Last year before the first preseason game, Mathieu Joseph was just fighting to stay in camp, hoping not to get cut.
What a difference a year can bring.
Joseph made it difficult on the Tampa Bay Lightning coaching staff to keep him out of the lineup last preseason because he kept producing every time he took the ice, which was often. He played in six of the Lightning's seven preseason games, more than any other player. He also scored more goals (4), tallied more assists (4) and recorded more points (8) than any other Lightning player during the preseason.
Because of that production and the elite speed he brought to the team, Joseph somewhat unexpectedly earned a spot on the Lightning roster out of training camp and stayed in the NHL the entire season, skating in 70 games and notching 13 goals and 13 assists during a standout rookie campaign.
Video: Training Camp | Day 6
Now, as the Lightning are set to drop the puck on the 2019 preseason Tuesday versus Carolina at AMALIE Arena, Joseph is firmly entrenched as one of the Lightning's top forwards, his spot in the Opening Night lineup a foregone conclusion.
But don't tell Joseph that.
The way he approaches camp, he's just one of the 62 guys fighting for a roster spot, still hoping not to get cut.
"I can't come in and think I have my spot right away," Joseph said. "I have to get my spot. I have to work hard every practice, every time on the ice, every game I'm going to play. I'm going to have to play well and play to the best of my abilities.
There are a number of forwards in the Lightning pipeline on the cusp of earning a place on the Bolts roster. Guys like Alex Barre-Boulet, Carter Verhaeghe, Alexander Volkov and Mitchell Stephens. Players who are pushing to be this year's version of Mathieu Joseph.
The competition within the organization is good, Joseph said, because it forces established players to elevate their game to avoid losing their spot while also motivating the prospects to keep getting better to pressure the coaches into some tough decisions.
"We know we have good players in this organization coming up," Joseph said. "You're going to have to fight for the role you're going to be in the lineup if you're staying and the spot you have on the team. You can't slow down. I think we all want the best for the organization, and we all want the best for ourselves as well. But I think everyone's playing for team first here."
Joseph's blazing speed brought an added dynamic to a team loaded with skill last season, but he also relished the defensive aspect of the job and became one of the Lightning's more dependable 200-foot players. In his sophomore campaign, Joseph wants to emerge as a greater threat in the offensive zone.
"I think I could be more dangerous on the rush," he said. "I think I can make more plays and have a little bit more poise now that I've adapted to the NHL level for a full year. But I want to keep doing what I did well. I need to use my speed a lot and be good in my defensive zone and on specialty units as well defensively. I think I want to be better all around, but definitely winning battles is key for me and be stronger on pucks in front of the net, I think I'm going to be able to help the team in this area."
Anthony Cirelli played most of last season on a line with Joseph and knew from preseason the rookie forward was going to be a difference maker for the Bolts.
"He was one of our better players in preseason, and throughout the year, he just kept getting better and better and kind of turned into that complete forward. You can see his skill defensively. His skating on the ice with speed was unbelievable and making plays and scoring goals. I'm excited for him. I know he's going to have a big year this season."
Video: Cooper on the Foote brothers
That is, unless there's another Mathieu Joseph in the pipeline ready to unseat, well, Mathieu Joseph from a roster spot.
"The organization's grown, and every year we've gotten a deeper and deeper talent pool," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "When that happens, you've got to remind the guys that there's a Mathieu Joseph around the corner somewhere and that Mathieu Joseph is looking to take somebody's spot, and that's what those guys can't forget."
Joseph won't forget because he remembers how hard he worked to get to this position.
And he's not going to let the next Mathieu Joseph take it away from him.