Christensen blossoming on Raider blue line

Nathan Reiter/Daily Herald Prince Albert Raiders defenseman Justice Christensen handles a puck during warmups prior to a Raider home game earlier this season.

It’s been a career year on the Prince Albert Raider blue line for Justice Christensen.

The 18-year-old Red Deer, Alberta product has posted 21 points, including five goals in only 30 games for the Raiders who sit fourth in the WHL’s Eastern Conference with a 15-13-0-2 record.

Christensen says he put in a lot of work over the course of the offseason and has been making the most out of the opportunities given to him by Jeff Truitt and the Raider coaching staff.

“Lots of it was a very good offseason. (I) skated lots in Calgary, and I was very happy with my progression over the summer. This year (I’ve) just been given lots of opportunity, and I think I made the best of it, and I’m really happy with how our team’s done so far.”

Truitt says Christensen is a player who knows his strengths and has been using them well leading to not only individual success, but also for the team.

“Confidence wise, not only shooting the puck and getting his shots through, but he’s seeing the holes to get the puck to the net. He’s got a great shot and when he uses it, it’s very effective. I think he’s found that confidence now about finding holes and getting it through. He’s got five or six goals, but it’s the assists. Getting the point to the net (on the) power play helps a little bit, but he’s been very effective that way. He’s using his assets and shot to his advantage.”

Christensen has done an admirable job on the top power play unit for the Raiders, replacing Landon Kosior who scored 17 goals on the blue line for Prince Albert last season, including nine on the power play.

Four of Christensen’s five goals this season have come on the power play, with three being game-winning tallies.

Truitt says Christensen has been successful on the power play because he is willing to pass the puck and not afraid to fire a shot on goal.

“He’s poised up top. He’s one of those guys that can get across a blue line in a hurry and open up plays. He’s vocal, which certainly helps. He’s letting guys know that he’s open. He’s creating those holes or dishing it off. He’s got a nice balance of either shooting the puck or distributing it. It’s a dangerous combination. I think he’s found his confidence that way, which is great.”

Christensen was also recently named to the Raider leadership group and will wear an ‘A’ for the remainder of the season, joining captain and fellow rearguard Eric Johnston along with forwards Niall Crocker and Sloan Stanick.

Truitt says the coaching staff took their time, but Christensen demonstrated all the qualities desired in a member of the team’s leadership group.

“We wanted to take our time with that and make the right decision. He’s a vocal guy in the dressing room. He keeps himself accountable. He’s been a captain before, so it’s really no different to him. At this level, it’s what you bring in the identity of the team, the culture, and upholding that culture. I think he does a great job of that.”

Christensen says he was humbled by receiving the nod to the leadership group, but doesn’t let the honour change the way he plays on a nightly basis.

“It’s a really nice honour, (I’m) really excited to be able to be named to the leadership group, but nothing changes for our team and excited for the rest of the year.”

For the last several games, Christensen has been penciled alongside Arizona Coyotes prospect Terrell Goldsmith on the starting defensive pair.

Truitt says the duo have done a great job as a shutdown pair.

“Both guys are physical. Terrell is a powerful guy. I just think that they defend very well. I think there’s a lot of chemistry there. I think that they read off of each other very well, but they compete hard. They’re effective against other teams top lines, they’ve got the skill, they’ve got the speed, they’ve got the power of playing against other teams better players, so we like that combination a lot.”

Christensen says he is able to feed off the physicality that Goldsmith brings to the table, while still playing his offensive game.

“Terrell plays a hard, gritty game and I like that game too, so it’s nice when we’re both out there playing that style. He’s a big guy and it allows me to play my game and get on the offense a little bit more.”

Christensen and the Raiders kick off a four game homestand prior to the Christmas break where they will host the Calgary Hitmen, Christensen’s hometown Red Deer Rebels, the Kamloops Blazers and the Kelowna Rockets.

Christesen says he is looking forward to heading home to see family for the holidays, but there is still unfinished business for himself and the Raiders prior to heading home.

(I’m) definitely looking forward to the Christmas break, but these four games are huge for us and to separate ourselves. We’ve put ourselves in a good position for after Christmas, but it’ll be really exciting and winnable games for our team.”

The Raiders return to action on Friday night when they take on the Calgary Hitmen at the Art Hauser Centre. Puck drops at 7 p.m.