He’s the ultimate team player, a veteran who’s willing to switch positions and help his club in whichever way possible.
He’s Devan Fafard, a 20-year-old who is fighting for a job as a Red Deer Rebels forward after patrolling the club’s blueline the last two and a half seasons.
“Anything I can do to help the team, that’s what I’m about,” Fafard said Tuesday. “It’s definitely going to be a bit of a learning curve.”
Fafard, along with Kolton Dixon and Kirk Bear, was part of a 2013-14 Rebels defensive corps that won’t be back on the back end this season, at least not on a full-time basis as the club is going in a different direction in terms of mobility and puck-moving efficiency.
Bear was recently released outright and Fafard and Dixon are hoping to stick around as forwards.
Fafard, a six-foot, 190-pound product of Carlyle, Sask., has plenty of WHL experience, is a tough hombre and can play defence in a pinch. In short, he’s a front-runner to remain with the club.
“For sure, over the course of the season there’s going to be injuries and being able to play both positions will be an advantage for me,” said Fafard. “I’ll be able to go back and forth for a shift here and there.
“I’ll do what I can to stay in the league. That’s always a goal — to be at the highest level you can be.”
Fafard is an effective scrapper in an era in which the skill is declining in terms of importance.
“For sure, I bring toughness and physicality, some leadership and some experience to the table,” he said. “I’ve been here awhile, I know about the rigours of the schedule and I can help some of the young guys go through it.”
Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter is on board with keeping Fafard around as the club’s third 20-year-old, especially with the veteran showing during the exhibition season that he can play a new position.
“We moved him up to forward for a reason. We thought he could help our group of forwards and bring some heaviness to our game,” said the Rebels boss.
“And he’s such a great team guy, a guy who’s great in the dressing room and so well respected. I just feel that he can give us something up front that we may be lacking and as an experienced guy in the league he knows what it takes to be successful.
“He is very responsible defensively and is someone who can work really well down low with our defencemen, if he gets caught down low. Through camp and the exhibition season he’s made some really good plays offensively and he’s been finishing his checks and that’s what we want from him. He knows his role and he’s good at it.”
Fafard was part of a Rebels team that narrowly missed the WHL playoffs last spring, losing a tie-breaker game to the visiting Prince Albert Raiders that determined the eighth and final post-season qualifier in the Eastern Conference.
He doesn’t see that happening again, at least not this year.
“For sure, the potential is there for us to have a successful season,” said Fafard. “We have a tight group and some of the young kids from last year are a year older and are now a skilled group of players, so I think the season is going to play out well for us. We’re not an older team by any means, and someone has to play that role of supplying toughness and leadership, and it might as well be me.”
The Rebels will have forward Wyatt Johnson in their lineup for Friday’s regular-season home-opener against the Kootenay Ice. Johnson attended the Anaheim Ducks prospects training camp.
Defenceman Kayle Doetzel, who’s at the Toronto Maple Leafs prospects gathering, is also expected back in time for Friday’s contest. Forward Conner Bleackley and defenceman Haydn Fleury are attending the camps of the Colorado Avalanche and Caroline Hurricanes and as first-round picks in this year’s NHL entry draft, will not likely return to the Rebels in time for the season-opener.