In a perfect world, Michael Dal Colle would have played in the American Hockey League last season, but age restrictions kept him in the junior leagues.
So while Dal Colle spent the last season - his fourth in junior - between the Oshawa Generals and Kingston Frontenacs, he got a peek behind the AHL curtain at the end of year with a six-game stint with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. That professional experience spring-boarded him into his first summer as a pro, which he referred to as his "biggest offseason" to date back at Mini Camp in July.
"It was good to get a little taste of pro before my first full season," Dal Colle said at Islanders rookie camp. "You learn from it. Obviously it was cool. We played Toronto, who's a great team and you really test yourself against guys like that at the AHL level, my family got to see me play, which was cool and it was a good first taste and I'll definitely bring it into this year."
Dal Colle, the fifth-overall pick in the 2014 draft, had an outstanding junior career, scoring 306 points and winning the Memorial Cup in 2015 - the top prize in Canadian junior hockey. Perhaps it went on one year too long, as Dal Colle seemingly had little left to achieve at that age level last season. Still, even with the extra year, it was still an adjustment to walk into a pro room.
"You go into a pro locker room and they're adults with families and kids, so obviously it's a little bit of a shock at the beginning," Dal Colle said. "Your peers aren't in your same age group, so it's a little bit of an adjustment obviously, but it's my profession now."
The 20-year-old winger is all-business when it comes to his training, much to the delight of Sound Tigers head coach Brent Thompson, who oversaw Islanders rookie camp.
"I see improvement in him every season since he's been drafted," Thompson said. "Even the experience he had at the end of the season in the American League with him, his pace is better, he seems to be stronger on the puck."
"He looks like he's physically better in the gym and has put some weight on, so those are all positive steps for a young kid. He's only going to continue to get better and that's a positive sign for our team."
Dal Colle is entering his third year in the Islanders organization and making the big club is still top priority. With two previous camps, four years of junior and six AHL games under his belt, he's feeling confident heading into camp.
"Confidence comes with how many camps you go to," he said. "It's my third year in the system, but it's my first year pro, so I'm just trying to develop and hopefully have a good showing.