His appearance isn’t the only characteristic that’s changed.
Nick Drazenovic feels older and wiser.
What that translates into on the ice for the Peoria Rivermen, the St. Louis Blues’ American Hockey League affiliate, this coming season remains to be seen. But the 22-year-old Prince George minor hockey product appears satisfied with the progress he’s making.
“I’ve trained much harder this summer than I did last summer,” he said on Wednesday. “I had a good rookie season, and I didn’t work as hard as I should’ve last summer. This summer I realized that, and really have been working hard this summer.”
Drazenovic has been back at Prince George Fitness this offseason. While following the Blues’ offseason training program, he’s been training with mixed martial arts competitor Peter Campbell. He said the cross training has helped him gain strength.
Last season, Drazenovic tipped the scales at 185 pounds. This summer, he’s topped 200, noting that he’s “never been in such good shape.”
Drazenovic would’ve preferred to have improved his 2007-08 AHL rookie point totals of 16 goals and 26 assists for 42 points in 69 games played. Instead, his offensive stats dropped off. This past season, he recorded 12 goals and 21 helpers for 33 points.
“I think I’m a more well-rounded player. I talked to my coach about (the point drop) after the season and he said it definitely reflects the team we had too,” he said. “We didn’t have as highly of a skilled team, and he said, You’re much better defensively and much more responsible in that aspect of the game’. But obviously when your point total goes down, that’s not a good feeling so I want to change that this year and I think I can.”
That’s where Campbell’s assistance may pay dividends.
“I figure if I can play on the ice not tired at the end of a shift, I’ll have an advantage over guys that are tired. I just really look at those guys in mixed martial arts, how they’re fighting for their lives and they have to be in top conditioning.”
The Rivermen are coming off a 2008-09 season in which they finished the regular season with 43 wins, 31 losses, two overtime setbacks and four shootout defeats (43-31-2-4). They were one of 16 squads in the 29-team league to advance to the playoffs. They lost four games to three in their opening round best-of-seven series with the Houston Aeros.
While taking a break from hockey this offseason, Drazenovic has spent time in Maui, Hawaii, and Edmonton. This week, he spent time on the ice at the Coliseum skating during the Spruce Kings Hockey School’s junior conditioning camp. From Prince George, he’s heading west to Edmonton, where he’ll participate in Perry Pearn’s three-on-three hockey camp. He leaves for Peoria on Aug. 23, well in advance of the Blues’ main camp, which gets underway Sept. 11.
In 2008-09, Drazenovic rented a house with a couple of other Rivermen players, including former Prince George Cougars teammate Jonathan Filewich. Drazenovic and Filewich skated with the Cougars during the 2002-03 and 2003-04 Western Hockey League seasons. Filewich joined the Rivermen via trade this past season, after playing his first 19 games of the campaign with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
Drazenovic, who suited up for the Cougars from 2002 to 2007, plans to rent out an apartment this season. A first or second-line player through the course of the past two seasons, Drazenovic has been utilized in a variety of situations for the Rivermen. Yet he still hasn’t been called up for NHL duty. He’s confident his time is coming.
“I think coming into camp, being as heavy as I am now, I’ve matured into a man. I’m ready to make that step, so I’m just going to embrace and go in there and do whatever I can, do whatever it takes to take someone’s spot.”