Michael Dal Colle called them speedbumps when referring to the start-and-stop nature of his post-draft years.
He's the first to admit that it took him a few years to adjust from the easy offense in junior to the hard-nosed hockey in the pro ranks, but felt that he "proved a point" in Bridgeport last season. He re-invented his game, adopting a defensive, two-way role and parlayed it into 28 games with the Islanders. Now, he finally feels like he "fits in" at the NHL level.
"It's been a long time since I was drafted here and to finally feel like I fit in at the NHL level is a good feeling," Dal Colle said at media day.
Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz, who saw Dal Colle with fresh eyes last season, happened to agree.
"I think he's correct in that he's an NHL player," Trotz said prior to last Saturday's game in Newark. "Absolutely I think he feels that way and he should. From where he's come from, just seeing him in development camp, then early in training camp last year compared to where he finished off, he's a much different player."
Video: LAK@NYI: Dal Colle deflects puck past Quick for lead
Dal Colle may be past some personal speedbumps, but there's some gridlock on his road to becoming a full-time NHLer. With Andrew Ladd slated to start the season on the IR, there's a spot available on the Isles roster, but a lot of internal competition. Tanner Fritz, Tom Kuhnhackl and Ross Johnston are all on one-way contracts, while Josh Ho-Sang is looking to return to the NHL as well. Along with Noah Dobson's quest to make the team, this is one of the most intriguing storylines at camp.
Dal Colle, who inked a two-year deal with the Isles over the summer, is very much in the mix for the opening night spot, a marked improvement after being sent to Bridgeport in the Isles first roster trim last season, but there's still work to be done.
"He's in a battle. He's one of the guys that he'll have to separate himself," Trotz said. "We have a couple of guys and right now there's a big lump of coal right there, I have to figure out once we break it apart what piece we're going to take… He had a good year last year, but he can't take it for granted. He has to take it to the next level."
No doubt Fritz and Kuhnhackl are getting the same message from Trotz. Fritz has stood out by blocking shots and killing penalties, while Trotz noted Kuhnhackl has fought for - and won - jobs for the past few years. How does Dal Colle separate himself? Trotz had some input.
"He knows how to play defensively with our structure, it's seeing what separates you from the guy next to you," Trotz said. "Is it the offense? Is it your consistency? Is it your physicality? Your production? what is it? Your details?"
Video: The game itself doesn't overwhelm him
Dal Colle, who spent the past two practices skating alongside Brock Nelson and Josh Bailey - as well as filling in for a sick Derick Brassard on the power play - thinks he's had a good camp thus far.
"In talks, it's just continuing to play fast, play as fast as possible, play with a high pace," Dal Colle said. "That's been the emphasis for me, just trying to get my feet moving and play faster than I did last year."
Dal Colle said he's not focusing on anyone else, but himself.
"For me it's just worrying about my own game," Dal Colle said. "That's really the only thing I can control. I know it's cliché, but I just worry about what I can do. As long as I'm putting in the work, working every day, engaged in the systems, things will work out."
Dal Colle recorded seven points (3G, 4A) in 28 games last season and his goal for this year is to flip that 28 to an 82 and stick throughout the season without having to make the drive up and down I-95.
"For me it's to be a full-time NHL player," Dal Colle said of his goals for the season. "That's been the goal since I was drafted here. Five years later, I think I'm heading in the right direction I think there were definitely some speedbumps in the road, but I feel good on the ice, off the ice, I feel like my body is developed and getting more mature."