WILMINGTON, Mass. -- For most players attending the Boston Bruins' development camp this week, the path to the NHL is fairly clear. As draft picks or undrafted free agents, there's the promise of getting a crack at professional hockey, with the NHL on the horizon.
In recent years, NHL teams have more often opened their doors during similar development camps to players not under their control. Non-contract invitees have increased for the Bruins in recent years, including a record nine this week.
“It’s an exciting experience for a guy like me and I’m just trying to make the best of it,” Union College forward Mike Vecchione said after Thursday’s session at Ristuccia Arena.
Vecchione, a Saugus native who was an ESPN Boston All-State selection while at Malden Catholic, is among the invitees to this year’s camp. He went undrafted in his first year of eligibility after his high school career and went on to play with the Tri-City Storm of the United States Hockey League before moving on to Union. Vecchione helped the Dutchmen to the NCAA championship in 2014 and has 33 goals and 51 assists for 84 points in his first two seasons at Union.
After a vigorous day of battle and skating drills, Vecchione said the time spent working with the Bruins coaching staff this week has been beneficial.
“I’m just trying to pick their brains and see what I can do better,” Vecchione said. “They’re a great resource to have, guys like Jay Pandolfo and P.J. Axelsson that have been through the league. Talking to them, seeing what they see in me and what I can improve, I’m just trying to get as much out of them as I can.”
While the benefit to the players is evident, there are advantages for the team, too.
The Bruins have a recent history of bringing aboard players who have been through the development camp. After participating in the 2012 gathering, Chris Casto signed with the organization in 2013, foregoing his final two years of NCAA eligibility at Minnesota-Duluth.
Casto has spent the past two seasons with the AHL's Providence Bruins.
It’s a blueprint the parent club hopes to replicate.
“I think more than anything it’s to get to know them better at a personal level and then getting to see them up close on the ice and see what they can do,” said Pandolfo, a longtime NHL player who’s in his first session as Bruins development coach after taking over from new general manager Don Sweeney. “That’s the biggest thing. It’s for them to get to know the organization and get comfortable, too.”
The prospect of the Bruins following up with the players during the coming season is another bonus.
“We’re hoping they learn something here, we hope they’re comfortable with the organization,” Pandolfo said. “We let them know, obviously, that we’ll be watching them this year and keeping a close eye on them. Most of the guys here are going back to their college teams, so it’s just getting them that education.”
Part of that education comes in the form of pertinent examples.
Torey Krug spoke to the campers Thursday. The four-year Bruins veteran offered a message that resonated with Vecchione -- one of an undrafted player who has found a prominent spot at the NHL level.
“He talked about what it takes to make it and what it takes to be a pro,” Vecchione said. “He came from the same spot that we did, so it makes it that much more relatable.”
Vecchione said the most vigorous part of the camp to date was the off-ice testing battery that simulates the metrics the organization uses for players entering training camp.
After Thursday's practice, the campers headed to the Charles River for a rowing workout. Vecchione was encouraged by his performance, which tested favorably.
But he’s also well aware of the work to come.
“It takes a lot to be a Bruin,” Vecchione said. “This is just a start.”