Jeff de Wit is embracing his swansong with the Red Deer Rebels.
After all, it truly was his last shot.
The 20-year-old forward passed through WHL overage waivers unclaimed this summer, until the team that selected him in the first round of the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft came calling.
There were no guarantees, only a lifeline for a Red Deer kid that Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter believed in.
De Wit had to put in the work, going through a six-week program over the summer to change his nutrition, workout habits and sleep patterns to get ready for the WHL season.
And since the puck dropped, every minute has just been about enjoying the moment.
“Coming into the year, I didn’t have too many expectations, just had to make a hockey team,” he said.
“Once I did that, I didn’t have too much to think about. Team-wise and individually, I wasn’t playing with any expectations. It’s worked to my advantage and I just want to keep rolling.”
Before this season, de Wit had played 247 WHL games, recording 72 points for five different teams.
His most productive was the 2015-16 campaign when he had 23 points in 70 games for the Rebels. After two and a half seasons in Red Deer, he was part of a blockbuster trade that also sent Josh Mahura to the Regina Pats in January of 2017.
He started last season in Regina, before a brief stop in Kootenay. He was then dealt to Victoria and was a role player for the Royals, with 14 points in 21 games and another two in nine playoff games.
Back in Red Deer, he’s finally been afforded an opportunity that he’s never had before in the league.
Playing first line minutes on the Rebels top unit, alongside the uber-talented import pick Oleg Zaytsev and recent NHL signee Brandon Hagel, de Wit is experiencing a career renaissance.
He is a point-per-game player, with 18 points in 16 games. His 10 goals are one off the most he has ever scored in a WHL season.
“Couldn’t be more happy with how things have gone so far,” de Wit said.
“I’m pretty fortunate to be playing with two skilled players. Whether it’s Zaytsev or (Reese Johnson), down the middle those are two extremely high-end players. I’m grateful to be playing with my line and I think we’ll just keep rolling.”
With time on the top line has also come power play time, where de Wit has thrived in front of opposing goalies. Four of his 10 goals have come on the man advantage and the Rebels power play has 12 goals in 54 chances.
“I’ve always had a net-front presence and have good hand-eye coordination in front of the net,” he said.
“When you’re younger you don’t get as much opportunity to stand in front on the power play, but last year in Victoria on the power play I was net front and I’ve just had a knack for the net this year. Puck has been bouncing my way.”
— Red Deer Rebels (@Rebelshockey) October 17, 2018
Even more special in his final season, playing for his hometown team is the fact they’re winning a lot.
It has made things easier in the room, especially considering the youth they have. Currently ranked ninth among Canadian Hockey League teams with an 11-4-1 record, de Wit also makes it clear that this is one of the younger teams he’s ever played with. According to Elite Prospects, the Rebels have an average age of 17.83.
“I’ve never been on a team this young. There are no expectations coming into the year. We’re using that to our advantage going into games and I think people are still taking us a bit lightly, then we’re getting on them early,” he added.
As the Rebels departed for a trip through the prairies this weekend for three games in three nights, de Wit laughed at the suggestion he expected anything from the 2018-19 season. The veteran WHLer is enjoying life on the top line, scoring goals and winning games.
He just wants it all to keep rolling.
The Rebels are on the road in Brandon Friday, before a date with the Moose Jaw Warriors Saturday and they finish off the weekend in Swift Current Sunday against the Broncos.