|Forward prospect Mike Hoffman impressed Senators hockey brass with his performance at the team's recent development camp and was a key player during the Binghamton Senators' run to the American Hockey League's Calder Cup championship in June (Ottawa Senators Hockey Club).
The road to the National Hockey League isn't always the straightest of lines — nor is it ever really intended to be.
Just ask Mike Hoffman
, a former junior scoring start who is only now beginning to show just how much of an impact player he might be for the Ottawa Senators in the near future. The 6-1, 172-pound native of Kitchener, Ont., was one of the standouts during the Senators' annual development camp earlier this month, leaving another positive impression on his bosses.
Indeed, the fifth-round pick (130th overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft has come a long way in a hurry since the early stages of his rookie pro season with the Binghamton Senators of the American Hockey League, when he often had to battle just to get ice time.
came to camp (last year) as a guy that was sort of a borderline player," Senators general manager Bryan Murray said after watching the performance of the former Quebec Major Junior Hockey League most valuable player at development camp. "I thought the first half or beyond in Binghamton last year, he was borderline.
"Then he got to the second half and in the playoffs, in particular, he became a real force and he looks like he's an NHL player now."
While he started the Calder Cup playoffs as a spectator, Hoffman soon became an integral player to head coach Kurt Kleinendorst's team as it marched through the post-season en route to the first playoff crown in 29 years of AHL hockey in Binghamton, N.Y. The 21-year-old Hoffman hopes to use that as a springboard into bigger things in the season to come.
"It was definitely a little bit of a rollercoaster ride for me this year (with) ups and downs," he said. "The playoffs are where I played my best hockey. I got some opportunities and I thought I took advantage of those. So hopefully, I can carry that into next season."
In Hoffman's mind, everything he went through in his first season of professional hockey is part of the journey he hopes will soon land him in the big show.
"Everything's just a process and a stepping stone along your career," he said. "I guess it just keeps building up and it seems to get a little bit easier once you get through a couple of (development) camps. It'll lead right into main camp in September.
"Every year is different. Every year, you're going to get better and bigger and stronger. You're going to be playing junior, then going to the pros. It's just a process."
As one of the older players at development camp, Hoffman emerged as a leader and it's a quality he'd like to continue to build upon as part of his own personal growth curve.
"You've got to be a hard worker and I've got to take some leadership out of this camp, being one of the older guys," said Hoffman. "Going into my second year as a pro next year, hopefully, I can play a bigger role and show the guys the way to do it around there (in Binghamton)."
While the NHL is obviously his end goal, Hoffman knows consistency and continued development will go a long way toward deciding when that day finally arrives.
"I think I showed I could play at the American league level and I know I've just got to do that for every game," he said. "For next year, that's what I've got to focus on. I just want to be the best player I can be. I know I've got to put on weight and keep getting better.
"It's like coach Kleinendorst says — just get better every time you're on the ice."