It’s cliché to say what a difference a year can make but for Red Deer Rebel forward Jeff de Wit, it’s fact.
“Last year was just more coming in and seeing what the organization was all about,” said the 16-year-old product of the Red Deer Minor Hockey system. “This year it’s a lot more serious. I’m here to make a team and I don’t want to just be a part of the team, I want to be a go-to guy on this team.”
At 6’ 3”, 190 lbs, de Wit brings something to the table in terms of skill but he arrives with plenty of confidence as well.
That assuredness has grown somewhat as he’s scored twice in a pair of exhibition games already.
“It’s big for confidence for sure, just knowing I can be a player in this league, put up goals and help my team win.”
He knows he has a long road ahead of him in the Western Hockey League but feels he’s mentally prepared for the challenges along the way.
“I’m ready to take on any job that they give me. Whatever scenario they put me in I’m ready to do my best,” he said.
The Rebels thought enough of his talent to take him in the first round of the bantam draft in 2013 and there are expectations of the young forward.
“He’s a power forward. We need him to be involved, play in the hard areas in the corners and in front of the net,” said Associate Coach Jeff Truitt. “We know he can score. It’s just going to take some time. It’s going to be a process with Jeff that he recognizes and understands the league right now as a 16-year-old.”
What he does understand is paying close attention to what the coaches are telling him, tapping into their vast experience and how it will only help him get better.
“They’re just trying to get me into the swing of things right now but I think as the season progresses there’ll be more talks about what I need to do to become a good player in this league.”
His on ice work includes becoming a better skater, becoming more explosive and quicker off the start. Something he thinks is improving.
One area of being a WHL player which de Wit couldn’t work on though is preparing for extended road trips to other cities.
“That’s the uniqueness of the Western Hockey League and Major Junior hockey out west here,” said Truitt. “You are on the road playing two in two’s and three in three’s, the long distance. You’re coming home, you’re expected to wake up in the morning and go to school and then come in and put in a practice. It’s preparing them for the next level. Going through it as a 16-year-old it can be tough at times.”
“That’s going to be new for me for sure but you know, lots of rest, lots of good food in my body and I should be fine,” said de Wit.
But then there’s the issue of being a rookie on a road trip.
“It’ll be ok if I just follow the rules. Talk when I’m asked to talk. Just listen most times,” he laughed.
He feels he’s done his best to earn a spot on the roster come opening day but that remains to be seen.
Still, the confidence increases with each time out on the ice for him but he’s fully aware there is more hard work ahead.
“In terms of goals, there’s still a ton of goals this year that I have to accomplish.”