So far, so good.
The Red Deer Rebels’ first-round pick — 14th overall — in the 2013 Western Hockey League bantam draft is right on schedule, and perhaps even slightly ahead of schedule, with his development.
“At first it was a huge adjustment for me, but each day it gets better and better. I gain more confidence each day so I think it’s going really well,” 16-year-old forward Jeff de Wit said Thursday.
The Red Deer product hasn’t been burning it up offensively thorough his first 24 games of the season, but one goal and five assists while seeing mostly fourth-line duty is at least respectable.
The six-foot-two, 180-pound centre is just fine with his job description and fully realizes that it’s important that he be brought along slowly.
“I expected to have a fourth-line role this year because Brent (Rebels GM/head coach Sutter) and I talked about this year being all about development moving forward,” said de Wit, who last winter scored 10 goals and collected 22 points in 33 games with the midget AAA Red Deer Optimist Chiefs and became one of the team’s top players as the season progressed.
“I’m playing a fourth-line role but every so often Brent just throws me out there with a (Wyatt) Johnson or (Grayson) Pawlenchuk and we seem to play well together. I’m not shocked by anything that’s happened this year.”
De Wit started the season on the wing and after a handful of games was moved to centre, his natural position.
“I feel more comfortable there, although in this league it’s definitely harder being a centre because you have more responsibilities,” he said. “It’s not like midget where you just have to be in your position. Here, you have to battle to be stronger on your stick down low in the corners. That’s an adjustment I feel I’m getting better at each day.”
De Wit’s size hasn’t hurt his development as he often goes head-to-head against older and sometimes even larger players. The local product, in fact, has gained a few pounds of muscle since last season.
“For sure, it’s an advantage for me. I’m stronger in the corners and I feel more confident going out there against a big power forward and battling for pucks,” he said.
“It’s always a bonus when you’re six-two . . . when you have that stature,” said Rebels associate coach Jeff Truitt. “It certainly does help to have that.”
Truitt likes the direction de Wit has taken in his rookie campaign and that he appears to be developing the proper way.
“He’s learning, and that’s the biggest thing,” said Truitt.
“He’s finding out the difference between midget hockey and major junior, the commitment it takes and the competitive level you have to be at day in and day out on a consistent basis.
“That’s what all 16-year-olds do — they go through that. But he’s finding out too that he can have success in this league. He’s produced a few points and has shown some good confidence with the puck and I hope that continues to grow.”
Red Deer is currently tied with the Calgary Hitmen for third place in the Central Division — just a single point behind the Edmonton Oil Kings — heading into a weekend that includes tonight’s contest against the Tigers at Medicine Hat and a home-ice clash with the Swift Current Broncos 24 hours later.
The Rebels have won five of their last 10 games and have gained points in seven of those outings. De Wit suggested that the squad has come together in recent weeks, thus the on-ice success.
“Our team has molded pretty well,” said de Wit.
“We all like each other and we have a good group of guys here.”