TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. - Motivation can be a powerful thing.
And it's the most powerful thing fueling 21-year-old Mathew Santos in his quest to make it to the NHL.
Santos, a 6-foot, 209-pound winger from Etobicoke, Ontario, has gone undrafted after four seasons with the North Bay Battalion in the Ontario Hockey League, and said he's focused on proving doubters wrong.
"It's been a huge motivation," Santos said. "I wasn't drafted to the OHL either. So I just used it to get a little bit of motivation and just prove to everybody that you don't need to be drafted to succeed."
After not being taken in the 2016 OHL Priority Selection in April, Santos took to social media to vent his frustration and to send a message to other young players in his situation.
"Being un-drafted doesn't mean anything, it adds more fuel to the fire to prove to everyone who overlooked U that U belong there," Santos shared via Twitter on April 9.
Santos, who pinned the tweet to the top of his page, began proving people wrong on May 3 when the Red Wings' American Hockey League affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, signed him to a standard player's contract for the 2016-17 season.
The forward, who earned 69 points and a plus-29 rating last season in the OHL, received an invitation to the Red Wings' annual development camp in July and said he was honored to have a chance to play for such a historic organization.
"It's been amazing," Santos said in July. "The whole organization, the Red Wings, they're just all a bunch of class people. It's an Original Six team, you know it's a storied franchise. It's been amazing. It's been everything I thought it would be."
But things didn't quite go as planned for Santos during development camp as he suffered a slight shoulder separation in the first 10 minutes of the camp's first scrimmage.
The Griffins signee was forced to miss the rest of development camp and didn't fully recover from the injury until late August.
Now that he's recovered, Santos said he's focused on getting back into game shape and building back the strength he lost while he was sidelined.
"It started with range of motion, and once I got full range of motion back, I started focusing on strengthening it," Santos said Monday at Centre Ice Arena in Traverse City. "I'd say I'm pretty much back 100 percent now, just focusing on strengthening that one side and keeping it up with the other side as well and just getting back to full strength."
Griffins coach Todd Nelson said he's been impressed with Santos' versatility so far in the Prospect Tournament.
"He's a good two-way player. He can make some plays with the puck and he's a heavy body," said Nelson, who's also coaching the Red Wings' prospects in this week's tournament. "We've had him on the penalty kill and he's done a pretty good job with that.
"I'm happy to see him back. We only saw him for one ice session (before his injury at development camp), so it's nice to see these guys in their competitive environment, and he's played pretty solid."
Santos, who hasn't registered a point in three tournament games, but has made his presence felt on the Red Wings' penalty kill, said even though he's only been fully healthy for a couple weeks, he can't allow his effort to be limited or compete at anything less than full speed.
"It's been my nature to just give it my all, even if there is a little soreness," he said. "But for the most part, I haven't felt much soreness and it hasn't limited me at all."
Nelson said that even if the Red Wings don't end up signing Santos, playing in the NHL Prospect Tournament is a tremendous chance for undrafted players to showcase their skills in front of over 175 NHL scouts.
"It's a great opportunity for a lot of these players that weren't drafted," Nelson said. "Besides our scouts, every team is basically represented here in the National Hockey League, so it's a good opportunity to get looked at."
Santos and his teammates take the ice in the Prospect Tournament for the final time in tonight's championship game against the undefeated Carolina Hurricanes at 7 p.m.
The aspiring Red Wings forward said although he's happy with his performance this week in front of coaches and scouts, he'll always carry that motivation from being undrafted with him.
"It's always on the back burner," he said. "It's always fueling me to do better in the weight room and on the ice, and it just gives me that little bit extra to push myself to succeed."