For any newly-drafted player, the weeks that follow can be a whirlwind. Fresh off a life-altering weekend, the year's draft class is quickly thrust into a new city, a new organization and thrown into the fire with seminars, workouts and on-ice sessions at Development Camp. It's easy to see how any first-year attendee could be overwhelmed.
That was the case a year ago for Alexis Gravel, the Blackhawks sixth-round selection in the 2018 NHL Draft.
"Last year was crazy. I was almost a super fan since I was 10 years old. I have a picture from my 10th birthday and it's a Blackhawks cake. I loved the team and last year actually seeing them on the ice, I had stars in my eyes," he said. "This year it's a different mindset. I want to go on the ice with those guys and try my best to save (their shots) and I want to get in the lineup as soon as I can."
"A lot happens - you've got the draft and then a couple weeks later, they show up here. We're throwing a lot of information at them," Senior Vice President/General Manager Stan Bowman said. "Now, the guys that have been here for one or two camps, I think they're able to maybe incorporate more of it and absorb it a little bit better."
His growth from last summer to now mirrors much of Gravel's 2018-19 season.
Over 49 regular season games, the 19-year-old posted a .913 save percentage, leading the Halifax Mooseheads to both the President's Cup and Memorial Cup finals. Coming in as a quieter presence, Gravel said he found his voice in the process.
"When the year started, I wasn't really because I still had the young guy mindset and as the year went on, my head coach, Eric Veilleux, helped me," he said. "At the end, I felt like I was a leader on the team. It's a great experience. I'm going to go back as a 19(-year-old) this year and I'll be a leader right from the get-go. I want to work on that aspect because it's important in a team sport."
It's a mindset he's carried with him into his second camp in Chicago, leading by example among the goalie core that features one other draftee - Dominic Basse from this year's class - and four free-agent invitees.
"There are older guys than me that have been here for three or four camps, but it's my second camp so I feel less like a rookie than last year. I feel more comfortable," Gravel said. "I just try to do the right things and if there are younger guys looking at me, well I'll be happy with that."
His path is still early, but the Blackhawks like that they see in his development, working often with Chicago's developmental goaltending coach Peter Aubry, who Gravel credits with much of his on-ice growth over the last year.The 6-foot-3 netminder is heading back for his fourth season with the Mooseheads in a few weeks, continuing to work on his foot speed before he turns pro this time next year and set on clinching hardware before his Juniors career comes to a close.
"I just go day-by-day and I try to do my hardest and with that mentality I feel like I'm getting better. For me, it's trying to concentrate on having a great 19-year-old year," he said. "I'm going to be one of the oldest in the league, so (I want to) be dominant and try to win a championship, that's my goal. I don't want to leave Juniors empty-handed."