CENTENNIAL, Colo.--While every player attending Colorado Avalanche development camp is taking the next step in their hockey career, two members of the organization are preparing for the transition to the professional game for the very first time.
Although it is unfair to lump them together, both center J.C. Beaudin and defenseman Nicolas Meloche are graduating from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League after playing out their fourth and final years with their respective clubs.
While neither played together, instead having to battle it out against each other at least twice a season, the forward from Longueuil, Quebec, and the rear guard from LaSalle, Quebec, are linked together for a number of reasons.
Both were selected at the 2015 NHL Draft in Sunrise, Florida, with Meloche going in the second round (40th overall) and Beaudin following him in the third round (71st overall). Both spent their amateur careers playing in their home province. Both were signed to entry-level contracts with the Avalanche on March 6, and each is excited to move forward with the franchise.
"You dream about this day since you [start] playing hockey, to sign your first contract, and it happened," Meloche said during development camp. "It is great to be part of the Colorado family. It's an honor, and I can't wait to turn pro next year and try and maybe get a spot [with the Avs] or improve in the AHL and one day be a good defenseman in the NHL."
"I was happy. I had a good season last year and another good season this year," said Beaudin. "I was expecting a contract, honestly. So when I received the offer and me and my agent decided to sign it, I was really, really happy. I made a lot of sacrifices, and my parents too, so it was rewarding."
Video: Prospect J.C. Beaudin reflects on his 2016-17 season
Considered veterans of Colorado's summer development program, the Quebecois are both coming off outstanding final campaigns with their previous squads.
Beaudin recorded 80 points (30 goals, 50 assists) in 65 regular-season contests, finishing first on the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in assists and points (tied) and second in markers (tied). A year after the Huskies made it to the Memorial Cup Final before falling the the London Knights, the club fell to the Chicoutimi Sagueneens in seven games in the second round of the QMJHL postseason. Beaudin led his squad in all three scoring categories with 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) in 13 playoff matches.
"We had a pretty good season. We finished second in the league," the 20-year-old forward said. "Unfortunately, we lost in the second round of the playoffs, but in general, it was a great year. I had a lot of fun, and I learned a lot.
"We lost a couple guys, but we still had good chemistry. We had a good group of guys, a good coaching staff. So like I said, it was a good year and a great experience once again, and right now I'm ready to turn pro."
Meloche had a different kind of year. He started the campaign with the Gatineau Olympiques but was traded to the Charlottetown Islanders after the first 26 games. Gatineau went on to finish in 10th place and bowed out of the playoffs in the first round, while the Islanders surged to a fourth-place ending and a favorable postseason matchup.
The 19-year-old rear guard completed the season with 47 points (16 goals, 31 assists) in 61 total regular-season games, leading team blueliners in goals and ranking second in assists and points. He added another seven points (three goals, four assists) in 13 playoff contests before they fell to the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in the semifinal round.
"When I got into Charlottetown, I was playing with a friend since I was young, Guillaume Brisebois. We played on all those U18, U17 Team Canada teams, so we had great chemistry and it helped me a lot," Melcohe said of the transition to his new club. "We played really good after Christmas, put up points, a good plus/minus and played against top lines. For me, it was good to play with a great 'D' so I can learn from him and him learn from me, and the coaching staff there helped me a lot. It was a great season for me last year."
Not only did having a friend help him integrate into the squad a lot faster, but Meloche also got to hone his second language while working on what he learned in previous development camps during his time in Charlottetown.
"It helped my English too, because [Charlottetown is] English, and I had a great billet. So it was fun," he said. "My skating ability has been great. I'm more confident, too. I think [camp] helps a lot. I'm just improving, being more mature on and off the ice and being more of a pro. It's helped me a lot, and I just want to keep improving."
Video: Nicolas Meloche recaps his season in the QMJHL
Knowing that change is coming, both players are enjoying their time on the ice in Colorado while they get the chance to work with skating consultant Tracy Tutton; Avs development staff including Adam Foote, Brian Willsie, Brett Clark and David Oliver; and even Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar.
"It's more on the ice. Last year we had maybe one time on the ice a day. Then we had training at the Broncos facilities or something," Beaudin said, comparing previous iterations of the event. "So this year, we have an on-ice session in the morning. We have a workout, a shooting session down in front of the [bubble], and then we're going back on the ice… So more ice, but still a good experience.
"We have an hour with Tracy doing power skating. It's really good. Tracy is amazing. And another hour, it's called development practice. So skills and just a normal practice."
Everyone at camp is also getting the opportunity to learn about nutrition, fitness, and more as the Avs prepare everyone for what it takes to reach their highest potential in their quest for a spot on an NHL roster, something Beaudin and Meloche are paying significant attention to. They know that this summer will be different for them.
"[I want] a good summer of training. I've been here [for] maybe a month training with Casey [Bond]," Beaudin said of his goals. "So I'll be ready for [training] camp, for sure. I need to gain a little bit of muscle, and I'll be ready for camp."
"It's a bit the same, but maybe put on more pounds and be a bit more serious because I know there's one spot for everyone around the world to have the chance to be there," Meloche said of his summer objectives. "For me, it's just to be more serious and eat healthy, like everyone's doing. Having fun, too; it's all about that. I'm going to improve a lot this summer training with pros at my gym, and it's just going to help me."
Eating properly is a key component of a professional athlete's training regimen, and while it may be hard for some to give up the sugars and empty carbs that so many of us enjoy, it isn't something Beaudin deals with.
"My mom is a dentist, so growing up she was strict [about] good food," he confessed. "So I grew up eating good. It's not really hard for me to eat well, but for sure you need to be focused on that and take care of your body."
Now that camp is coming to a close, a summer of hard work and maybe a little fun for the duo is ahead. Then it's time for training camp in the fall and that next step in their hockey careers.
"I just want to go out there and give my 100 percent," Beaudin said of his first-year obejectives. "I want the team to win. I want to, if I can, have a shot to play a couple games in the NHL this year. So I'm training hard. I'll be ready in September, and we'll see what happens."