Stephens hits stride with Rockets

Young defenceman impresses WHL team and NHL scouts with skating ability and overall skill

Rookie defenceman Devante Stephens

Twenty-two teams, including the Kelowna Rockets, passed over Devante Stephens in the 2012 edition of WHL’s bantam draft.

However, later that year, director of player personnel Lorne Frey was intrigued enough to add the young defenceman from Semiamhoo to the Rockets’ player list.

Two-thirds of the way through the 2014-15 season Frey and the Rockets clearly have no regrets, as Stephens has emerged as one of the club’s most promising, young blue liners.

Last week, the 6-foot-1, 165-pound rearguard was ranked 108th among North American skaters by Central Scouting, in advance of this summer’s NHL entry draft.

Clearly, Stephens’ game has come a long way since his less refined days as a bantam in Semiamhoo.

“He was pretty rough around the edges back then, he didn’t skate all that well, but he competed hard and we thought he had a good upside,” said Frey. “But he developed quickly and the biggest improvement has been his skating. Seldom have I seen an individual improve that much, he’s certainly one of the best skaters on our team.

“He’ll get bigger and stronger, his whole game will improve. It’s been a very fortunate situation for us.”

On the way to evolving into a bonafide major junior defenceman, Stephens overcame some adversity when he broke his leg in December 2013.

He missed most of last season with the B.C. Major Midget League’s Valley West Hawks and with it went one of the most crucial developmental years of a player’s career.

Still, Stephens wasn’t about to let one unwelcome turn of events sideline his goal of playing for the Kelowna Rockets.

“I trained really hard in the off-season, on and off the ice, harder than anyone else because I knew I had to,” said Stephens, who turned 18 on Jan. 2. “When I came to camp, I could tell I wasn’t quite at the level I needed to be, but the progression was good, the leg just felt better and better, and now I’m feeling comfortable, and happy to getting lots of ice time.”

Stephens contends he’s always been a decent skater—it’s simply being exposed to the WHL game on a daily basis that’s allowed him to be more efficient and better accustomed to the pace of the game.

Stephens’ uncommon speed on a pair of blades became evident to assistant Kris Mallette very early in the season.

“During a back checking drill Devante got caught up the ice and actually passed Madison Bowey coming back,” said Mallette. “Dan (Lambert) and I just looked at each other…his skating is second to none.

“He’s blocking shots, he’s doing other good things that have forced us to play him a lot,” added Mallette. “He still needs to learn, but he’s coming along very nicely.”

With Madison Bowey and Josh Morrissey away at world juniors, Mitchell Wheaton injured and Jesse Lees traded, Stephens saw his ice time ramped up dramatically in December.

So did youngsters Joe Gatenby and Lucas Johansen, both of whom Mallette also praised for their poise and steady work on the Rockets’ blue line.

Stephens now takes a regular shift with Bowey and often plays 20-plus minutes per game, not bad for a guy who wasn’t really on the radar two years ago.

As for his recent acknowledgement from Central Scouting, Stephens is honoured but is doing his best not to allow the attention be a distraction.

“I was just shocked really, I never expected such a thing, being undrafted, it was an honour to have it happen,” added Stephens. “But I just have to focus and continue playing game by game.

“I’ve put a lot of hard work and effort into getting here,” he said, “but I am grateful the way things have worked out.”

Needless to say, so are the Rockets.

Rocket Shots…

The Rockets’ four-game eastern road trip continues Wednesday night in Edmonton against the Oil Kings. The tour continues Friday in Lethbridge, then wraps up Saturday in Cranbrook against the Kootenay Ice.

 

Just Posted

Kelowna golf course ready and open for spring business

Two Eagles Golf Course opened Saturday, more to come

Kelowna-Lake Country MLA hopes annual climb will promote peace

MLA Norm Letnick’s 5th Annual Spring Climb for Health & World Peace is April 6

Possible assault to bus driver in Kelowna

A minor bus crash was reported just after 8 p.m. Friday night

Car crash nearly sends car over embankment in West Kelowna

RCMP search for driver of alleged stolen vehicle that caused crash

Update: Highway 3 reopened following rockslide near Keremeos

The slide occurred Friday March 22, at about 8 p.m. between Red Bridge and Standing Rock

Sparks fly as SUV speeds down wrong side of Highway 1 trying to flee RCMP

Captured on video, the vehicle headed westbound against oncoming traffic before crashing

Okanagan woman launches sewing studio

“I know there’s a lot of people up and down the valley that would love to sew.”

1,300 cruise ship passengers rescued by helicopter amid storm off Norway’s coast

Rescue teams with helicopters and boats were sent to evacuate the cruise ship under extremely difficult circumstances

Letter: Stop raising the minimum wage

To the editor: The government is looking for ways to put more… Continue reading

Letter: Immigration will not help other countries, or our own

To the editor: Firearms are not the culprit in all those massive… Continue reading

Letter: Sprawl destroying natural landscape

To the editor: I agree with the assessment by Ian Pooley in… Continue reading

Former Okanagan teen found safe after disappearing from YVR airport

Ethan Burnett, 14, was found safe in Kelowna on March 22

B.C. university to offer first graduate program on mindfulness in Canada

University of the Fraser Valley says the mostly-online program focuses on self-care and well being

Province announces $18.6 million for B.C. Search and Rescue

The funding, spread over three years, to pay for operations, equipment, and training

Most Read