Forward A.J. Greer got his first taste of NHL action last year, and now he wants more as he prepares to enter his second professional campaign.
Greer only had a five-game stint with the Colorado Avalanche in November 2016, but the time in Denver left an impression on him and helped drive him as he readied himself for 2017-18. He's aiming to get back to the top level of hockey and stay there.
"You always want more, obviously. It was an amazing experience," Greer recalled of his short time in Colorado. "It was such an amazing time there, and I know what it takes to get there and I know what to expect. It's definitely in the back of my mind and my motivation."
After helping the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies to a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League title and a trip to the Memorial Cup, Greer signed his three-year, entry-level contract with the Avs on July 1, 2016, and joined Colorado's American Hockey League affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage, for the start of the season.
And what a start it was as the Joliette, Quebec, native led the Rampage and all AHL rookies in scoring with 14 points (five goals and nine assists) in his first 14 games.
On Nov. 12, his childhood dream was realized as he was called up to the Avalanche and made his NHL debut the next night against the Boston Bruins.
"It was amazing," Greer said of his time in Colorado. "I loved my time here, and I was so grateful to get the opportunity to showcase my abilities and make my dream come true in the NHL. I played with some great players in Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Duchene. I was really happy to get the opportunity."
Greer didn't find the back of the net during his time with the Avalanche, but he was able to pick up his first NHL point with an assist on Nov. 17 against the Dallas Stars.
When he returned to San Antonio, he continued to develop and learn what the pro game was all about. Greer finished the year in the Alamo City and ended up second on the club with 15 goals and third in points with 38. However, he admitted there were plenty of ups and downs throughout the campaign.
"I learned a lot of things, whether it is on the ice or off the ice, maturity wise, and the level of play was incredible obviously," Greer said. "It was nice to play at a higher level and compete harder. It's a harder schedule. You get used to it, but it was a transition for sure."
He made his mark both on and off the ice in the San Antonio area by visiting young children that were battling cancer at local hospitals on the Rampage's off days. He also helped the St. Baldrick's Foundation raise $88,000 for children's cancer research and was integral part of the team's Silver & Black Give Back program.
The AHL noticed Greer's efforts and named him the recipient of the Yanick Dupre Memorial Award as the league's Man of the Year. He was the first Avalanche prospect to earn the honor.
"I'm just lucky to have the opportunity to give back," Greer said to SARampage.com on April 14. "It's important for me to show gratitude to those fighting for their lives.
"I think this award means way more for me personally because it can affect other people. I hope it can motivate to give back, to be able to put a smile on someone's face."
After the season, Greer's drive didn't slow. He split his summer training between Toronto and Denver working on his skating and skill to become a better power forward and make an impact on the club.
He's going to bring that same passion for the game and others this year and continue to become a key figure in the community. Whether that is in Denver or San Antonio.