It was a decision Jaxsen Wiebe has never regretted making.
The future Red Deer Rebels forward attended the camp of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s Nipawin Hawks as a 16-year-old last fall and was so impressive that he earned a roster spot with the junior A club.
He was torn between staying with the Hawks and returning to his midget AAA team in his hometown of Moose Jaw, ultimately deciding that lining up against players as much as four years older than himself was the correct route to follow.
“It was huge for my development,” said Wiebe of his season in the junior A ranks. “It was a mixed decision. When I went to camp they (Hawks coaches) asked me to stay and I didn’t know if I was going to. But I stuck around and was really happy I did. It helped me with my development a lot.
“I’m thankful for that and the Nipawin Hawks organization for helping me develop into who I am right now.”
What he is, in fact, is a six-foot, 202-pound winger/centre who can bang bodies and has emerging offensive skills. Wiebe, who turned 17 in May, scored 13 goals and collected 26 points in 48 regular-season games with the Hawks and then contributed two goals and seven points in seven playoff contests.
General manager/head coach Brent Sutter was impressed with Wiebe during the Rebels spring prospects camp which wrapped up Sunday morning at the Penhold Regional Multiplex.
“Playing junior A last year was a really good development year for him,” said Sutter. “You notice a big difference with him.
“He’s a 200-pound kid and he can really skate. He’s got grease to him and he can shoot the puck. He’s going to be a good player with us.
“Him playing junior A was huge for him. He fought and all that other stuff he did as a 16-year-old was pretty impressive.”
Wiebe, a seventh round pick of the Rebels in the 2017 Western Hockey League bantam draft, stood out in the Hawks’ brief playoff run, a seven-game first-round loss to the Yorkton Terriers.
“Me and my linemates just had a good playoffs altogether,” he said. “We kind of found a chemistry and kept it rolling. We were a big contributing factor to our offence and so that was huge.
“We came up short, which sucks, but I feel that myself and my linemates and most of my team had a good playoffs.”
Wiebe is confident that he can crack the Rebels roster for the 2019-20 WHL season.
“I think as long as I continue to have a good summer and keep working on stuff that I need to improve on, then come in and have a good camp, I’m pretty confident that I can stick here.”
What areas of the game does Wiebe feel need improvement? What will his off-season work entail?
“Just more in tight skill work, kind of down low in the corners . . . working hard in front of the net, stuff like that,” he said. “And then obviously getting back into the D-zone and stuff like that . . . working on all my game basically.”
Certainly his size will help him as a Rebels rookie.
“Obviously I’m a big body and I’m going to have to use it to my advantage, use it to work guys” said Wiebe. “Just going to lay the body, play physical like I can then hopefully that will also help me make the lineup.”
Wiebe was thankful that he attended the Rebels prospects camp, which this spring featured 16- and 17-year-olds.
“It was a really good experience,” he said. “The way the Rebels organization put it on was really fun. It was fun to be around the guys. Obviously it was some good ice time and it was just good to bond with the guys.”