FORT LAUDERDALE – For the average person, summer is a time to relax.

For Sandis Vilmanis, it’s about getting to work.

One of 39 prospects attending this week’s development camp at Baptist Health IcePlex, the 20-year-old forward is focused on doing whatever he can to prepare for pro hockey.

“This summer is definitely the biggest summer I’ve had so far in my career,” Vilmanis said after the first day of camp on Monday. “I have to get stronger. I have to get faster. I have to get smarter on the ice. It’s thinking more about all of the small details and putting work in.”

Originally selected by the Florida Panthers in the fifth round (157th overall) of the 2022 NHL Draft, Vilmanis entered this summer on the heels of his best campaign to date in the OHL.

In 60 games split between the Sarnia Sting and North Bay Battalion, the dynamic Latvian tallied 67 points (38 goals, 29 assists) in 60 regular-season games. After being traded to North Bay in January, he went on a heater for the ages, lighting the lamp 28 times in just 30 contests.

In 16 playoff games with the Battalion, he racked up 27 points (10 goals, 17 assists).

When asked about his breakout, Vilmanis said it came down to trust from his coaches.

With North Bay, he played in all situations and skated more than 20 minutes per tilt.

“It’s a big, big, big step up for me,” Vilmanis said of reaching new heights in 2023-24. “This past season, I gained a lot of confidence in me. A lot of guys helped me in North Bay, off and on the ice. I just have to keep working and try to do my best to get to the pro level.”

Watching the Panthers capture their first-ever Stanley Cup just a few weeks ago only added to his hunger.

“I fell asleep a couple times watching the games, but it was great,” smiled Vilmanis, who noted games didn’t start until 3 a.m. in Latvia. “The emotions were there. It felt awesome that I’m a prospect for this team and just hoping one day I can achieve the same thing.”

While it’s not quite a quest for the Cup, Vilmanis does know about stiff competition.

Getting a chance to test his mettle against some of the best players in the world in his age group, he competed for Latvia at each of the last three IIHF World Junior Championships.

At this year’s tournament, he ranked second on the team with four points in five games.

“Playing with the older guys, they helped me a lot, taught me a lot,” Vilmanis said of the World Juniors. “You can learn from them. Every tournament, I took something rom that tournament and just did my best in the next one and the next one. I just tried to not make the same mistakes I made the years before. I just took all the best every tournament.”

Trying to make the leap from juniors to the pros, Vilmanis envisions this week’s camp as another chance to absorb as much information as he can before heading back home.

When he returns to South Florida for rookie camp, he plans to put those lessons to use.

Even though he already signed his entry-level contract in March, there’s a lot more work to be done.

“If you put a lot of work in, it’s going to pay off,” Vilmanis said.

Stay tuned to for stories from development camp all week.