BUFFALO -- When the Buffalo Sabres drafted forward Cliff Pu in the third round (No. 69) of the 2016 NHL Draft, they not only selected a talented scorer, but a player looking to improve on his best season yet.
Pu, 19, had a breakout third season with London of the Ontario Hockey League in 2016-17. He led London with 86 points (35 goals, 51 assists) in 63 games, and led it to the second round of the OHL playoffs, where it lost in Game 7 to Erie, the eventual OHL champion.
A big reason Pu's strong season, during which he more than doubled his offensive output from the season before, was working with London coach Dale Hunter, who played 19 seasons in the NHL.
"It's no secret London develops really good players," Pu (6-foot-2, 192 pounds) said. "I kind of put all my trust into the coaching staff and they put me in the positions to succeed and we practice a lot of the things we use in the games. A lot of the stuff [Hunter] teaches us works in the games, so I just try to do whatever he says in the game and it works most of the time."
A key to Pu's development was paying attention to the work ethic of former London teammates and current NHL players Mitchell Marner (Toronto Maple Leafs), Christian Dvorak (Arizona Coyotes) and Matthew Tkachuk (Calgary Flames).
"Marner and Dvorak and Tkachuk, they're always staying out after practice working on their shot, working on the little things like chipping the puck in the net and stuff like that," Pu said. "I'm looking at them and seeing how good they were doing and seeing how much working they were putting in, and it really opened my eyes and it really proved that hard work pays off."
While their extra work motivated Pu, he believes in creating his own style of play.
"I try to play my own game," he said. "Everyone is different and if you try to follow someone else it doesn't always work out. The most important thing for me was looking at their work habits and how hard they work in practice and after practice and in the gym, especially Dvorak. He's one of the hardest workers I've ever seen and he did well in the NHL."
One of Pu's goals this season is to play for Canada at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship. He was invited to play for Canada at the World Junior Summer Showcase in Plymouth, Michigan, from July 29-Aug. 5.
"You try not to look too far ahead when you're playing," Pu said. "I think this summer I'm trying to work as hard as I can and putting in all the work. I think if you think too much about the future you don't really focus on the present."
Pu said he had been so focused during Sabres development camp that he didn't realize the 2018 WJC is in Buffalo, where one day he might be playing for the Sabres. The tournament will be held Dec. 26 to Jan. 5, 2018.
"That's just a huge bonus for me," Pu said. "I mean, look at the fans that come out [at development camp] for practices. It's just a couple hour practices and [they were] filling out the HarborCenter, so it's a big hockey town, and playing in front of them would be really special."