By Matt Calamia (Twitter)
While all roads leading to the NHL require hard work, dedication and determination, some players — namely those who go undrafted like Rangers forward prospect Kyle Jean — must go the extra mile help make their dreams a reality.
After his sophomore season at Lake Superior State in 2012 — where he posted 12 goals and 24 points in 39 games — Jean was invited to Rangers developmental camp last summer.
“I went to that camp thinking I’m going to go here and do the best I can and whatever comes of it, comes of it,” Jean told BluehshirtsUnited.com. “I fully planned on playing four years [of college] … but I played pretty well and they thought I was ready to make the jump [to the pros].”
Jean was offered a two-year entry-level contract with New York, and he made the decision to forgo his final two seasons of college to join the Connecticut Whale of the American Hockey League.
“It was a very tough decision,” Jean said of leaving college early. “I took at least a week to think about it. It was the only thing on my mind. [My family] thought it was an opportunity of a lifetime and that I should seize the opportunity as much as I could.”
Jean, 23, said not being drafted by a team during his eligible seasons is a motivating factor for him now as he continues to work towards becoming an NHLer.
“I just think that I was definitely developing at a later age,” he said. “I think in general if I can use [not being drafted] as a little bit of fire and play with a chip on my shoulder, it is only going to help me as a player. It’s a good thing to play with a chip on your shoulder.”
Jean, who described himself as a physical, “big power forward who has skill around the net,” spent three seasons in the North American Hockey League, splitting time between the Traverse City North Stars and the Marquette Rangers. His best season came in 2008-09 with Traverse City when he posted 22 goals and 43 points in 58 games.
While playing in the NAHL prior to heading to the NCAA may have been unconventional — he would have began his career at Lake Superior a year earlier had it not been for a shoulder injury — the experience he gained by playing in Traverse City, especially away from the rink, was invaluable.
Jean lived with former NHLer Dallas Drake and his family, and the two would discuss hockey all day. “To pick the brain of an NHL player was great,” Jean said. “Especially a guy like him. He played over 1,000 games. After practice I could come home and just talk to him about hockey. He would watch me and tell me to try this or try that.”
According to Jean, that advice went a long way, especially during his first season in the AHL, which had its ups and downs.
After a strong start to the season with four goals and five assists in the team’s first seven games, Jean’s production dipped, and he finished the year with nine goals and 23 assists in 73 games.
“I started out really well and then I kind of tapered off as the season went along,” Jean admitted. “Overall, it was a really good learning year. I know it was my first year but I feel like with how well I did right off the bat — I don’t know why I can’t do that over a full year. My goal is consistency for next season.”
With his first season of professional hockey in the books, Jean said the obvious next goal is to make an impression on the organization at training camp in September and battle for a spot on the opening night roster.
“The main goal is to make it to the NHL and play for the Rangers,” he said. “You always want to get better from season to season, so my goal for next year is to be better than last year in more ways than one and just do the best I can in camp and turn heads and make a name for myself.”