The Red Deer Rebels’ first-round pick in the 2013 Western Hockey League bantam draft is right on schedule.
Centre Jeff de Wit is projected to crack the Rebels roster for the 2014-15 season, as is defenceman Josh Mahura, the club’s second-round pick last year.
Not surprisingly, both players stood out Friday during the first sessions of the club’s spring prospects camp which concludes Sunday morning at the Penhold Regional Multiplex.
De Wit, who improved on a weekly basis as a member of the midget AAA Red Deer Optimist Chiefs last winter, scored the lone goal for Team White in a 3-1 loss to Team Black during a 30-minute scrimmage, busting in alone and beating netminder Dawson Weatherill — the Rebels’ second-round pick this year — with a high shot.
Making his second appearance at the prospects camp, de Wit admitted he’s feeling more comfortable and certainly more confident this year.
“I think there are a little bit more expectations for me this year as I go into my first year of being eligible to be on the team,” said the 16-year-old. “I have to be more of a leader here this weekend.”
The six-foot-two, 185-pound pivot is an ongoing work in progress, but is also looking more and more like he fits into the ‘can’t-miss’ category.
“No question, he’s certainly developed at the rate we’d like to see,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter. “He’s pushing to play on our team this year.”
The fact that he was able to play well into April with the Alberta Midget League champion Chiefs, who fell to the Okanagan Rockets in overtime in the third game of the best-of-three Pacific Region final, helped the local product further hone his game.
“He played on a team that had a lot of success at the midget AAA level and he was obviously well coached,” said Sutter. “He also has good size and strength. He’s going to be close to a 190-pound player when he comes in as a 16-year-old.”
As Sutter noted, de Wit is more mobile than was the case even a year ago.
“His skating has improved and part of that is because of his strength,” said Sutter. “He’s gotten bigger and stronger, but just the other fact is he wants to be a player . . . he trains hard.
“And yet in today’s game you have to have skills too, and he works on his skills. Personally, I’m very happy with his progress. Now it’s just the path that we need to keep him on to allow him to continue to develop.”
The former Red Deer major bantam star admitted that his season with the midget AAA Chiefs was huge in terms of his overall development.
“Our coach, Doug Quinn, taught me to play both ends of the rink,” said de Wit. “I needed to be consistent game in and game out . . . bring what I do best to each game. That was important.”
He also feels he developed some leadership skills along the way.
“Maybe I didn’t have the biggest voice in the locker room, but on the ice I wanted to make a statement each game,” he said. “Sure, I had to go through some adversity throughout the year with changing lines, but throughout the year I progressed and by the end of the season I wanted to be a go-to guy on the team, a player who could make a difference during the game.”
De Wit came on strong down the stretch of the 2013-14 AMHL season and scored three goals and collected six points in 11 league playoff games. He then centered the Chiefs most dominant line — including Tyler Steenbergen and Trey deGraff — during the Pacific Region final and scored twice and added two assists in Red Deer’s 7-1 Game 2 victory.
“As I got bigger and stronger, I thought it really helped my skating and my overall game . . . being able to take D-men wide and use not only my skill but also my feet to make myself a better player,” he said.
Now it’s just a case of proving he deserves a spot on the Rebels roster next season. De Wit is relishing the challenge.
“There are high expectations for me this year and I’m ready to exceed those expectations by any means,” he said.
• Scoring for Team White in Friday’s scrimmage were Tyler Kirkup, a 16-year-old forward from Virden, Man., and 15-year-old forwards Austin Pratt of Lakeville, Minn., and Akash Bains of Delta, B.C.
The Rebels prospects camp runs from 3:45 to 5:45 p.m. Saturday and concludes with a 9 to 11 a.m. session Sunday.