RALEIGH, N.C. – Carolina Hurricanes prospects didn’t take long to get their skate blades wet in a scrimmage during on-ice work at training camp held at PNC Arena on Friday.
“It’s a good situation for some of those kids,” Hurricanes coach Bill Peters said.
“Most of them were in Traverse City. They’ve already played four games. They were high-level games – I got to see two of them. Our team played very well there. So, more guys are comin’ in and tryin’ to earn a spot. You take what you learn at prospect camp, make sure you apply it here at main camp.”
Who is Niki Petti, you ask?
As the only camp invitee on the 57-man roster, he’s taken advantage of the Amateur Tryout Opportunity (ATO) that Hurricanes executive vice president and general manager Ron Francis extended to him in July.
That opportunity began at the recent NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City in which the Hurricanes’ squad finished fourth overall out of eight teams.
Petti’s play impressed Francis and his staff enough to earn him a spot at the team’s main camp.
“He has speed, skating ability,” Francis said.
“He showed us some things at Traverse City that made us want to bring him to this camp.”
After not getting picked in the recent 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Petti was down.
He was also passed over in the 2014 Draft when he was ranked 143rd among North American skaters going into it.
As a former OHL first-round pick (10th overall), he totaled 39 points (18g, 21a) in 66 games with the Bulls last season, one that ended after his team lost in the first round of the playoffs.
“We got beat out obviously and it was kind of a long summer,” Petti said.
“I was workin’ out all summer and I was talkin’ with my agent and seein’ what was up around the draft. Then he said there might be something in place, but just to worry about the season coming up, movin’ to Hamilton and stuff like that.”
Expecting to return to junior hockey and not knowing more about a pro career beyond that, Petti’s summer brightened when he got the call with an invite to play with Carolina.
“I was very excited obviously to hear that news,” he continued.
“It kind of made my summer a little bit there, going to Traverse City. I wasn’t supposed to be at main camp, but the team was filled with good guys helpin’ me all the time, so I got an invite to main camp.”
Though not posting any points in the tournament, three shots on goal over two games in wins over Chicago and Dallas bought him more time with the Hurricanes.
So, why did this former OHL first-round pick not get selected by an NHL team?
“I had some high expectations on me,” Petti said.
“I didn’t fulfill those expectations. But at the end of the day, you gotta come to the rink ready to compete every day and every night, whether you get drafted or whether you’re at the bottom of the food chain. My coach in Hamilton, George Burnett, has helped me out with that quite a bit. Just coming in to work hard, loving what you do every day, and working hard at it. Eventually chances will come. Obviously the chance has come here to get my name out there a little bit.”
“It’s like a whirlwind,” he continued.
“It doesn’t hit you until you’re actually across the ice and you see guys like Jordan Staal, Jeff Skinner, and Cam Ward in net.”
As Petti will continue to skate alongside Skinner and have Ward in his net as part of Team A, he will only continue to build up confidence to exhibit the talent and skill he had when he was younger, while learning what it will take to become a pro.
There are no expectations on him at this point which may be the best situation to capitalize on an opportunity that many never get.
The best case scenario is that Petti eventually signs an entry-level contract with Carolina and/or returns to junior as a full-time prospect of the Hurricanes.
The worst case scenario is that he takes his experience in Raleigh back with him to have an exceptional year in Hamilton and strengthen his stock for next year’s draft which he’s eligible for.
It’s a win-win situation.
“There was a point in time when I had little to no confidence, but obviously that built back up with little things like this,” Petti said.
“It’s just kinda’ surreal and I’m just happy to have the opportunity and make the best of it. I’m just comin’ here to compete and work hard every day and hopefully something happens.”