out of the defensive zone and leading the charge up ice.
Rehill, who always has been a physical force in his zone, has broadened his game. In fact, it might not be a reach to declare that, at this point in the season, he is the WHL’s most improved player.
“He is playing the power play,” Blazers head coach Don Hay says. “That gives him the opportunities to make plays and gain some more skill. He has the confidence in being a 20-year-old player, and what we work on in practice, he continues to take into a game.”
The Blazers, who are scheduled to meet the Cougars in Prince George on Friday and Saturday, are 7-0-3 in their last 10 games. Rehill may have been their best player over the last three of those games — overtime losses to the Kelowna Rockets and Seattle Thunderbirds and a 5-3 victory over the Edmonton Oil Kings.
He’s got 11 points, 10 of them assists, in 20 games this season. He had 20 points in each of his previous two seasons, in 68 and 72 games. This season, he already has a pair of two-point games; he had a total of four in the previous three seasons.
“I’ve been trying to keep my game simple and move pucks quickly, get back into the corners and get pucks out as quick as I can and just be solid defensively,” says Rehill, who mostly is paired with Czech freshman Ondrej Vala. “If I have an opportunity to jump up into the rush, obviously I’ll take that chance.
“But first and foremost (is) just being solid against other teams’ top lines.”
He has been that and more, and he is working to cut down on those minor penalties.
“It’s been a two-year process,” Hay says. “Early last season, he took a lot of bad minors. He’s aware of that now. He’s too valuable to be in the penalty box for us. He’s a good penalty-killer. He’s getting the opportunity on the power play. Five-on-five, he’s our top defenceman.”
A handful of stitches near Rehill’s left eye are evidence of his new role. A puck, not a fist, cut him.
In fact, the 6-foot-3, 220-pounder has had only two scraps this season, none since the fourth game of the season.
“There have been a couple of offers,” he says. “But I feel I can pick my spots. If we’re up in a game 8-2 there’s not much sense in fighting someone and risking a chance to get hurt.
“If something comes up and the boys need a spark or something like that I’m always ready to provide that.”
These days, he would much rather be on the ice than in the penalty box.
“(The game) has changed a lot. My first couple of seasons I didn’t get as much ice as I do now,” Rehill says, “. . . my role has changed and I’m getting more ice time. It’s kind of tough at times finding where that line is and not dropping (the gloves). It’s something I have to continue to work on. I think I’m getting better at it, staying out of the box and not taking minor penalties.”
More ice time also has resulted in “more confidence, confidence with the puck and confidence in my game and in my skating and in my ability to get up the ice. That just came with getting more ice time and more opportunities.”
Rehill was selected by the New Jersey Devils in the fifth round of the NHL’s 2014 draft. He has been to a couple of training camps with them but hasn’t signed a professional contract. Prior to returning to the Blazers in September, he was with the Devils.
“I wasn’t really disappointed,” he said of ending up back in Kamloops for a fourth season. “I figured I would be back here for my 20-year-old season. I didn’t think I would end up in the American league, not being unsigned.
“I was happy to come back . . . I’m very happy to be here and still be a part of Kamloops.”
Rehill will lead the Blazers (10-8-3) into this weekend’s doubleheader in Prince George. The Blazers have beaten the Cougars three times this season — 6-1, 5-2, 9-1 — with all three games having been played in Kamloops.
The Blazers are fourth in the five-team B.C. Division, two points behind the Cougars (12-9-1).
The Blazers will see a familiar face in the Cougars’ lineup when the teams hit the ice on Friday night. Right-winger Luke Harrison, 20, who started this season with the Blazers, was acquired by the Cougars on Wednesday from the Brandon Wheat Kings. Prince George gave up a ninth-round selection in the 2016 bantam draft in the exchange.
Harrison is joining his fourth team this season. He lost out in Kamloops when the Blazers cut down to the maximum three 20-year-olds. He then joined the Spokane Chiefs before moving on to Brandon.
In 17 games this season — four with Kamloops, seven with Spokane and six with Brandon — he has four goals.
JUST NOTES: Both games in Prince George will be televised by Shaw. . . . According to the injury list filed by the Blazers with the WHL office, F Jake Kryski and F Matt Needham have been cleared to play after missing three games. D Dallas Valentine also has missed three games but is listed as being out another seven to 10 days. . . . The Cougars, who have won five straight at home, will be without D Sam Ruopp, their captain, with an undisclosed injury. He is listed as being week-to-week. G Ty Edmonds (hamstring) is day-to-day. . . . NHL Central Scouting updated it ‘Watch List’ for the 2016 draft on Tuesday. Vala is listed as a B prospect, which means he is rated as a second- or third-round selection. Kryski is a C prospect, meaning fourth-, fifth- or sixth-round pick. . . . The Blazers next play at home on Tuesday against the Kootenay Ice. The Portland Winterhawks are here on Dec. 4 (Food Bank Night) and the Medicine Hat Tigers on Dec. 5 (Teddy Bear Toss). After that, the Blazers won’t play at home again until Dec. 27.
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