BROSSARD - From QMJHL veteran to development camp rookie, back to veteran at the Canadiens' rookie tournament, Antoine Waked will be a man wearing many hats over the next few weeks.
For the moment, though, the 21-year-old right winger doesn't want to put the cart before the horse.
For starters, Waked has had a very productive summer of training, taking full advantage of the Habs' state-of-the-art facilities in Brossard - and appreciating all that's been made available to him.
"It's a little bit different than Junior, where I had to find a trainer and make sure I was well-surrounded. Here, the team takes care of you and gives you all the tools you need and all the best technology," outlined the former Rouyn-Noranda Husky, who registered 39 goals and 80 points in his final season in Junior. "It's really incredible. I'm very lucky."
In early July, Waked took part in his first Canadiens development camp, which was a boon to the young prospect.
"I was here for a week, learning on the ice during practice, getting advice from just about everyone," explained the St. Bruno native. "Learning how to manage pretty much everything hockey-related, on a psychological level. I've definitely learned more this year than any other.
"I think I gained a lot maturity-wise in training: being the first to arrive at the gym in the morning, always trying to outwork the other guys, being the last one out, developing a good work ethic," he continued. "That's how you climb the ladder and it's going to go well.
Waked has always been serious when it comes to his game and he's made sure to surround himself with friends who share similar goals and dreams. Strength in numbers has helped him stay dedicated to his pursuit.
"My years in Junior really helped me mature. I respected all the rules, monitored my nutrition and I had a curfew. I was lucky to have friends who also play hockey and we were all pretty serious about it," recounted the 6-foot-1, 194-pound forward. "Most of my friends are athletic and pay attention to their bodies. That's helped me on that level, to always be serious and reasonable when we go out, to eat well."
On September 8 and 9, Waked will be in Toronto for the rookie tournament after taking part in the Winnipeg Jets' edition last year. Having that previous experience under his belt will help him serve in a leadership role at the 2017 event.
"I'll have a bit of experience, so I'll try to help everyone feel good, play well, I'll try to be a leader; it'll be super fun. I'm going to tell the younger guys to enjoy every moment. I had the opportunity to play two of the three games in Winnipeg and from the moment I stepped on the ice, the veterans could see that I brought good energy and they gave me good feedback for it," recalled Waked. "Now it's my turn to help the younger guys - everyone, for that matter - so that there's a good vibe on the team and good chemistry.
"I learned a lot over the last two or three years," he continued. "It's helped me become a leader on my team and I'd like to bring that to the rookie tournament."
After the tournament, Waked will pull a chameleon and do his best to blend in at training camp, first at the rookie segment and then - he hopes - at the "real" event.
"It'll just be about finding my place, not trying to do too much, trying not to take up too much space in the locker room. When you're a young guy and you're around experienced guys who have been there a long time, like Shea Weber and Tomas Plekanec, you want everyone to be happy," he noted. "I think I'll just have to do my own thing, keep it low-key and bring some energy on the ice."
Weber is the kind of leader Waked aspires to become one day: a quiet force in the room and someone who carries himself with a certain aura.
"He's been a leader throughout his career and he's been around a long time, so it's definitely really impressive. I'm looking forward to being around him," praised Waked. "I want to take all the positives I can from everyone and make the most of it."
After signing his first professional contract this summer, Waked has already demonstrated he has the mettle of a leader - something, he says, that begins at home.
"Not much has changed for me since then, but I'm definitely getting recognized more and more. Even on my street, there are kids who knock on my door and ask for autographs, or ask if we can play street hockey together," said Waked. "Sometimes, I come back from working out and I'm tired, but I still want to make them happy and play with them.
"It's fun to see them smile. It's a great feeling," he added.
Waked will have plenty of other opportunities like those this coming season, whether it be with the Laval Rocket or, if he breaks through, maybe even with the big club.