The Manitoba Moose's 2022-23 Rookie of the Year will return for another season.
Portager Dean Stewart was brought back after impressing many in his first full year with the AHL club. The defenceman scored one goal and dished out 17 assists in the 2022-23 campaign and says he's very happy to be back in a comfortable situation.
"There's something to be said about going back to a place where you know the coaches, you know most of the guys, you've lived in the city before, and things like that," Stewart explains. "That stuff makes the on-ice part a bit easier. I'm not stressed going into this year because I know where I'm going to live and all of that. That's one of the biggest reasons I'm excited to go back."
Stewart has made a plethora of moves to further his career over the last few seasons.
In 2019-20, he played his final year with the University of Omaha-Nebraska and moved on to the ECHL the following year. Stewart played one full ECHL season in Wichita with the Thunder before splitting time between Wichita and the Manitoba Moose in 2021-22.
Last season, Stewart was a full-timer for the Moose and is looking forward to running it back.
"Knowing exactly what to expect heading into the season makes the summer a little bit more enjoyable. All of that extra stuff plays a part in how well you play on the ice, especially at first. Obviously, Manitoba is home for me, and I'm close to friends and family, but the familiarity is one of the biggest reasons I'm excited to be back."
Now that he has 85 games of AHL experience under his belt, Stewart is excited to be seen as an established player this season.
"Your first few years of pro, you're looking to prove yourself in a way every day when you come to the rink. This will be my third year in Winnipeg, so the coaching staff, the organization, and the guys on the team know what I'm about now," Stewart continues. "I don't have to, necessarily, do anything else to prove myself. That'll be nice and a little less stressful."
While he is no longer a deer in the headlights when it comes to pro hockey, Stewart still knows there are areas of his game to improve upon.
"Getting a little bit bigger is something I talked about with the coaching staff in Manitoba before we left for the summer. That's a big part of the game nowadays. Net-front battles and trying to box forwards out. These days, that's where most goals are scored from. So, I'm doing my best to put some weight on."
Stewart says the Moose should have a young team this year; however, he believes they can secure a spot in the playoffs once again.
"I think making the playoffs is the goal to start the season. Individually, I hope to be a guy some of the younger players can look up to or come to for advice. I was a leader my last year in Omaha, but since then, I've been one of the younger guys on every team. So, I plan to be a guy that's approachable for these young players."
The Manitoba Moose kick off the 2023-24 season on October 13 against the Calgary Wranglers.