For Darren Kramer, it was all about developing some 20-20 vision.
Thanks to that improved view, the Ottawa Senators prospect believes he's sharpened his focus in terms of what he needs to bring to the table when he makes his professional debut with the organization this fall.
When the Senators made the Spokane Chiefs forward a sixth-round pick (156th overall) in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, the two biggest numbers beside his name were 47 and 306. As in the number of fights and penalty minutes he racked up during his first season in the Western Hockey League.
But entering the 2011-12 campaign, the 20-year-old native of Peace River, Alta., knew he had to change his tune if he wanted to have much of a future with the Senators. His response? A season in which he produced 22 goals and 40 points, while cutting his PIM total to an even 200. His total number of scraps also slid dramatically.
"I owe a lot to my coach in Spokane, Don Nachbaur," Kramer said of the former Binghamton Senators bench boss. "He really guided me on what to do — limit my fights and work on (creating more) offence, and the defensive side of the game as well. It was really good to play a little bit more and a regular shift. At times, I was playing top six (minutes) and that was good.
"To break the 20 goal and the 20 fight mark was pretty special ... 20 and 20 was my goal at the beginning of the year, so to have 26 fights and 22 goals was a pretty big accomplishment. That's why going back to junior for one more year was big for me, to kind of get rid of that label of being a one-dimensional guy. To go back and do a little bit more than just fight was huge for me."
It also sat well with the Senators, who signed Kramer to a three-year entry level contract in May and envision him having a role in the American Hockey League with the B-Sens this coming season.
"We told him that we think that role of being a designated thug is going to disappear in the (National Hockey League)," said Randy Lee, the Senators' director of hockey operations and player development. "But you still need tough guys that are willing to do the right thing to protect their teammates at the right time. But you have to be able to play, too. We keep using Chris Neil as an example of a guy who can play and help your team win.
"He understands that concept and we were fortunate that he worked with Don Nachbaur, who I worked with in Binghamton, so we got a consistent message going to the kid, that you have to work on this and this and this to complement (your game). He's got a great attitude and team-first approach, which is wonderful, but he has to be a guy who can contribute in other ways and he's done that."
Nachbaur also gave the 6-2, 210-pound Kramer a boost before the season even started by naming him the Chiefs' captain, following in the footsteps of Senators blueliner Jared Cowen in that regard.
"It was a pretty special feeling but at the same time, it's a big responsibility to be captain of a major junior team," said Kramer. "I thought I handled it well and the experience of following Jared Cowen ... he was my captain (in 2010-11) and he really helped me a lot."
Added Lee: "He's a wonderful character kid. Guys like him, he's good in the dressing room and he also knows what it takes. But he also knows, too — and we've told him — there's a lot of bodies and a lot of talent coming (through the Senators system), so if you want to get ice time, you've got to earn it."
"I played four years with pretty much teenagers, so to go up and just get used to the speed of the game and that whole element is going to be a big change. On the physical side of things, those are men you're going to be tussling with now and you've got to be prepared for it. That's why this summer is so key for me. The sky is the limit, so you want to come in with the best attitude possible. As a realist, you know that there's time you have to spend in the minors. I'm just going to go there with a positive attitude and work as hard as I can to develop as much as possible. Play for me teammates and get out of there as quick as possible and become an Ottawa Senator." - Darren Kramer
Kramer is ready and willing to spend whatever time is necessary in Binghamton to further hone his game, and he knows the jump to the next level will be steep.
"With my role, it's going to be a pretty significant (jump)," he said of the move to the AHL. "I played four years with pretty much teenagers, so to go up and just get used to the speed of the game and that whole element is going to be a big change. On the physical side of things, those are men you're going to be tussling with now and you've got to be prepared for it. That's why this summer is so key for me.
"The sky is the limit, so you want to come in with the best attitude possible. As a realist, you know that there's time you have to spend in the minors. I'm just going to go there with a positive attitude and work as hard as I can to develop as much as possible. Play for me teammates and get out of there as quick as possible and become an Ottawa Senator."
Kramer, you may recall, is also the guy who has gained plenty of notoriety for his invention of a peanut butter jar with a second set of threads through the middle. A video he and a buddy made about the product, which is still awaiting a patent, went viral on YouTube and it's led to his fair share of media attention.
"It wasn't supposed to get that many views," he said of the video. "I went to sleep one night and it was at maybe 500 views and I woke up in the morning and it was at 10,000 ... I wasn't sure how big it was going to go but that was my goal, to get some publicity for it. The hockey helps make it a little bit better of a story."
And, despite that acclaim, it is the hockey that comes first now for a guy whose career has already progressed far beyond what many had in mind when he was toiling for the Grande Prairie Storm of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. But signing with the Senators was sweet validation for Kramer, indeed.
"That's always been a goal of mine, to sign that pro contract," he said. "Going to the Western Hockey League at 19 years old, there were a lot of question marks around my name. My buddies back home were wondering what I was doing but I guess at this point, I've proved a lot of people wrong by getting that contract.
"That's a good feeling, to get one step closer to achieving that goal of one day playing in the National Hockey League ... There have been a bunch of stepping stones (to get there) but it's been a good journey and you just hope it continues."