Red Deer Rebels defenceman Jace Weir has made big strides with the team this season and is hopeful he will hear his name called at the 2022 NHL Draft. (Photo by ROB WALLATOR/Red Deer Rebels)

Red Deer Rebels defenceman Jace Weir has made big strides with the team this season and is hopeful he will hear his name called at the 2022 NHL Draft. (Photo by ROB WALLATOR/Red Deer Rebels)

Weir finding stride on Red Deer Rebels blueline

Jace Weir’s first season in the WHL was about as abnormal as it gets.

Living in the Peavey Mart Centrium with his teammates, no fans in the stands, an unusual March to May 23-game season that was marred with lots of losing, was his first taste of the league as a 16-year-old.

“Crazy. Last year, when I was 16 with no fans and we didn’t win a lot, it was tough,” said the six-foot-two, 185-pound defenceman Thursday.

“It was (still) a really good development year for me. From last year to this year… we’ve just built a different culture around here and it’s fun to come to the rink and compete every day.”

The growth, both physically and in his game, has come along by leaps and bounds from where he was less than a year ago.

“Huge growth. Obviously, he’s a good, skilled defenceman. Big body guy. Last year was an odd year to come in. For a lot of our young guys, including Jace it’s helped him get his feet wet at this level,” said Rebels assistant coach Ryan Coleville.

“He’s definitely taken off this year. There’s some ups and downs with every young player – he’s always willing to learn and he’s a good listener and very coachable.”

Weir has had a steady role on the Red Deer Rebels blueline this season, being paired mostly with Finnish defenceman Christoffer Sedoff, who was not with the Rebels last year but played pro hockey in his native Finland. Weir said he’s taken so much away from playing with Sedoff this year, who is one of the league’s best defenceman, with three goals and 28 assists in 36 games.

“Seds is great. He played pro hockey last year and I’ve learned a bunch from him. Just the way he plays the game, he’s a really good guy to look up to,” Weir said.

“He’s really easy to play with, we have really good chemistry, playing together from the start of the season. I’ve learned a lot from him, he’s just brought that aspect to the game I didn’t really know about – the way he moves the puck and the way he gets up the ice, I really admire that and try to put that in my game.”

The Coldstream, B.C. product has so many role models on the Rebels’ roster, each providing a unique look into what he wants his WHL career to become. Jayden and Grubbe and Kyle Masters provide a sneak peek into what it takes to be drafted into the NHL. Both players were selected in the 2021 NHL Draft and Weir leans on his two teammates as he prepares for his own draft year this summer.

“A great guy for me to listen to is a guy like Jayden Grubbe. He’s done it, Kyle Masters, too. They always just tell me just work every game, work hard in practice and results will come. Try not to overthink it,” Weir said.

Earlier this year, Weir was ranked 55th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting. He tries not to think too much about the draft, but it’s always in the back of his mind. Instead, he leans into a mantra from Rebels GM Brent Sutter.

“When I was 16, Brent talked a lot about getting one per cent better every day and that always stuck with me,” Weir said.

The blueliner has 11 points in 33 games but knows this season is huge to determine his future. While that seems like a big burden to carry, he’s dreamt of playing in the NHL for as long as he can remember. So, he won’t let a little obstacle like that distract him from the ultimate goal.

“For the draft, obviously my goal is to get drafted and one day play in the NHL, but at the same time, you can’t think too much about it,” Weir said.

The Rebels are on the road in Lethbridge to take on the Hurricanes Friday, before hosting the Moose Jaw Warriors on Saturday night at the Peavey Mart Centrium.