After leading the baby Flames over the baby Ducks with 3 goals and 5 points last night, a lot of questions are being asked about Jon Rheault. The 5’11", 200 pound winger was a late find by the Heat last year and has tread an interesting path to get to the Flames prospect camp.
A Flyers draft pick in the 5th round back in 2006, Rheault was already a 20 year old playing in the NCAA for Providence college. That’s a very late birthday for an entry draft player and it must have been his impressive results in his first two collegiate seasons that caused Philly to take chance on the Arlington Texas native. As a 19 year old rookie, Rheault placed third on the team in scoring with 11 goals and 19 points in 36 games. He was the highest scoring teenager for Providence that season. Rheault would go on to lead the club in scoring for the next three years, garnering 30, 25 and 35 points each year respectively. Those seem like uninspiring totals, but keep in mind that the NCAA is a tough league and scoring is harder to come by than, say, the CHL.
Despite leading Providence in points for three of his four college seasons, Rheault didn’t land a contract from the Flyers and has bounced around the minor leagues ever since. After leaving Providence, Rheault played 4 games for the AHL Manchester Monarchs before landing on the ECHL’s Ontario Rein in 2008-09. He would appear in 81 games over two seasons for the Rein, scoring 38 goals and 76 points. Last year, Rheault played for the AHL’s providence Bruins and Manchester Monharchs, albeit in a limited role for both, before being scooped up by the injury decimated Abbotsford Heat. Things turned around for Rheault in his brief stint with Abby: he was a PPG player in the final 5 regular season games with 3 goals and 2 assists and was second on the team in scoring during the post season with 6 goals and 2 assists.
I’ve liked what I’ve seen out of Rheault in my limited viewing of the player. He stood out at the prospects development camp this July as a swift, agile skater with good pucks skills and hands. That said, excitement about his apparent superiority to the kids should be tempered: Rheault is easily the elder statesmen amongst his young peers at 24 years old. He also played on what was destined to be the best line in the game yesterday with 21 year old Mikael Backlund and soon to be 21 year old Bryan Cameron.
Still, one wonders if the Flames have stumbled on a keeper here. It’s completely unlikely that Rheault will Dustin Penner his way into an NHL career, but he bears watching nonetheless.
PS – I haven’t found any evidence that Rheault has actually been signed by the Flames organization. He was inked to a try-out contract with the Heat last season as far as I know, although it seems odd he’d be included in the prospects tournament without actually being Flames property.