DETROIT -- Every year there are a few players who are ready to jump from the draft right into the NHL as 18-year-olds.
That was definitely not the case for David Pope, the Detroit Red Wings' fourth-round pick, 109th overall, in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.
Pope elected to attend college at the University of Nebraska Omaha in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.
"I think a lot of it I just needed time," Pope said during Development Camp at the BELFOR Training Center at Little Caesars Arena. "I'm one of those kids who just developed a little bit later. I was a little bit later to puberty, a lot of guys were shaving at 12 years old. I'm not yet. I think a lot of it was just growing into my body. When you start to get a little bit of that man strength, everything kind of comes together from there."
Pope is now 6-foot-3 and 198 pounds, still lean but a long way from where he started, which is why college was the right route for him.
"It's less games and there's more practices and more emphasis on the gym," Pope said. "Being a tall, skinny kid, four years ago I don't know if you saw me but I was very skinny. I needed the time to spend the time in the gym and kind of bulk up a little bit, get a little bit more strength."
It also allowed Pope to figure out the player he could be once he grew into his body and added muscle.
In his freshman year, Pope scored eight goals and 14 assists in 33 games.
In his senior year, Pope led the team in goals with 20, points with 41 and power-play goals with 12. The 12 power-play goals ranked second in the country to Northeastern's Dylan Sikura, who had 14.
The progress Pope made led the Wings to sign him to a two-year entry-level contract on May 7.
"Dave can score, you can tell he's a shooter," said Shawn Horcoff, the Wings' director of player development. "He's not a guy who's going to lug the puck through the neutral zone and be creative, he's going to give it to skill and get open, and when he does get it, he's going to shoot it, he's going to get a lot of pucks to the net. He's got a great shot. He's another guy that's found a lot of refocus in his off-ice habits and his off-ice training in the last few summers and it's starting pay off for him, so I know he's looking to do the same again this offseason and come to camp and vie for a spot."
The Wings credited Pope with taking the initiative to spend last summer in Detroit training with other players and working on his game.
"A lot of it is just a lot of skating," Pope said. "Shawn Horcoff and the team set me up with a skating coach here in Detroit, who I worked with all last summer. I'm working with her again this summer. I think I owe a lot of my improvements to her."
Pope was speaking of Stacy Barber, a metro Detroit skating coach who teaches hockey players technical skating skills and power skating.
Pope said he planned to continue his work with Barber this summer following Development Camp to meet his skating goals.
"Just (to get) a little bit quicker. Coming out of turns, a little bit sharper," Pope said. "Just those lower guys, accelerating to the next level in the NHL is all about those first couple of steps and trying to get to those holes, especially for my game. Being a shooter, it's about getting open and getting some time and space."
When he's looking for inspiration, there is an NHL player that Pope admires.
"I try to play like James Neal a little bit," Pope said. "I'm a huge fan of his. He gets the puck off real quick, shoots from anywhere. I'm not quite as physical as he is but that's something I'd like to work on. Like I said, I'm a shooter so I try to model my game after somebody like that."
Pope said Neal caught his attention during his breakout season in 2011-12 when he scored 40 goals for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
It's a skill that Pope said has always come somewhat naturally to him.
"It was always something I was pretty good at," he said. "I shot pucks every morning before school when I was five years old. I actually played defense growing up but then I wanted to be more of a scorer because I liked it so much, especially at forward."
Although Pope turns 24 this fall, he's not concerned about being a little older than some of the prospects who are also vying for jobs with the Wings.
"I feel like I'm coming in ahead of a lot of guys just because I spent the time in school," Pope said. "Obviously a lot older than a lot of guys here. I don't know if I'm ahead of them or what it is. I guess at the end of the day, I've just got to play better than they do.
"It doesn't matter how old you are. They want the best players that's gonna help them with and eventually get into the playoffs and win a Stanley Cup."