His Western Hockey League rookie jitters are a thing of the past. Long gone, in fact.
“I think I got them all out last year and I’m just focused on having a good start to the season,” Red Deer Rebels sophomore centre Jeff de Wit said Wednesday, prior to a practice session at the Centrium.
After a decent first WHL season in which he registered 13 points (3g,10a) in 65 regular-season games and was pointless in two playoff outings, the Red Deer native is anxious to live up to his considerable potential after being selected in the first round — 14th overall — of the 2013 bantam draft.
“I’m excited, I’m 17 this year and going into my second season,” he added. “I’m ready to get off to a good start.”
Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter is hoping that de Wit will emerge as a top-nine forward this season as the team looks forward to hosting the Memorial Cup tournament in May.
“He’s certainly someone we expect to take some strides forward,” said Sutter, who has seen improvement in the six-foot-three, 185-pound forward since the start of training camp. “His camp was just OK to start with and I talked to him about how he’s got to push to want to play in our top nine since we have a pretty deep team.
“If he wants that he’s going to have to really work and get after it . . . be more engaged.”
De Wit admitted that he didn’t exactly bust out of the blocks in training camp.
“I felt like when camp started there were some players who came in ready to go,” he said.
“I think that was kind of a wake-up call for myself. But I feel like I’ve progressed and gotten better since then. I felt really good in the Black and White Game and at St. Albert (in Saturday’s 5-2 preseason-opening loss to the Edmonton Oil Kings).”
Sutter agreed with de Wit’s self-assessment of his recent play.
“After I met with him he had some really good practices, and I thought he was very good in the Black and White game and played really well in our first exhibition game,” said the Rebels boss.
“Jeff has skill, but his skill is only going to show through with a strong work ethic. He has to play with bite and with the passion of wanting to be good in all three zones. When he plays like that he’s an effective player, but when he just wants to be a casual player he plays soft, and that doesn’t work for him.
“He’s still a young player figuring that out and that’s what we’re trying to help him with.”
De Wit is listening.
“I believe in my offensive abilities, but the main thing is being a consistent 200-foot player for Brent each game,” he said.
l The Rebels’ preseason continues this weekend with the club attending the Tri-City Americans tournament in Kennewick, Wash. Red Deer takes on the host team Friday night and faces the Spokane Chiefs Saturday afternoon.
Sutter will have 11 forwards — in the event that Zac Gladu has recovered fully from a broken finger suffered in training camp — eight defencemen and two goaltenders — Rylan Toth and Trevor Martin — at his disposal for both games,
The Rebels close out their exhibition schedule Sept. 18 and 19 against Edmonton and the Medicine Hat Tigers at the Centrium and in Stettler.
Red Deer’s regular-season opener is Sept. 26 versus the visiting Oil Kings.