Red Deer Rebels forward Jeff de Wit had a much different vision about where he’d be in 2019.
At the start of his WHL career, a first round pick in the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft by his hometown club, he had aspirations of pro hockey.
The Red Deer product has reached a much different place, along a winding path that ended up providing more than he could have imagined.
As de Wit took to the ice Thursday in Everett for the Rebels, he suited up for his 299th WHL game. The illustrious number 300 will come Friday in Seattle against the Thunderbirds.
“I joke around about it sometimes with the guys. I think it’s a big milestone for me to play 300 games. Credit to everyone who has gotten me to this place. My parents, my coaches. I can’t say enough good things about them,” de Wit said.
“It’s a lot of games. The plan when I was 16 was to try and get to pro as fast as possible. I can’t say enough good things about this league and to be playing my 300th game is pretty exciting.”
De Wit started his career in Red Deer, making his way in the lineup for three games in the 2013-14 season. The next two seasons he was a staple, playing 65 games in 2014-15, then 70 in 2015-16. Over that span, he had 10 goals and 26 assists.
In the rink where he was once just a kid watching and cheering from the stands, the forward also had one of his major career highlights.
At the 2016 Memorial Cup in Red Deer, de Wit lived out a boyhood dream, playing for his hometown team in major junior hockey’s biggest tournament.
“Hometown host, that is always going to stick out for me,” he said.
His world was uprooted the following season when he was traded to the Regina Pats as part of a blockbuster deal. Along with defenceman Josh Mahura and a third-round WHL Bantam pick, Red Deer acquired Lane Zablocki and Dawson Barteaux and a trio of draft picks.
That move to Regina changed the way de Wit viewed life in the WHL.
“Getting traded for the first time to Regina and the team we had there, that was pretty special,” he said.
“To go with a friend like Josh, that’s always going to be a moment I’ll never forget. The friendships I made along the way, I’ll always think about that.”
Those friendships showed up in a variety of places across Western Canada. He played seven games in 2017-18 with the Pats, then was traded to the Kootenay Ice. That stint in Cranbrook lasted 15 games before he settled in with the Victoria Royals for the final 21 games of the regular season. He also suited up for nine playoff games in Victoria.
“It was good for me to branch out. Everywhere I’ve been I’ve met a lot of great people,” de Wit said
When his 20-year-old season arrived this summer, de Wit passed through overage waivers. The only person that called was his old coach and Rebels GM Brent Sutter. He challenged the veteran forward to lose weight if he wanted a spot on the Rebels for the 2018-19 season and de Wit responded with a vengeance.
He’s reached a career high in goals with 24 this year and a season high in points with 37 in 51 games. As the WHL playoffs approach, the veteran can’t help but think about that storybook ending to his career.
“I’m glad to be finishing off here where I started things and hopefully we can make a big playoff push,” said the forward, who has only been out of the lineup for one game this year.
“If we can finish off the season strong, I’m most excited out of any playoff push that we’ve had. This is the one I’m most excited for because it’s my last opportunity to win in this league.”