Stepping up

Rhett Rhinehart ---- Lucas Chudleigh/Prince Albert Raiders

2016 WHL first rounder Rhett Rhinehart discusses his debut with the Prince Albert Raiders

There’s no better way to make your WHL debut than in a home-and-home series against a storied rival in the Saskatoon Blades.

That’s exactly what the 6’2”, 182-pound 13th overall pick Rhett Rhinehart did – and he didn’t look out of place.

Sitting in the dressing room, throwing the green and gold jersey over his shoulder pads for the first time, there is a lot to think about. For Rhinehart, it was a stepping-stone to the beginning of what could be a long WHL career.

“It has always been a goal of mine to play in the Western Hockey League,” the 15-year-old said.

“To have it come true is awesome. I was pretty shocked at the pace of play the guys play at, but overall it was a great experience.”

Aside from the speed of the WHL game, Rhinehart said the strength of the players is another aspect of the major junior level he needs to acclimatize himself with. Already towering over many players a year or two older than him and with another year of development at Yale Hockey Academy, it leaves the rookie with plenty of time to play catch up.

On the ice against Saskatoon, though, Rhinehart said it was easy to notice the hate between the two clubs – something he may have to get used to.

“Guys are playing hard out there, chippy in the corners,” he said.

“Everyone is wanting that puck. You can tell there was a little bit of hatred on the ice, but it was overall fun to play.”

Although the rookie played limited minutes, he took some time to reflect on his performance in the 5-3 Prince Albert win. There was one play that specifically stuck out to him, and that was the crushing blow he delivered to Caleb Fantillo of the Blades.

“[It] would have to be my first shift when I laid that hit,” he recalled.

“It just helped me bring a little confidence into my game and helped me play the rest of the game well.”

There’s a lot to be said of a 15-year-old who can find his place on the ice at the WHL level already. The transition can sometimes be difficult, but coming into a supportive locker room and atmosphere, even if it’s just for a handful of games, gave Rhinehart the assurance he needed to perform.

“It’s a fun group to be around,” he said.

“The guys are all great to me. Helped me adjust from a midget team to these guys. [I’ve] only known them for a couple days but they’ve all been really good to me and have made my stay a lot better than I thought it would be.”

Rhinehart will end the season with Yale Academy — where he has accumulated four goals and 14 assists in 13 games — but it won’t be long until the big defenceman has a permanent spot in the Raiders lineup.