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Rychel soaking in his first pro experience

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Kerby Rychel grew up around hockey and in a passionate hockey family, his father Warren playing eight seasons in the National Hockey League with five teams and winning a Stanley Cup in 1996.

He's seen his fair share of NHL players and has been around the pro hockey environment, but there was still an element of "am I really here?" when he arrived in Columbus for Blue Jackets development camp this week.

Barely two weeks have passed since Rychel was selected No. 19 overall by the Blue Jackets at the NHL Draft in New Jersey, but it's gone by at a break-neck pace and at the center of it all is a crash course into a brand new organization.

As far as Rychel is concerned, development camp could have consisted of an algebra test and he would still be enjoying every second of it.

"It’s something that every kid dreams about growing up and who plays hockey," Rychel said. "To get drafted and then come to their first pro camp, it’s definitely really exciting. This is a great experience.

"Everyone’s a really good player, that’s why we’re here. It’s an NHL camp, it’s not the Ontario Hockey League or AAA…it’s time to play with the big boys. You can definitely tell out there."

Rychel doesn't have to go through his first development camp without some company in a familiar spot, either. He was one of three first-round picks by the Blue Jackets at the recent draft and along with Alexander Wennberg and Marko Dano, begins the journey to the NHL this week.

And as he's quick to point out, the depth of talent in the organization is hard to ignore.

"I’ll speak for (the other first-round picks in 2013) - they’re really good players, and I think I’m a pretty good player, as well," Rychel said. "We had a really deep draft class; guys like Moutrey and Bjorkstrand, I’ve played against them in other prospect tournaments and in our league, and they’re both good players.

"Some of the other guys here are really good, too, and it makes it exciting."

Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen made his expectations clear to all of this year's development camp participants early in the week: relax, enjoy yourself and be open and willing to learn. There aren't roster spots up for grabs this week and the focus of camp has been primarily educational, but that won't stop a highly-competitive Rychel from making sure that putting his best foot forward is the first step he takes.

"I’ll try to leave a good first impression (on Blue Jackets management)," Rychel said. "You only get one good first impression, and once camp comes around, I’m going to do whatever I can to make the team. I think there’s always pressure, I mean, you’re in your first NHL camp so obviously you’re going to be a little bit nervous.

"I know the NHL is a big step up from junior, but regardless, I’m going to work as hard as I can no matter what happens."

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