Hometown product Jeff de Wit was familiar with the Red Deer Rebels training camp well before he participated as a player.
The 15-year-old centre, the Rebels’ first pick in the 2013 Western Hockey League bantam draft, asked general manager/head coach Brent Sutter for a training camp job when he was just 10 years of age.
“Brent told me to come down to main camp and help Mikey (dressing room attendant Mikel McIver) around the room and on the bench,” de Wit said Sunday, following a Rebels rookie-camp session at the Centrium. “I helped out every year after that until last year, when I focused on getting better at hockey.”
Needles to say, de Wit’s dedication to improving his game paid off in spades. After scoring six goals and collecting 11 points in 33 games with the Red Deer Rebels Black major bantam squad in 2011-12, he enjoyed a breakout season last winter with 18 goals and 42 points in 26 outings.
His obvious skill, along with his six-foot-one, 174-pound frame, made de Wit too enticing to pass up when the Rebels selected 14th overall in this year’s bantam draft.
“There’s a reason why he was picked where he was picked,” said Sutter.
“He’s a big, rangy centre iceman who skates well, has good skill and a good understanding of the game, He knows how to play the game and he’s big, and that’s what we like about him.”
The promising prospect, who will be eligible to suit up with the Rebels in 2014, notched a goal in the Sunday morning rookie-camp scrimmage and notched a picturesque shootout marker in the afternoon.
“Everything has been up-tempo, which is Rebels hockey,” said de Wit. “Lots of physical hockey and bodychecks and lots of skill out there. I know I can play a little more physical.”
Rookie camp concludes today with the final scrimmage set for 3 to 4:30 p.m. From there, de Wit will be moved into main camp, which opens with a 90-minute scrimmage starting at 5 p.m.
The big centre will also play in Thursday’s Black and White intrasquad game and will appear in at least two preseason contests.
“I’m looking forward it. I’m getting ready for midget AAA tryouts and I’m going to take these experiences as a step into getting better,” he said. “I’m just focusing on working hard every day and living up to their (Rebels) expectations for me.”
In many ways, de Wit — and 2012 first-round bantam pick Adam Musil, another centre — is the template for the type of player Sutter wants to add to his squad over the next few years.
“We need to be a harder team to play against,” said the Rebels boss. “We want skill and talent but you need other elements too. Jeff is one of those player who has all of that.
“You always want to be real solid down the middle, with strength and size. You need good goaltending, four rock-solid defencemen and four good centres with size.”
Sutter is confident de Wit will enjoy a successful WHL career with the Rebels.
“Being a local boy can sometimes add pressure, but there’s no pressure with Jeff because he is what he is as a player,” said the Rebels bench boss. “It’s no different that when Brandon Sutter was here.
“Jeff just has to go out and play and continue to develop. We’ll take him into main camp and into the preseason and if he plays for the midget AAA team (the 2013 Telus Cup champion Red Deer Optimist Chiefs Rebels) this season he’s going to have great coaching under Doug (Quinn) and will develop just that much more. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.”
• Main camp scrimmages are scheduled for 1:30 and 6 p.m. Tuesday. Practices will be staged at 9, 10:15 and 11:30 a.m. Wednesday — followed by a Black and White preview scrimmage at 5 p.m. — and camp will conclude with the Black and White intrasquad game at 7 p.m. Thursday.