Brent Sutter is already a big supporter of Red Deer Rebels rookie Jhett Larson.
The five-foot-eight, 170-pound forward has impressed the Rebels GM/head coach with his hustle, talent and intelligence.
“I’ve been very happy with him,” said Sutter. “He certainly has a high compete level for someone of his height. His work ethic and pace to his game is very high and he’s got good skill sets.
“He’s also a really smart player. He wants to learn the game. You talk to him about something and you know he’s going to get it and do it the right way.”
Larson has appeared in six of the Rebels’ 13 games in this abbreviated 2021 WHL Central Division season, recording one assist in the process.
But the best is yet to come for the Delisle, Sask., native, Sutter predicted.
“He’s a good skater . . . fast, quick. His offence is just going to come as he gains experience,” said the Rebels boss. “He’s going to be able to score in this league.”
Larson has produced at every level he’s played in minor hockey and his performance as a 14-year-old with the Notre Dame bantam prep team and especially the Notre Dame Hounds midget AAA squad in the 2018-19 season persuaded the Rebels to select him in the 2019 WHL bantam draft.
He recorded seven goals and picked up 17 points in 27 games with the bantam squad, then stepped up a level and had five points (2g,3a) in six games with the midget Hounds.
The Rebels took Larson in the eighth round, 163rd overall, that year and — as a 15-year-old — he went on to score 14 goals and collect 37 points in 40 games with the midget AAA Hounds.
With five goals and 11 points in six games, the shifty center was one of the Saskatchewan Midget AAA League’s top scorers before the 2019-20 season was halted last fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I had a good start to the season before coming here,” said Larson, who has adjusted to the faster paced major junior brand.
“This league is really fast and I think I’ve adapted well to that since my first game. It’s a lot of work compared to minor hockey. But it’s been really cool. There’s a different element to living (inside the Centrium) but I’ve got to know the guys really well.”
Larson sees himself as a “good two-way player with lots of compete. I hate to lose.”
That was evident in Monday’s 6-1 loss to Edmonton when Larson’s frustration with the manner in which the game was unfolding was evident. “We all got frustrated but we’ve moved on,” he said, while looking forward to Friday’s upcoming contest versus the visiting Calgary Hitmen.
While somewhat lacking in size, Larson hasn’t backed away from any physical confrontations to date.
“His height doesn’t affect him because he plays so hard,” said Sutter. “This kid is really well put together plus he’s a really good hockey player.”
Larson, who turned 17 in February, was on the Rebels power play during Monday’s game, along with fellow rookies Josh Medernach, Kalan Lind and defenceman Jace Weir, and second-year blueliner Kyle Masters.
“In the first period that was our best line,” said Sutter.
Larson will undoubtedly be a bigger piece of the Rebels’ puzzle next season.
“I’ve improved a lot since I first came here and I see myself playing a bigger role next year, just by knowing the guys and building more chemistry,” he said.
Notable: The Rebels currently have five players on the injury list — forwards Jayden Grubbe (lower body, indefinite) and Josh Tarzwell (lower body, day-to-day) and defencemen Chase Leslie, Hunter Mayo and Blake Gustafson, all week-to-week with upper body injuries . . . Following Friday’s contest, the Rebels and Hitmen will meet on Sunday in Calgary and then back at the Centrium on Monday.