The Red Deer Rebels are turning to a familiar face to lead the team this season.
Rebels veteran Wyatt Johnson was named the new captain of the team by Head Coach and General Manager Brent Sutter on Oct. 15th, taking over for former captain Conner Bleackley, who will continue to serve as an alternate captain this season.
The 20-year-old forward from Saskatoon is no stranger to the leadership role, as he donned the ‘C’ for two months last season when Bleackley went down with an injury, and earlier in the season when Bleackley was at the Colorado Avalanche’s development camp.
“It’s a good feeling but at the same time not much has really changed. Obviously a little added responsibility but not that much,” said Johnson during an interview ahead of his team’s Sunday night matchup in Medicine Hat, which they won 6-5 in the shootout.
Johnson has been a steady hand in the Rebels’ lineup for the past three seasons. The veteran forward has turned in three straight 20-point-plus seasons thus far. He notched a career-high 25 goals and 29 assists for a total of 54 points and had a plus 21 plus-minus rating last year.
Johnson had a bit of a slow start to this season.
He tallied just one assist through the first 10 games of the season. But that all changed after the Saskatoon native played his first game as captain. Johnson picked up a goal and two assists for three points in that game against the Vancouver Giants. But he wasn’t done yet.
The Rebels’ next game was a battle against the Saskatoon Blades at the Centrium. At the time, the Rebs were still undefeated on their home turf and that night would be no different. Johnson led the charge for the home team as he recorded his first hat trick of the season and added an assist for a four-point evening. His team added another four goals on the way to a 7-1 rout of the Blades.
“It’s nice to start getting on the score sheet. The first 10 games didn’t go as we wanted so it’s nice to start contributing and it’s always nice to get a win,” Johnson commented during a post-game press conference.
Since that game, the Anaheim Ducks prospect has picked up four more points to bring his total up to 12, good for the third spot on the team in scoring.
Despite his individual success in the past couple of weeks, though, Johnson maintains a team-first mentality.
“For me the biggest thing is whether your team is winning or not,” he said when asked whether he pays attention to his stats.
And the veteran player is always quick to credit his teammates for the team’s success.
“I feel like I lead pretty well, but at the same time we have a really good group. We have an older group with lots of character guys. (Being captain) is a huge honour but we have at least 10 guys who could be captain so it’s pretty easy to lead,” he said.
Johnson’s hockey career started early in life. As a young kid growing up in Regina, he whiled away countless hours on the rink in his family’s backyard.
“I have to credit my parents for getting me into it when I was younger.”
While most hockey players start playing the game competitively when they’re four years old, Johnson didn’t lace up his skates in organized hockey until he was six.
“I started a little later than most kids but I loved it as soon as I put on skates,” he said.
After his family moved to Saskatoon when he was 13, Johnson started to seriously pursue his hockey career. He played his first two seasons of AA hockey in Bantam with the Saskatoon Outlaws and Saskatoon Generals.
Going undrafted in the 2010 Bantam Draft, Johnson joined the Midget AA Saskatoon Spartans for his first season of Midget hockey, and earned his way onto the Midget AAA team the very next year.
“I played AAA when I was 16 for the Saskatoon Blazers and played for a couple of summer teams after that,” he remembered. Johnson posted 14 goals and 31 assists for the Blazers that year.
But he didn’t really consider a stint in ‘the Dub’ viable until he was listed by the Medicine Hat Tigers at 15 years old.
“I always wanted to growing up. But at that point was when I really realized that I had a shot at making it.”
When asked how he would describe himself as a player, Johnson said he prefers to think of himself as a hard-working two-way player that can be tough to play against.
“Hopefully opponents would say that about me,” he said, adding that he tries to focus on doing the little things right.
Johnson, who is now in his final year of WHL hockey, says he has enjoyed his time as a Red Deer Rebel.
“It’s been unreal. The City and the organization are just so first-class. I absolutely love it in Red Deer.”