For Owen Sound Attack captain and Detroit Red Wings’ prospect Zach Nastasiuk, a couple of cups of coffee with the NHL club at training camp has brought him lessons that he’s not only applying to himself, but hoping to share with his teammates.
“It’s been two years now and you come back with so much more experience,” he said. “You come back and you realize that the next level is way more harder than you thought it would be. Guys do little things every day and you realize that’s what it takes to be a pro — and then you bring that experience back down here.
“The main thing that I’m bringing back with me is that you have to bring it hard every day — practice or games. Every day someone’s trying to take your job. And if you’re ahead of someone on the depth chart, they’re working to try to get past you. Every day you have to bring your best.”
Owen Sound head coach Greg Ireland said that type of knowledge and pro experience is part of the program he’s trying to develop with the Attack.
“That’s how you build a foundation. It’s like building a house. If you have a strong foundation, with your leadership and how you want to play — and it’s being able to show the guys why you want to play that way and the direction you need to go to continuously put solid bricks on that foundation,” Ireland said. “I think our leadership group does that.”
Entering his fourth year in the OHL, Nastasiuk said he’s finally understanding some of the lessons that his veteran teammates shared with him a few years ago.
“Me being in my fourth year now, I’ve seen some things. I remember when I was a rookie, the guys in their fourth year said to me, ‘Enjoy it. Those four years are going to fly by,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah,’” he said. “But here I am in my fourth year and I’m like, ‘Wow, it really does fly by.’
“So whatever tricks I can share with the younger guys, like helping them be more calm, then that’s something I’m willing to do.”
Drafted 48th overall by the Red Wings at the 2013 NHL Draft, Nastasiuk has developed into a solid two-way winger, finishing last year with 23 goals and 51 points in 62 games. He also spent five games with the Grand Rapid Griffins at the end of last season. He started this year on a point-per-game pace, with four goals and four assists in eight games.
His coach, however, expects even more as the forward gets comfortable again with the OHL.
“For Zach, coming in early, he’s just kind of getting back into OHL mode after playing at that level and spending significant time playing there last year,” Ireland explained. “It’s about feeling good about his game again and getting comfortable with his linemates. For him, it’s always been consistent work and good attitude.
“He’s consistent night in and night out and he’s always going to do the right thing and, for me, that’s what makes him a pro.”
Nastasiuk said he needs to work on his on-ice game and has already taken steps to make improvements.
“Obviously my skating — that’s always the biggest thing. I’m working with a power skating coach here,” he said. “Off ice, during the season the biggest challenge is keeping your strength up. Obviously you’ve got to hit the gym a lot — not just once a week, but as much as you can.”
Four years into an OHL career, there’s been plenty to look back on. “There have been a lot of highlights,” he added. “Obviously being drafted is number one. Being named captain last year was very special to me. Those two stand out for sure.”
But with a promising start and a wide-open OHL Western Conference, Attack captain Nastasiuk could be part of creating a new championship memory this season.
Follow Jason Menard on Twitter via @JayCMenard