RALEIGH, N.C. -- NHL development camps often begin with a tentative feel. Most of the players are teenagers, so the on-ice chatter is subdued and the flow of drills is spotty.
And when the media asks about their budding careers, the players are cautious; they know the coaches will listen and read to find out which players fit the organizational culture.
That's what makes 20-year-old defenseman Haydn Fleury stand out. If ever a player seemed ready to outgrow this summer rite of passage, it's Fleury. Taken by the Carolina Hurricanes with the No. 7 pick in the 2014 draft, he was heralded as a future mainstay on the Carolina blue line. Since then, he has played two more seasons with Red Deer of the Western Hockey League, finishing his junior career. Next step, the NHL.
Now attending his third development camp, he is dialed in. On the ice, he moves swiftly and his passes are crisp. In the locker room, his words have a clear spark of determination. It was mentioned to him that Carolina's recent buyout of veteran James Wisniewski perhaps left a spot open on the Hurricanes' back end.
"Ever since Wisniewski was bought out, that's the only thing that's been on my mind," Fleury said. "It's extra motivation for me in the gym and on the ice the rest of this summer."
If Fleury feels he has earned the audition, it's because the Hurricanes have shown a willingness to slot young defensemen into the NHL lineup. Last season, Noah Hanifin was 18 when he made the team after his freshman year at Boston College. Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce also were a few months removed from college programs when they were given full-time NHL duty at 21.
Asked if he thought his own road to the NHL would have taken so long, Fleury answered with the diplomacy of a seasoned veteran.
"As a young defenseman, it's never easy," he said. "Going back [to juniors] this year was the right thing for me. I learned a lot. I owe my coaches in Red Deer a ton for all the help they gave me this year. I became a better player for it."
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He stayed in touch with Hanifin and Pesce all season. In February, when the Hurricanes played at the Calgary Flames, Fleury met with his friends after the game. By then, the three rookie defensemen already were earning raves.
"Even the sense I had in the [preseason] camp last year, it looked like [Justin] Faulk and [John-Michael] Liles and [Ron] Hainsey were doing a really good job with [the Hurricanes]," Fleury said. "All six of them were great together last year. The three young guys did really well for what little experience they had. It was really fun to watch."
At development camp, Fleury had the attention as the "veteran" of the group. The first-year players came ready with questions about the pace of the drills and difficulty of the fitness testing. Fleury already was referring to his camp mates like familiar buddies; this year's first-round picks, Jake Bean and Julien Gauthier, were "Beaner" and "The Goat."
That dose of leadership was noticed by coach Bill Peters, who was glad to see Fleury dispensing wisdom.
"He will lead the way here for these kids, then he will come back to camp and fight for a job on our team," Peters said.
And when Fleury returns, he will feel better prepared. He had 41 points (12 goals, 29 assists) in 54 games last season for Red Deer, and at 6-feet-3 and 207 pounds, now has the frame to handle the rigors of professional hockey.
"I don't think I'm the same player I was last year," he said. "I'm way more rounded and two-way, and I've improved in all areas. So I'm very excited about getting out here in September to get training camp going."
And he knows exactly what he hopes to accomplish.
"I'm going to come into the main camp in the fall and do my best to take that spot," he said.