Tyler Graovac said he spent the summer visualizing what he has to do to become a mainstay in the Minnesota Wild lineup.
Whether it was watching video, running different game situations through his head, or just imagining Head Coach Mike Yeo saying, 'You're staying,' Graovac knows what it all looks like.
"My goal has been to make that home opening roster," Graovac said. "I have so much work to do still, and ... it's going to be small steps, and just showing them that I can play, and getting that 100 percent confidence from the coach will be number one."
Confidence is something Graovac references often. It's a part of his game and psyche that may have waned when he waited seven rounds to hear his name called in the 2011 NHL Draft.
For Graovac though, disappointment was quickly turned into motivation.
"As a seventh rounder, it put a chip on my shoulder when I came down to try to be the best prospect here," he said. "I think I've worked my way up the list, and now it's just keep moving forward. The last two years it's been little steps, little steps, and I want to be if not that guy on this team to help the team, that next guy in line. I'll do everything I can to get there."
And because "here" means the NHL, Graovac means to get back here. Two successful seasons in the AHL earned Graovac a promotion to Minnesota last year. He played what he called a taste, getting in three games for the Wild in late December and early January.
"They didn't yo-yo me up-and-down, so it was good for me," Graovac said. "I could consistently get my game back in Iowa, and get the confidence to get back here."
In 136 games for Iowa over the last two seasons, Graovac has scored 34 goals and 71 points, building his resume when it comes to an NHL spot.
His training camp performance is what could solidify his case.
"He can't just blend in, and that's what I'd say that he's done so far," Yeo said on Saturday. "He needs to find a way to be a little bit more impactful out on the ice, and whether that's using his size, and his skating ability to be a presence defensively and separate guys or create turnovers, or whether it's the skill and his speed that he uses to create offense. He needs to stand out if he wants to make this team."
Graovac will get another chance to make an impression on Monday when he plays in the preseason opener against the Buffalo Sabres. And part of what's driving Graovac is the memories he can now draw from.
"That feeling I had when I was up here was just — I'll never forget that feeling," Graovac said. "If I could have that every day would be a little kid's dream, and is my dream for sure."