Kraken prospect Carson Rehkopf staying hot with Team Canada at world juniors

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GOTHENBURG, Sweden — A twelvemonth ago, astir this time, Kitchener Rangers wide head Mike McKenzie based on that while Colby Barlow, Calum Ritchie and Cameron Allen were getting each of nan 2023 NHL Draft buzz retired of nan OHL, Carson Rehkopf deserved to beryllium talked astir successful a akin ray arsenic “one of nan apical guys successful our league.”

At nan time, those guys were fixed ‘A’ ratings by NHL Central Scouting, which “indicates a first-round candidate.” But Rehkopf — contempt having conscionable scored 22 goals arsenic a 16-year-old rookie successful nan OHL and caller disconnected impressing astatine nan Hlinka Gretzky Cup wherever he posted 5 points successful 5 games successful a mostly bottom-six domiciled en way to a golden badge — was fixed a ‘B’ rating, which “indicates a second/third-round candidate.”

McKenzie based on he was a “mid-to-late first, aliases early-to-mid 2nd astatine worst.”

“He’s an absorbing one,” McKenzie said. “(But) he’s really good.”

NHL Central Scouting’s standing would hold, moreover arsenic he scored 32 much goals (third astir among under-18 OHL skaters) arsenic a 17-year-old. At year’s end, Barlow and Ritchie were NHL Central Scouting’s 12th- and 13th-ranked North American skaters and were some drafted successful nan first round. Rehkopf classed 29th successful North America and was selected 50th by nan Seattle Kraken. A mates of months aft nan NHL Draft successful Nashville, some Barlow and Ritchie were invited to Hockey Canada’s summertime meetings for nan 2024 world juniors.

Rehkopf was not.

Today, conscionable a fewer short months aft those meetings, Rehkopf is nan only subordinate from that group connected Team Canada — and nan team’s fourth-youngest forward. He was nan hottest subordinate successful nan OHL done October, November and into December pinch a league-leading 31 goals and 55 points successful 31 games.

One OHL coach says he’s “definitely going to beryllium a physically imposing powerfulness guardant that tin really sprout nan puck and score.”

Another OHL executive labelled his devices and his imaginable “out of this world.”

Still, he has to support proving that — proving himself. On Boxing Day, erstwhile Canada opened nan world juniors against Finland, Rehkopf slotted arsenic nan team’s 13th forward. He’s not connected either of nan team’s powerfulness plays.

Still, aft impressing successful his 8:56 of crystal clip against nan Finns, he was elevated alongside Macklin Celebrini and Brayden Yager for Canada’s 2nd game, replacing Nashville Predators first-rounder Matthew Wood. Though he’d only play 8:45 (the lowest among nan team’s forwards again), he responded pinch a brace of goals, nan first connected a thrust wide and nan 2nd disconnected of a walk from Celebrini.

Carson Rehkopf! What a move!#WorldJuniors

— TSN (@TSN_Sports) December 27, 2023

Throughout — from action campy to pre-tournament and nan commencement of nan tourney — he has played wholly connected nan helping aft playing almost exclusively astatine centre successful nan OHL this season.

It — nan position, nan domiciled — is unfamiliar territory. But he has handled it successful stride.

“All of america are 1 of nan amended players connected our nine teams and erstwhile you travel to a point for illustration this it’s conscionable do what you can,” Rehkopf said.

So far, that’s precisely what he’s done.

Rehkopf impressed pinch 8:56 of crystal clip successful Canada’s opening crippled against Finland. (Bjorn Larsson Rosvall / TT News Agency / AFP via Getty Images)

When Team Canada guidance lead Peter Anholt was asked astir Rehkopf making nan squad astatine nan extremity of action camp, he didn’t talk astir a would-be cardinal contributor, he talked astir a subordinate who had much activity to do, much to show.

“The assemblage of activity plays a part,” he said of nan selection, hinting astatine an up-and-down camp. “His size (6-foot-2 and 194 pounds, tied for second-heaviest among a smaller Canadian guardant group), that plays a portion successful it. And we cognize he tin people and springiness america a chance to people astatine an important time. But he’s sewage to gain nan opportunity to beryllium connected nan crystal astatine that time. And if he does that and earns nan spot of our coaching staff, past he has nan chance to lend successful an important time.”

Alan Letang, nan team’s caput coach, said likewise — much trepidation than enthusiasm.

“It’s still early and we cognize what he is. He’s a feline who needs to get nan puck successful those areas to usage his shot. I deliberation he’s been fine,” Letang said. “As we get into games and onto nan powerfulness play, immoderate of that earthy expertise will travel out. He’s a feline who has to spell usage his assemblage a small spot successful beforehand of nan nett and get into nan corner. It’s reliable for those guys who are shooters because they request nan relationship pinch their centre to get them nan puck erstwhile they request it. It’ll return a small spot of time.”

When McKenzie and nan Rangers unit person talked astir Rehkopf complete nan years, they’ve talked astir a subordinate who is perceived otherwise than his reality.

Though he mislaid his last play of Ontario AAA insignificant lucky to nan pandemic, nan Rangers took him No. 17 successful nan 2021 OHL draught disconnected of a 68-goal, 145-point U15 year.

Then, he was viewed arsenic he is now: All offence. In between, though, location was a clip erstwhile NHL scouts asked McKenzie, “Is he offensive?”

“I can’t judge you’re asking maine if Carson Rehkopf is violative because that’s each he was successful insignificant hockey, was conscionable for illustration axenic offence pinch nary defence,” McKenzie would answer. “He conscionable sewage nan puck and it was offence, offence, offence.”

“A batch of group were asking astir his violative upside aft Hlinka because he played much of a third-line checking domiciled but he’s sewage an elite shot, his first touch pinch nan puck is really slick, and if location are pucks successful his feet aliases it’s a bad walk he conscionable picks it up and it’s either successful nan nett aliases it’s connected a guy’s portion and it’s conscionable really quick,” McKenzie told The Athletic. “And he’s 6-foot-2.”

After 2 beardown showings successful a constricted role, Letang is starting to talk astir him a small differently, too.

“I thought nan past crippled against nan Finns he added a small spot of an constituent of physicality. He was for illustration ‘Hey, listen, I’ll beryllium to you that I’ll do what you want maine to do’ and we needed that from him. He’s a large body. And he follows it up today,” Letang said aft Canada’s triumph complete Latvia.

His teammates are taking note, too.

“He tin bury, obviously,” Celebrini said pinch a laughter of his on-again, off-again linemate. “But he tin conscionable make plays arsenic well. I deliberation that’s ace underrated astir him. He’s difficult connected pucks and he tin make plays.”

Added Yager pinch a smile: “I mean, he’s sewage 40 goals almost. (And) conscionable based disconnected of his excitement successful nan room, you wouldn’t deliberation that he’s nan 13th guardant to start. He brings specified energy, he’s ever affirmative connected nan bench, and he’s moving his measurement up.”

When Rehkopf is asked astir his goal-a-game scoring successful nan OHL this season, he points to nan activity he has done pinch 2 group successful particular.

There’s nan clip he has put successful nan gym pinch Junxion capacity spot coach Andy O’Brien and nan clip he has put successful honing his trade pinch Leland De Langley, a skills coach who useful pinch St. Andrew’s College and his agency, Quartexx Management, successful nan offseason.

He began moving pinch De Langley 2 summers agone and nan 2 deed it off. While their on-ice activity is during nan offseason, they talk a batch in-season. Had Rehkopf not made nan Canadian world inferior team, he’d made plans to spot De Langley complete nan vacation break.

“I conscionable sprout pucks each day. I’ve ever been a large shooter. I’ve loved to sprout pucks and I’m shooting connected goalies each summer. It’s thing I’ve ever felt that you tin ever get amended at. It’s conscionable continuing to find different ways to sprout nan puck and getting nan reps in,” Rehkopf said.

Some of those different ways person travel from trying to exemplary nan 2 unsocial releases of Auston Matthews and Tage Thompson.

“I’ve conscionable tried to return pieces from people’s games and make my ain player. They’re some elite shooters and Matthews introduced that pull-and-drag that you spot a batch of group doing now and I’ve really watched a batch of his stuff,” Rehkopf said.

De Langley tin spot immoderate of those elements successful their activity together, too.

“It’s that really, really speedy merchandise that he has,” De Langley told The Athletic on a caller telephone call. “This play especially, he has shown really powerful it is wherever he tin hit goalies from extracurricular nan dots, extracurricular nan apical of nan circle. And that’s a testament to nan activity he has put in, particularly disconnected nan ice, to get a batch much explosive done nan halfway and precocious body. And a batch of it comes backmost to nan footwork successful his shot, too. He’s sewage really bully timing and he’s capable to drawback goalies disconnected defender wherever he’s capable to quickly get his feet group and fto it spell from immoderate angle, really. He loves to shoot, he’s a shooter, and he loves to people goals, truthful it’s nary surprise.”

Rehkopf is starring nan OHL pinch 31 goals and 55 points successful 31 games for nan Kitchener Rangers. (Natalie Shaver / OHL Images)

This summer, De Langley moved him up into their NHL group truthful that he could commencement skating pinch guys for illustration Morgan Frost, Sam Bennett, Sean Walker, Jamie Oleksiak and Barrett Hayton. He didn’t look retired of place, and was moreover a trim supra arsenic a axenic shooter successful immoderate cases.

“I deliberation that was a monolithic portion of it for him. They really helped him and he sewage to spot nan activity they put successful each azygous day. It’s monolithic for a young feline to beryllium successful that environment,” De Langley said.

Some of it is genetics starting to return over, too.

“There’s a batch of conscionable earthy athleticism that he has,” De Langley said. “And he has a small spot of an upright posture, whereas a batch of guys are a small much leaned forward. So I deliberation pinch that he’s capable to drawback goalies and conscionable make plays by surprise. He’s decidedly a unsocial subordinate pinch his shot, his skill, his speed, his strength, and nan size. And I deliberation there’s still room to grow. He looks slender, truthful there’s still room to fine-tune that and I deliberation for him to play astatine nan adjacent level, whether it’s a top-six domiciled hopefully successful nan NHL aliases location successful nan mediate there, his physicality is going to beryllium a large portion of that, and truthful is his activity distant from nan puck. He’s unique, for sure.”

He has besides worked to beryllium much than conscionable a shooter, though.

“I tried to really information retired my crippled and beryllium much 200-foot and enactment consistent, and I deliberation that has helped maine a lot,” Rehkopf said. “My consistency and my battles and conscionable benignant of bringing it each night, I’m proud of that. I want to show I tin play immoderate domiciled needed. Being an underaged guy, location are a batch of really bully players and I request to show my expertise to play up and down nan crystal and play anyplace … I can’t kick astir my bully start. Now I’m conscionable trying to transportation nan momentum.”

With reporting successful Oakville, Ont.

(Top photo: Bjorn Larsson Rosvall / TT News Agency / AFP via Getty Images)

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