Red Deer Rebels third-year forward Wyatt Johnson harbours all of the characteristics of a true team player . . . every coach’s dream, if you will.
Now he’s honing those special attributes that will hopefully make him the ultimate complete player.
“He’s always had a great work ethic, he’s always had great character and he’s always been a good leader,” Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter said this week, prior to the club’s departure for Moose Jaw and the start of a three-game WHL road trip.
“In the last while he’s really worked on his skating and his skills set. He’s a much quicker skater, he’s strong on his skates. Overall, his skills have really improved.”
Johnson’s improvement didn’t just happen. He toiled long and hard during the off-season to make himself a better all-around player.
“I worked on my skills quite a bit during the summer. I really worked on my shot and that’s an aspect of my game that has to continue to improve,” said the 19-year-old forward and Saskatoon product.
“I feel I’ve grown in some ares but I have to keep working hard and getting better as the season goes on.”
Johnson and a small group of players attended workout sessions in his hometown during the spring and summer months.
“We really worked on handling and protecting the puck working down low in the corners,” he said. “We also did some off-ice training and on ice we worked with power skating instructors and skill coaches. We would do certain drills a couple of time a week.”
The extra labour paid off for Johnson, who was invited to the Anaheim Ducks development camp during the summer and, from there, earned an invitation to the NHL team’s main camp in September.
“Yeah, that was cool. I got a call for the development camp just a few days before it happened, so it all came together fairly quick,” he said. “Then it was nice to get invited back (to main camp).
“Attending (Anaheim’s) training camp was a really good experience. I learned a lot and it was cool to see how things are done at that level and learn from all the guys up there.”
Johnson was acquired from the Vancouver Giants in 2012 and he appeared in 56 games with his new club that season, scoring 10 goals and adding 10 assists. He improved to 31 points, including 14 goals, in 61 outings last winter and was producing at a point-per-game pace (1-2-3 in three games) heading into Thursday’s meeting with the host Moose Jaw Warriors.
At six-foot and 180 pounds, Johnson is also capable of playing a fearless, physical game, and yet there’s more to the former midget AAA Saskatoon Blazers star than his character, offensive potential and willingness to venture into the hazardous areas.
“He’s always been an intelligent player, too, and a very dependable player,” said Sutter. “We expect all of that from Johnny, and the great thing about him is he can bring all of it . . . he’s that type of player.
“I put him in a classification where he’s a complete player as far as what you want from a coach’s perspective. You can put him in any situation. He can play centre or right wing. He’s also a good penalty killer.
“He’s one of those all-purpose players you need on your hockey team.”
Johnson likes what he’s seen of the Rebels early in the current campaign. And yet, he fully realizes there’s plenty of room for improvement.
“We’re happy with how we’ve played that last two games (both victories), but we have to continue to work on playing 60 minutes,” he noted.
“We’re playing a puck-possession style that’s really been working for us and we need to continue to work on improving our systems.”