Timo Meier knew the importance of becoming a stronger and faster skater entering his second season with the Halifax Mooseheads in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
He's had no other alternative but to perform at higher level ever since making his way from Switzerland to North America after being selected in the first round (No. 12) by the Mooseheads in the 2013 Canadian Hockey League import draft.
As a rookie in Halifax, he sometimes found himself alongside current Tampa Bay Lightning rookie and former Mooseheads forward Jonathan Drouin. This season he's become a regular with Nikolaj Ehlers, a 2014 first-round pick (No. 9) of the Winnipeg Jets.
"He's able to create space with his size (6-foot-1, 208 pounds) and with the way he shoots the puck," Halifax coach Dominique Ducharme said. "[Ehlers] can score for sure and can move the puck, so it makes for a pretty dangerous line to have those two on the ice at the same time; it's hard to contain."
2015 NHL DRAFT
Meier also skated on a line with Kevin Fiala, a 2014 first-round pick (No. 11) of the Nashville Predators, for Switzerland at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship.
The fact Meier, who is considered to be more power than finesse, has earned the confidence of his coaches to skate with the best young prospects in the world certainly speaks to his level of play. It's a role that could suit him well in the NHL one day.
The native of Herisau, Switzerland, is the highest-ranked player from the QMJHL.
"He's not hard to play with and he's playing more of a North American style than last year, but realizing the game he needs to be playing to become a pro," Ducharme said. "He simplified his game and has good hands and vision for a big guy.
"His confidence is growing and I like the way he's playing right now, the way he's thinking and his attitude, so there are a lot of positives."
He had two goals, six points and a plus-2 rating in six games alongside Fiala for ninth-place Switzerland at the WJC. The left-handed shooting wing leads Halifax with 34 goals, 17 power-play goals and a plus-19 rating; he also has 73 points in 48 games.
He has scored at least one point in 24 straight games for the Mooseheads, totaling 23 goals and 46 points over that stretch.
"The World Juniors was a great experience; it was a fast game and really intense," Meier said. "There were a lot of good players playing for those big countries and it was great. You have to be fast and on the ice be thinking ahead about the game to keep up the pace. I took a lot from that."
Meier also served as the wingman for Erie Otters center Connor McDavid, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, during the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in January. The McDavid line accounted for three goals and seven points in a 6-0 victory for Team Bobby Orr; Meier had a goal, two assists and a plus-3 rating.
"Connor is a complete package; he's a great guy off the ice too," Meier said. "On the ice he's impressive with his skills. What he brings to the table is incredible, so he was easy to play with."
There's no question Meier has felt a lot more comfortable in his role with the team this season than last, when he struck for 17 goals and 34 points in 66 games.
"I worked hard this summer and knew what to expect; I saw how [Ehlers] played and how he went up the ranks and how the game is here, and that helped me," Meier said. "[Ducharme] told me you have to get faster and stronger over the summer and I worked on that. We have a young team, but I'm getting more minutes and was prepared for that."
Ducharme felt Meier adapted well to life in North America.
"It was a year for him of looking and learning; he took in a lot," Ducharme said. "I expected him to come back strong this season because he now knows the way the league goes and the caliber of game he needs to play. You see Timo come in every day and he wants to get better. It's great to see his evolution and progression."
Meier, who compares his style to Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty, said he has played center a few times in his career and is comfortable in that role. He has won 56 of 122 faceoffs (46 percent) this season.
"As a center, I know I'm more responsible in the 'D'-zone than you are as a wing," Meier said.
Director of NHL Central Scouting Dan Marr believes Meier is one of the more NHL-ready prospects in this year's draft class.
"He's a solid and strong skater both with and without the puck, has high-end hockey sense and reads the play very well," Marr said. "He competes and works smart on plays and is very effective in 1-on-1 situations."