BUFFALO -- The New Jersey Devils have seen some of their young players succeed in recent seasons, and they're hoping forward John Quenneville follows suit.
Quenneville, the No. 30 pick of the 2014 NHL Draft, is coming off a strong season with Brandon of the Western Hockey League, for whom he had 73 points (31 goals, 42 assists) in 57 games last season, along with 27 points (16 goals, 11 assists) in 21 OHL playoff games, and helped the Wheat Kings to a berth in the Memorial Cup.
That marked the exclamation point of his junior hockey career; in four seasons with Brandon, he had 197 points (81 goals, 116 assists) in 222 games.
Now Quenneville, 20, takes the next step in his career entering his first season as a professional.
"I think with all of these players, just as people, they mature," said Rick Kowalsky, coach of Albany of the American Hockey League, the Devils' affiliate. "They're drafted at 18 and you see them from year to year and they come to training camp and they learn a little bit, and some of them may be hard lessons.
"They understand the pro game is not as easy as junior or college, and you're playing against men, not boys. I think I've seen a little bit of that in him. Obviously he followed last year's training camp with an excellent season [last] year."
Quenneville can always lean on family members for advice on how to make it to the NHL too; he is the second cousin of Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville and nephew (by marriage) of New York Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk.
Quenneville evolved into a goal scorer last season with Brandon. He had 31 goals, nearly doubling his 17 goals the season before. The offensive numbers stick out, but to make it as a professional, there's more than just being a threat at one end of the ice.
"That's one of the things that I've worked on a lot is my defensive game," said Quenneville (6-foot-1, 205 pounds). "I think I was always a good defensive player and I always took pride in it, but once again, that's another part of the game that's evolved in taking a step in the right direction of being a pro.
"It's more of anything, having the mentality of, [needing] to be a 200-foot player; I need to take a lot of focus on my defense and take pride in my defense, and that's what I'm going to do and I feel really good about that, too."
Making the jump from junior hockey to pro hockey can be difficult, but Quenneville can look at Devils teammate Joseph Blandisi as an example of how it can be done. Blandisi, a forward, finished his junior career with Barrie of the Ontario Hockey League in 2014-15. After he played 27 games in Albany, he earned a call-up to New Jersey and played 41 games in the NHL.
"When we first drafted [Quenneville], the first camp I saw him, the first comparison I made was Adam Henrique, and I had Adam [in Albany]," Kowalsky said. "You know, maybe you see [Quenneville] as potentially a more offensive guy, but Adam did some special things in junior and as a rookie for me, really, as our No. 1 center in Albany.
"That's translated into the NHL and certainly that type of player, and I think Quenneville has that ability. He can play both sides of the puck, but those natural instincts defensively, some guys you try and teach them some of them and they'll never get there, but you can see that he has it."
Being compared to Henrique may be significant for a player who has yet to play his first professional game, but Quenneville is confident he has what it takes to succeed at the next level, especially given how he has changed since being drafted two years ago.
"I think each year you just suck it up and you work hard or you find new limits to break, and that's what I've done," Quenneville said. "I think I've stepped it up and put more effort in this summer than I ever have before, and I think that's what you have to do. You have to continue to improve and continue to push yourself to be a better player each year. You have to find new limits to push past.
"In order to get where I am right now, I think I've had to put a lot of effort. It's really nice to see it pay off right now. I think I feel really good about my game and I feel really good on the ice, so it's kind of nice."