BROSSARD, Quebec -- With his first professional season under his belt, forward Nikita Scherbak feels that much closer to reaching his ultimate goal of playing in the NHL for the Montreal Canadiens.
Scherbak, the 26th pick of the 2014 NHL Draft, had 23 points (seven goals, 16 assists) in 48 games last season with St. John's of the American Hockey League.
"Well, obviously last year helped me a lot," Scherbak, 20, said during the Canadiens recent development camp. "The AHL is a good league, it's better than junior league. The guys are better, guys are stronger, so this year I'm older and I think I'm stronger, so I think I have more [of a] chance to make it to the NHL than last year."
Scherbak (6-foot-2, 190-pounds) looked on when many of his St. John's teammates shuttled back and forth between the AHL and the Canadiens, whose roster was ravaged by injuries.
Fellow Montreal first-round pick Michael McCarron (No. 25, 2013 draft) was called up twice, and the 21-year-old center scored his first NHL goal and played 20 games for the Canadiens.
Sven Andrighetto, Daniel Carr, Jacob De La Rose, Charles Hudon, Christian Thomas and Bud Holloway were also among the forwards Montreal called up last season.
"I think it's a normal situation when you see the guys getting called up because somebody got injured or somebody is playing good for one month, two months," Scherbak said. "I mean, they deserved that. If you deserve it, you're there."
Yet the call never came for Scherbak.
"I'm happy for these guys who played in the NHL," Scherbak said. "I'm not going to be jealous or anything. If you work hard, your time is going to come. For me, I just have to work hard, and my time is going to come."
Martin Lapointe, the Canadiens director of player development, pointed out Scherbak's Dec. 30 birth date meant he was 19 years old for the first few months of his pro career.
"Nikita, he's a late-birth year [player] so after he got drafted, he plays one more year, (then) he turns pro," Lapointe said. "It's a big adjustment. Nikita took last year to develop, to know the AHL. The AHL league is not easy, and he's got some things that he needs to work on, but we all can see his talent. His skills are NHL skills, and we'll keep developing him and we'll see … what he brings."
Scherbak's young age was hardly the only rut in the ice in his development; an ankle injury kept him out for two months.
"It's kind of upsetting when you're injured and you want to be with the team," he said. "You want to do all the stuff with the team, like stretch, but you can't because you're injured.
"But I battled through, the guys helped me a lot. I want to say thanks to them. It happens, it's hockey. You can get an injury any time. You just have to battle through, but I don't think it stopped me. So it was tough, it was a tough couple of months but I got back, now I'm ready, now I'm 100 percent and it feels good."
Scherbak said he can stand to gain a few pounds, and has an action plan he wants to implement.
"I need to bring my compete level up," he said. "I think I have skill and I need to get bigger, obviously, get better physically and just bring it at main camp. I'm getting older, so now I know what to expect."
Lapointe noted that another Canadiens first-round pick can look forward to putting on weight this summer.
Defenseman Noah Juulsen, Montreal's first-round choice (No. 26) in the 2015 draft, participated in development camp despite sustaining a broken jaw with Everett during the Western Hockey League playoffs. Juulsen and Scherbak were teammates there in 2014-15.
"He was wired shut for a month and a half, couldn't eat, so he came here and he was 11 pounds lighter," Lapointe said of Juulsen. "So now … he's got to get to work and gain that mass back, but from what I've seen on the ice, his attitude is impeccable too. I'm not worried about Noah Juulsen."