Steven Lorentz's journey to the National Hockey League is one of perseverance and hard work, of commitment and persistence, of success on roads less traveled.
His beaming smile and equally sanguine attitude are infectious and have informed every step of his career, a path that has now led him to the most elite level of hockey in the world with the Carolina Hurricanes.
"He's a Cane. He gets it," head coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "He's definitely worked his way up through the ranks, and I'm really happy to have him get that opportunity."
"Long road, short road, it doesn't matter what gets you here," Lorentz said. "I'm here now, and I'm excited to get going."
Like many hockey stories, Lorentz's began at a young age.
"Since I was young, I always had confidence that I had the skill level to move up level-by-level," he said. "I just really want it. Everything I do, whatever it takes, whatever position I'm in or whatever situation the coach puts me in on the ice, I just go out there and try to give it 100 percent. I know it does sound a little bit cliché, but it's that little bit - maybe it's a chip on my shoulder, that internal drive that sets me apart. I've always kind of believed in myself."
Lorentz's belief in himself and confidence in growing and bettering his game helped to propel his career, even in the face of adversity and those that didn't have that same belief in him.
Lorentz was selected 226th overall (12th round) in the 2012 Ontario Hockey League Priority Draft. After posting 18 points (7g, 11a) in 64 games with the Peterborough Petes in the 2013-14 season, he was passed over in his first year of NHL Draft eligibility. In 2014-15, he put up 37 points (16g, 21a) in 59 games with the Petes. Still, NHL Central Scouting's final draft rankings didn't list Lorentz's name among the top 210 North American Skaters.
But, when the Canes were on the clock with the 186th overall pick in the seventh and final round of the 2015 NHL Draft, they took a shot.
"I think at times, players that go through the draft never really get the respect they deserve. Players obviously develop at different times, and with Steven the second time through his draft year, we saw a player who kept on getting better year in and year out," Assistant General Manager Darren Yorke said. "The biggest driver in his game is his compete. The hockey sense, the skills, they were all getting better than his peers at a faster rate."
The odds were stacked against Lorentz, sure, but he was still an NHL Draft pick. That meant something. That meant he had an opportunity, and he was going to make the most of it.
"It's cliché, but if you do all the right things, then things tend to fall into place," he said. "I was so fortunate that the Canes did take a chance on me in the seventh round the year after my draft year. An opportunity is an opportunity. I didn't really look at it as being a seventh-round pick and being on the outside looking in. I just tried to enjoy every day being a player who got the opportunity to be drafted in the NHL, go to NHL camps and learn from some of the best players in the world."
Lorentz was a sponge. He worked closely with Cory Stillman, the Canes' head of forwards development at the time, as he transitioned into his first professional season with the Florida Everblades of the ECHL in 2017-18.
"I think going to the East Coast League in my first year pro was maybe the best thing that happened to me. I got to play with some really good hockey players who had NHL experience," Lorentz said. "I took time to get some confidence in the pro game playing with bigger players."
Lorentz totaled 35 points (12g, 23a) in 62 regular-season games and added another 10 points (5g, 5a) in 19 playoff games, as the Blades finished atop the Eastern Conference and lost to the Colorado Eagles in seven games in the Kelly Cup Finals.
He then split the 2018-19 season between the ECHL and the American Hockey League. Lorentz played in 29 games with the Charlotte Checkers and logged nine points (3g, 6a). He also chipped in five points (1g, 4a) in 12 playoff games, helping the Checkers capture the Calder Cup.
"Playing on these winning teams, you learn so much from the veterans and young guys who have certain types of skills," he said. "You just learn so many different tools you can use in a game. I think that's kind of the game I want to play, be that Swiss Army Knife where I can be relied on in any situation."
Video: "The guys have been so great."
Lorentz spent the entirety of the 2019-20 season with the Checkers and put up breakout numbers, leading team forwards in scoring with 46 points (23g, 23a).
"He's earned this," Yorke said. "He's graduated every level and exceeded expectations at every level."
Lorentz was a part of the 31-man roster the Canes took to the Toronto bubble for the 2020 postseason, and after training camp in January, the 24-year-old forward was retained on the team's taxi squad, which has practiced and traveled with the team in the first weeks of the 2020-21 season.
When Teuvo Teravainen was hampered by an injury on Monday, Jan. 18 in Nashville, Lorentz's NHL debut seemed imminent. The next morning, as he arrived for breakfast at the team's hotel, word spread through the meal room that the game that night was postponed.
Lorentz's NHL debut would have to wait. No matter, though. He's no stranger to waiting for his opportunity, and he shrugged off the latest roadblock with that same bright smile.
A little more than a week later, the moment is here again. As the Canes return to game action for the first time in 10 days on Thursday, Lorentz will draw into the lineup for his first game in the NHL. For real this time. Finally.
"This is a nice little feather in his cap to get this opportunity," Yorke said. "Knowing him, he's going to make the most of it."
Lorentz's NHL debut is going to look and feel a bit different than he might have dreamed it. He hasn't played a game of competitive hockey in 10 months. There won't be a packed house of screaming fans, and his family won't be in attendance, but he's still getting to play in the NHL. That means something. That means he has an opportunity, and he's going to make the most of it.
"I'll have so many friends and family watching at home and cheering me on. It would be nice to have them here and be able to see them after the game, but it's the NHL," he said. "I'm just so happy to be here and do everything I can to contribute. It's been a long journey to get to this point, but I wouldn't be here without my family."
Based on lines used in practice this week, Lorentz will skate alongside Ryan Dzingel and Jordan Staal, a familiar face a young Lorentz used to watch on Bauer's website some 15 years ago.
"I do tend to model my game after him a little bit. I want to play that game - hard-nosed, up-and-down, 200-foot player who can contribute offensively and can be relied on defensively," Lorentz said. "He told me anytime I have a question I could go to him, and that's so nice you can rely on a guy like that who is such a respected leader and looked up to in the locker room so much."
Since the team is missing a number of key penalty killers, Lorentz might see some special teams time, as well.
"Hockey's hockey," he said. "You've got to just be ready to go out there and stick to what got you here in the first place."
The nerves, the jitters, the butterflies - those are bound to settle in at some point, but you wouldn't be able to tell through Lorentz's effervescent smile.
He's in the National Hockey League with the Carolina Hurricanes. Through dogged determination and unrelenting compete, he's living the dream.
"You talk to the guy, and you come away with a smile on your face. He's just happy to be alive, happy to have this opportunity to play in the NHL," Brind'Amour said. "He wants to contribute. He doesn't just want to check off the list that he played a game in the NHL. He wants to do something special. You root for guys like that."