Kole Sherwood has big hopes for the upcoming season.
So does every player headed to an NHL training camp, but this year is a bit different for the New Albany native who last February became the first central Ohio born-and-bred prospect to make his debut with the Blue Jackets.
A year ago at this time, he was headed to Traverse City to take part in the annual NHL Prospects Tournament. Coming off his final season in junior hockey and heading into his first pro campaign, Sherwood knew he was likely headed to AHL Cleveland. Making the NHL roster was but a pipe dream.
Things could be different this year. He's made his NHL debut. His first pro season is under his belt, and he knows he belongs. The next step is showing during training camp that he deserves to be on the roster for opening night Oct. 4 vs. Toronto.
"I envision it every night," the 22-year-old said. "It's my goal this year to make it. There's a lot of opportunity I think, so it's all there. I just have to really come together and really focus and be dialed in the next couple of weeks."
It won't be easy, as the Blue Jackets have depth at forward. Ten forwards who played at least 40 games with Columbus a year ago return, while Gustav Nyquist was added in free agency, rookies Emil Bemstrom and Alexandre Texier are in the mix to earn full-time spots and a bevy of other young, hungry forwards will get looks as well.
Sherwood does bring plenty of skills to the table, though. At 6-foot-1, 202 pounds, he brings an intriguing mix of size, speed and physicality. The AAA Blue Jackets product can also score, as evidenced by the 63 goals he tallied his final two seasons in the Ontario Hockey League and the 16 he pumped in last season in Cleveland in 56 games.
Most of those came in a red-hot streak from late January through mid-March in which Sherwood had 12 goals in 20 games. In the midst of that came his cameo at the NHL level, as injuries gave Columbus the chance to call him up for his NHL debut in Chicago as well as his first-ever home game in Nationwide Arena vs. Tampa Bay.
Though Sherwood returned to Cleveland without a point in his two games with Columbus, he did show he has the tools to play at the NHL level. Looking back, it's a great memory that left him wanting more.
"For sure, it's cool, but it also lights a fire in you when you get sent down because it shows you how good it can be up here," he said. "It's more motivation and makes me more hungry."
If there's anything Sherwood learned about his opening season at the pro level, it was the importance of consistency. After his scorching run of goal-scoring, Sherwood didn't score again in the last 13 games of the regular season or in the Calder Cup Playoffs.
"I was just keeping it simple and doing what doing I had to do to be successful," he said of his hot streak. "I think after I got called up and went back and forth a little and I got sent back down, I tried to change what got me successful. I think that's what hurt me. It's not necessarily about the score sheet, but that's where it showed. I just got away from my game, and that's not who I am and that's what hurt me at the end of the year."
When asked if there were any surprises to his first full season, Sherwood said it was dealing with the rigors of travel, back-to-backs and nagging injuries that keep players from suiting up at 100 percent in pretty much every game.
Still, the grinding mentality is what will, in Sherwood's mind, help carry him to the top level.
"I think I have a lot of skill, but I'm not a first rounder," said Sherwood, who signed with Columbus as a free agent in July 2015. "I'm going to work my way from the bottom and get up there. That's the mentality you have to have. It's about learning to use your skill in certain areas and keep your game simple. It took me until around Christmas time, I'd say, just to learn my game and what is going to help me make it to the next level."
The next step is to put that knowledge into action, and it all starts when training camp begins next week.