What a difference a year makes. Tampa Bay Lightning center prospect Brett Howden can attest to that.
Consider the way Howden, the No. 27 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, approached his second development camp with the Lightning in July. Buoyed by a strong showing last season with Moose Jaw of the Western Hockey League, with 81 points (38 goals, 43 assists) in 58 games, followed by three goals and an assist in five regular-season games and two assists in three Calder Cup Playoff games with Syracuse of the American Hockey League, he was more confident and eager to show how he had grown as a player.
It was a far cry from his experience the year before.
"Last year I remember walking out (at development camp) and just being in shock," Howden said. "It happens so fast. This time I got to settle down at home for a bit. After [going] through last year it's nice to be back and my confidence is definitely higher."
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Howden's efforts did not go unnoticed by Syracuse coach Benoit Groulx, who complimented the center on his ability to blend in with the team immediately.
"[Brett's] a good [center] but he can play three positions," Groulx said. "He's not afraid to go out there in the playoffs and make plays. It's tough when you come up from playing juniors and the coach asks you to play left wing in the AHL playoffs. It's not your position but he went out there and was a good player for us. He has some confidence in himself. He's going to be a good player.
"For him it's about getting stronger and faster. He's got a good set of hands, good hockey sense, he's a competitor and a good person too."
Howden, listed at 6-foot-2, 193 pounds, says he has put on about eight pounds since his draft year but understands his physical and defensive game will need to improve even more if he wants to compete in the NHL.
"The biggest thing I learned in Syracuse is that it's all men out there," Howden said. "There's no more lightweights or little boys, so you have to hold your own for sure."
During development camp, Howden more than held his own and led all scorers in the 3-on-3 tournament with nine points (two goals, seven assists).
Video: Howden on Day 1 of Development Camp
Up next is training camp, and Howden's two-way skills at center should get him a look. Still, it's likely he will go back to juniors for another year, but he's ready to take full advantage of the opportunity to perform for Lightning coaching staff.
"Obviously I want to do the best I can to try and make [the team]," he said, "but that's everybody's goal. That's why we're part of this organization. I can't put too much pressure on myself. I just have to play my game.
"The biggest thing I stand by is working hard. Hard work goes a long way and everything will take care of itself if you do that."
That hard work appears to have already paid off for Howden. He's proud of the improvements he has made after working with skating instructor Barb Underhill, and Lightning director of player development Stacy Roest believes it's just of matter of time before Howden makes an impact in the NHL.
"Hard-working and honest ... he plays the game the right way," Roest said. "He plays 200 feet and doesn't cheat the game. He went into [Syracuse] and had six points in eight games as a pro, which isn't easy to do because that league is not easy to score in. For Brett to go in there as a young age is impressive."