TRAVERSE CITY, MICH. -- Not every player takes the same journey to professional hockey.
For James de Haas, the Red Wings' sixth-round draft pick in 2012 (170th overall), the college route was the one he chose.
At last month's development camp at Centre Ice in Traverse City, de Haas showed that it was not his first rodeo.
In fact, it was the fifth year that de Haas has attended development camp.
"There's always new things to pick up," de Haas said. "As much as each year there's a lot of similarities and we do a lot of the same stuff, they try to switch it up a bit, do different things. I find every year there's some stuff we'll go over and it's like, I've seen that three or four times but there's always a few things to either refresh on or a few new things to learn so it's definitely worth it to come up here."
de Haas says he has learned a lot about improving his nutrition and different ways to work out every year in camp.
But at 22, he definitely feels like the older guy, especially with some of the kids who just got drafted in late June.
"Some of these younger guys are coming in here and it's like, wow," de Haas said. "But then again, I can remember being that young kid and some of the older guys in here."
As de Haas is familiar with the routine, he was able to lead the way for the first-timers.
"Just try to lead by example," de Haas said. "Me and Patty McCarron are good buddies and it's his first time here so I've just been trying to help him out and if any of the younger guys have any questions, just try to help them out and give them any advice I can."
de Haas says he's not the same player he was when he was first drafted.
"I think defensively," de Haas said. "When I was younger, I played forward so when I made the switch to D I had those instincts to jump in and be offensive. So I think biggest thing for me was just being tougher down low and competing harder. I think that's one thing I've definitely been focusing on since I've been drafted and I think I've definitely improved on it. I notice that a lot, my freshman year at school I would sort of play against teams' third and fourth lines, whereas sophomore and junior year I'd be out against top lines and matched against better players. It's nice to see that trust from the coaches and it's definitely a sign that I have been improving on it."
de Haas said he switched from forward to defenseman when he was 12 or 13 years old.
"I'd say (I'm a) two-way guy, I can put up points," de Haas said. "In college it's a little tougher, but I had a decent amount of points for a defenseman. I played every situation, power play, penalty kill, matched up against teams' top lines. Just sort of an all-around guy, which I think will benefit me well moving to the next level, being able to play in different situations and fill some different roles."
de Haas has one year left at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York.
Last season, de Haas was named ECAC Hockey Third-Team All-Star after recording five goals and 12 assists in 38 games.
"I ended up making that, which is a huge honor," de Haas said. "Personally, I thought I did pretty well, played in all situations, put up a good amount of points, so all in all I think I did pretty well. As a team, we started off really, really well, went into a bit of a slump and then we were really good again. We had four playoff games and all four went to overtime or double overtime so it just goes to show."
In the two 3-2 overtime victories over Princeton in Clarkson's first-round series, de Haas scored the game-winners in both, earning NCAA First Star of the Week honors.
"It was pretty cool," de Haas said. "The one weekend was back-to-back nights. I don't know, it was pretty cool, tough to explain. But yeah, getting those two goals to help the guys move on and get the team to the next round was definitely pretty exciting."
Now it's almost time for de Haas to move on to the next round in his hockey career.
"I'm excited to see what the future holds and where I end up after college but at the same time, it's awesome playing there and it's good hockey," de Haas said. "sI know it's good for me to be there, working out a lot, practicing, playing. The season's a lot shorter so each game is that much more intense."
With three years of college hockey under his belt, de Haas knows what he wants to work on in his senior year.
"Just go in and continue to round out my game, just show them I'm ready to make the jump," de Haas said. "I think I'm pretty close right now. I think overall I'm in a good spot. But there's always little things you can work on. So just go fine tune everything and make sure at the end of the year I'm ready to make the jump to the pro level."
The goal is to reach the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins at the end of the season.
"I want to be able to sign and make that jump," de Haas said. "Obviously it's all on me, it's how I play, so I'm excited to prove to them I'm ready and show them. Just got to keep working and be ready for the opportunity."
At 6-foot-3, 213 pounds, de Haas also has the size that would make him a desirable defenseman for the Wings at some point.
"They were saying (at development camp) you got to sort of take someone's job," de Haas said. "If it does happen where I can come in next year and maybe there's some older guys who are towards the end of their career, that's all it is, it's just opportunity. If that chance comes and I'm prepared and I'm ready for it, then that's really all I can do."