Jayden Henderson has been on a wild ride these last few weeks.
The 16-year-old Red Deer Minor Hockey product had a dream come true earlier this month when he signed with the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings.
That dream became a quick reality Tuesday when the forward played his first-ever WHL game at Rogers Place for the Oil Kings.
“It was crazy, it was awesome. Just an awesome experience, playing at Rogers,” said the six-foot-one, 182-pound Sylvan Lake native.
Henderson has been rolling for much of the year with the Red Deer Midget AAA Optimist Chiefs.
Over the last two months, the centre has been red hot and that’s where he started to really impress the Oil Kings, who drafted him in the seventh round of the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft. Henderson said at the Midget AAA Mac’s Tournament in Calgary, when he had a pair of goals in four games, was where talks really picked up.
“It happened pretty fast, it’s been a few stressful weeks but it’s been lots of fun,” he said.
“It was slow during the start of the year but then things picked up after the Mac’s Tournament.”
Oil Kings President of Hockey Operations and GM Kirt Hill said in a press release earlier this month that it has been Henderson’s development that earned him a chance to get into the Edmonton lineup.
“Jayden is a skilled forward who has continued to develop throughout the season,” Hill said. “He’s having a tremendous year with the Red Deer (Optimist) Chiefs and is very deserving of this opportunity.”
Henderson is currently third in Albert Midget AAA Hockey League scoring, with 16 goals and 25 assists in 28 games.
He said much of that success is due to extra work in the offseason and simply improving every aspect of his game.
“I’ve just been thinking more about my future and how important the season can be,” Henderson noted.
“Things have just been kind of clicking and improving. All summer I skated with my agent in Calgary and worked on some different things.”
After spending most of his life as a centre, including this season, he’ll move to the wing for most likely the rest of the season.
“I just moved positions, to play wing for the rest of the season so I can play a bigger role. Always can get faster,” he said.
“Just D-men pushing down on the walls on the breakout. Different from always supporting the puck, you have to stay in your position and wait.”
As the season goes forward, Henderson isn’t exactly sure what the future holds, but he’s just trying to go out and improve, and help the Optimist Chiefs win some games. If he plays more with the Oil Kings, great, if not, he’s happy to help his team pick up points in Red Deer.
“We’ve got a really good team. We’re all pretty positive and lots of love in the room. Obviously, everyone wants to win, so that’s what we’re shooting for,” Henderson said.
Henderson and the Optimist Chiefs are back on the ice Sunday at 4 p.m. at Servus Arena against the Airdrie Bisons.