Dawson Barteaux is a big fan of K.I.S.S.
Not the band, but the well-known motto about keeping things simple.
At times this season, it hasn’t exactly been that easy for the Red Deer Rebels defenceman.
Expectations for the 18-year-old blueliner were sky high heading into the 2018-19 WHL campaign after he was selected by the Dallas Stars in the sixth round of the 2018 NHL Draft.
Through stretches, he has shown the perfect portrait of what a number one WHL defenceman could be. He delivered out of the gate, with eight points in the first 10 games of the year.
“I had a pretty good start to the year, so maybe I put a lot of pressure on myself to keep going,” admitted the six-foot-one, 181-pound defenceman.
“Maybe that didn’t help. I’ve just relaxed a little bit and played my game. When I’m playing my game, I’m just fine.”
His production dipped, with just two points in his next 10. From that point, a slump set in for the usually steady defender.
Barteaux had been held pointless in 11 straight games, from Nov. 27 to Dec. 30.
The 19-year-old, offensively minded rearguard pointed to the Christmas break as a reset. It helped him refocus and re-prioritize his game. In three games since returning, he has a goal and two assists.
“I don’t think I was playing bad hockey, just that puck luck wasn’t going my way. I tried to stay with it and I got a little frustrated. That break helped me,” said Barteaux, who has three goals and 16 assists in 36 games this year.
“Just chill out, relax and once I got back and got back at it, just been trying to simplify my game and do all the little things right and it’s been working so far.”
In Wednesday’s shootout win over the Lethbridge Hurricanes, Barteaux again provided another glimpse into where his game can go.
With just 15 seconds left in the game and the Rebels down a goal, he collected the puck in the neutral zone. Quickly, he gained the blue line, catching the Hurricanes off guard and moving the puck to Brandon Hagel. Hagel fired the puck on net with under seven seconds to go and the Rebels tied the game at four.
“He carries it in with speed makes a play and it’s in their net. He makes a smart play. That’s the difference, is he has that offensive upside,” Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter said.
“Just needs to continue to work on his game. It dropped off and now we need him to be an elite player down the stretch.”
Barteaux has spent a lot of time this season working with assistant coach Brad Flynn and watching video trying to find ways to grow his game and take that step forward.
On the ice, over the last two weeks, the Rebels blueline has been thrust into the spotlight.
As Alex Alexeyev continues to represent Russia at the world junior hockey championships, pressure has mounted on the backend with more minutes and responsibility up for grabs.
While not entirely on Barteaux, the weight has been carried by the group as a collective. With veterans Ethan Sakowich and Carson Sass, as well as the young pair of Ryan Gottfried and Chase Leslie shouldering more responsibility.
“We miss him a lot, love seeing him do well at the world juniors,” said Barteaux about Alexeyev.
“We’re missing him and I think we’ve all had to pull up our socks and do a bit extra. Not a lot, just a little bit to make up for him. We’re doing okay.”
Sutter added that Barteaux has leveled off in his game since the better stretches to start the year, he still believes in the potential of the savvy blueliner.
The head coach knows his play will be key if the Rebels want to make a run at top spot in the division.
“I think there’s more for Barts. I think if he gets his game back to where it was in October and November, there’s more. He’ll be the first to admit it,” Sutter said.
“He’s an honest player and he understands his game. He knows the way he has to play and it’s things we’ve been working on since we acquired him when he was 16. There’s still room to grow… and as he does he’ll develop into a real good player.”
Red Deer is back on the ice Friday on the road in Calgary, before welcoming the Victoria Royals to the Centrium on Jan. 5 at 7 p.m.