It took some time to get comfortable but Red Deer Rebels forward Dwayne Jean Jr. has found his game.
Since being traded to Red Deer at the beginning of the season, the 18-year-old forward from the Chipewyan Prairie Dene First Nation had a slow start but now has three points in the last three games.
“My game is starting to come along,” he said. “It’s right before Christmas which sucks but we’ve just got to focus on these last two games like they’re the last of my career.”
“Everything’s just been coming and I’ve been playing with great guys on the team. [Head coach] Konowalchuk has been giving me some opportunities to play a little extra so I’ve just been trying to run with it and put my work boots on.”
Jean Jr. began his second season with the Tri-City Americans in September and after five games he was well on his way offensively notching two goals and two assists.
However, after deaths in the family, Jean Jr. expressed a desire to play closer to home and the Americans obliged.
In October Tri-City traded the, five-foot-11, 171-pound forward to the Rebels for a fourth-round pick in the 2024 WHL Prospects Draft.
Since then Jean Jr. has contributed two goals and four assists in the Rebels uniform. He scored his first goal on his sixth game in Red Deer against the Victoria Royals and most recently notched his second on Toque and Teddy Bear Toss Night against the Edmonton Oil Kings at the Centrium.
“Tri-City, I can’t thank them enough. They took a chance on me listing me when I was 16 and let me play my first year in the league,” Jean Jr. said. “That place is like a second home to me.”
“They gave me a chance to play closer to home and I can’t thank them enough. Ever since I’ve been here I love it.”
The young man insists the first few games in Red Deer weren’t him and is happy to contribute more consistently as of late.
“It was hard at the start. We have great top 12 forwards on this team I mean everyone can play. That’s why we’re so good this year but when I first got here it was a change. It’s a bit different than the U.S. Division… It was more about learning how to play the Red Deer game, physical game, and just playing simple.”
“The last couple of games I was playing simple and chances are starting to come.”
Jean Jr. also lived in Edmonton during his early years and will have 80 family members who will make their way to the game at Rogers Place on Friday.
In fact, Jean Jr. explained his childhood was quite hectic including eight different schools in eight years. He first lived at his reserve near Fort McMurray for a few years but because of no opportunities to play the game he loved, he moved to Edmonton at 11 years old to live with a billet family.
“With Christmas coming up I haven’t really got to see my family a lot so being able to be closer to them on a weekend basis is really nice,” he said, adding his life has been billet family to billet family.
Before he was in the WHL he played years of minor hockey in the province’s capital with the OHA Edmonton Elite 15s where he contributed 15 goals and 20 assists in 35 games in the 2019-20 season. That next season he switched jerseys and hit the ice for the U18 AAA CAC Canadians adding two goals and seven assists in six games.
“It helped me get here but as the years went by I got a bit older and I started understanding if I wanted to be like my friends that were high WHL draft picks I needed to put my work boots on and put my head down,” Jean Jr. said.
“I’ve just got to push myself to my limits so I don’t fall behind.”
He hopes to play professional hockey, not necessarily in the NHL, after his time in the WHL. If he listens to the coaching staff he said in the long run it’ll help him achieve those goals.