Kolton Dixon represents a nice problem for the Red Deer Rebels.
The 19-year-old was projected as a forward this season, but his play on the blueline this fall has impressed the coaching staff to the point where the Red Deer native has played both Western Hockey League regular-season games at his natural position.
Dixon’s improved play on the back end has also resulted in the club having seven rearguards at the ready. Mario Grman sat out both season-opening contests as a healthy scratch and when fellow import Hugo Jansons returns from injury — he’s out indefinitely with an upper body ailment — and Haydn Fleury is reassigned to the Rebels by the Carolina Hurricanes, the number will rise to nine unless a body or two is moved.
Whatever, it’s not a bad problem to have as long as Dixon continues to contribute.
“I feel a lot more confident coming into my 19 (year-old) season and I’ve been given a bit more of an opportunity right now, especially with Haydn gone,” Dixon said Friday. “Whether it’s an extra shift, an extra penalty kill or something like that . . . it just adds to my overall confidence and I feel that the last two games have been good.
“I’ve brought a bit more offensively, I’ve stepped up a bit there and created chances in that sense. Everything has just kind of been clicking so far.”
Dixon, who through two games has scored once, is a plus-1 and has taken two minor penalties, didn’t realize he was scheduled to fight for a forward position when training camp opened last month.
“It came as a bit of shock to me that I’d maybe have to learn a new position,” said. “I’m adaptable to that and open to anything, but ideally I’d like to earn a spot back on defence. That’s kind of natural to me, that’s where I’ve been the last 15 years. I feel I’ve had a good start so far and hopefully that helps my chances of staying there.”
Dixon appears to have improved his mobility during the off-season.
“I did a lot of footwork with Al (Parada) at Can-Pro (Training Centre),” he said. “Plus being another year older and stronger and a little better conditioned . . . everything has helped.
“Really, I feel like I don’t stick out in a bad way at all. I think I can bring some good assets to the team this year. I can be a stay-at-home guy with a mobile edge. I feel like I can use that to my advantage.”
Rebels associate coach Jeff Truitt suggested that Dixon’s improved play this fall has been a result of his reining in his emotions, just being smarter on the ice and playing within himself.
“He’s controlling his feet better this year that what he did,” said Truitt. “He has active feet as it is, but he’s kind of put himself where he’s in position first and reacting later, rather than reacting and then getting caught out of position. So I think he’s a bit of a happy medium there with his feet and his eagerness to shut things down. He’s a little more patient this year and it’s shown.”
Improved discipline has also been a key for the six-foot-four rearguard, Truitt noted.
“Last year he was a guy who you were trying to harness in a little bit. He’s an aggressive player and sometimes after the play he can sometimes get a little exuberant and enthusiastic, so we asked him to kind of calm that stuff down,” said Truitt.
“There’s a time and a place for it, but what we want him to do is just concentrate on being a solid defensive defenceman . . . move pucks simply and let’s get the play going up ice. He’s defended a lot better early on here and he bounced one in off somebody’s foot the other night (during a 4-1 win last Saturday at Calgary), which was great to see. The improvement factor we’ve seen from last year to this season has been evident early on.”
The Rebels host the Kootenay Ice tonight and next week will head out on a three-game Eastern Conference trip that will include stops in Moose Jaw, Brandon and Regina.