Adam Erne's first full season in professional hockey was, admittedly, "a little weird."
Erne, a second round (33rd overall) selection of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2013 NHL Draft, broke his hand in his fourth game with the Syracuse Crunch. The power forward missed nearly a month and a half of the season before returning to put up 14 goals and 15 assists in 59 games.
Erne, however, didn't see the setback as, well, a setback. The time off the ice allowed him to see the game from a different viewpoint, one that he was able to put to use once he was fully healthy and ready to play again.
"The injury kind of helped me in the sense that I got to watch a lot of games and realize things like how much time you actually have," Erne said following the opening day of Tampa Bay's 2016 rookie camp. "When you're in the game, it seems a lot faster, the guys seem bigger. But just from watching the games for a month and a half, you realize how much time you have with the puck. It's easier to make plays than it might seem when you're out there. So, I just try to take advantage of the time I had off."
In his first game back from injury, Erne put his newfound perspective to good use. He scored a goal and added two assists for the first (and so far only) three-point game of his pro career.
"We didn't do as well as a team as I thought we would do or we had hoped," Erne said. "But I thought it was a good year for me, the experience and getting the first year out of the way and just learning the ins and outs of how it's going to be was."
Erne is entering his fourth Lightning rookie camp, which is being run by first-year Syracuse Crunch head coach Benoit Giroulx. Erne can remember being nervous in his first go-round. Now, he's a camp veteran eager to show some of the newcomers the ropes.
"You just let them know how things work and try to be a good teammate," Erne said. "You still get a little nervous the first day of camp, but I think those nerves go away a lot quicker than when it was my first time. Obviously, you want to make a good first impression. It doesn't matter how many times you go to camp, it makes you a little nervous, but it's something you look forward to and can thrive off of."
The 21 year old enters this camp ready to show the Lightning organization he's worthy of making his NHL debut this season.
"I think each year you feel you get a little closer to where you want to be. Obviously, that's Tampa,"
Erne said. "It gets more and more exciting each year knowing you're getting closer. All you can do is give it your best and see where you end up."
At 6-foot-1, 209 pounds, Erne plays a more physical game than a majority of his forward counterparts in the organization. The Lightning are built around skill and speed. Erne has a bit more of an edge to his game. The different skillset, he hopes, could be his ticket to a mid-season callup.
"Hopefully, that's something they think they need," Erne said. "They don't have a lot of bigger forwards. Obviously, there are a few guys on the team that can fill that role, but mostly they're a smaller, faster team. That's something I can bring to the table that, hopefully, they find useful."
Asked what he would consider a successful season in his second full pro year, Erne said anything short of suiting up for the Lightning at some point would be a disappointment.
"I want to play in the NHL," he said. "That's a high goal, but it is what it is. That's the only way you're going to get better is to push yourself."