College men's hockey: Peterson steps into leadership role at Wild camp in preparation for similar role with young Bulldogs
Avery Peterson and Carson Soucy may not be the oldest players this week at the 2017 Minnesota Wild Development Camp — that honor belongs to 24-year-old Eden Prairie (Minn.) native and outgoing Colorado College senior Luc Gerdes — but the 22-year-olds are the most experienced.
This being their fifth time around, the two 2013 NHL draft picks and former Minnesota Duluth teammates have been tasked with leading group activities, taking charge in drills and showing younger players, like future Bulldog forward Nick Swaney, around Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
"It's a lot different," said Peterson, a forward and Grand Rapids native who was drafted by the Wild in the sixth round, No. 167 overall. "You come in your first year not knowing anything, not knowing anybody. You go with the flow. Now you're a leader, you're a veteran here. You know what to expect and how to prepare for this, for it to be a successful week."
Consider this week a practice run for Peterson not just for the pro level, but for his senior season with the Bulldogs. The former Minnesota Mr. Hockey will be looked upon in 2017-18 to be a leader in a UMD locker room that will have just as many freshmen as it does juniors and seniors combined.
The graduation of seven seniors — including Soucy — and the professional signing of three underclassmen from the 2016-17 squad that played for a national title has left the Bulldogs looking at a tentative roster of six seniors, three juniors, eight sophomores and nine freshmen.
Soucy believes Peterson will be a great influence on those younger Bulldogs. Since coming to Duluth in January of 2016 after a season and a half at Nebraska-Omaha, Peterson has been an energetic and positive influence in the locker room, Soucy said.
"Avery is a good guy. He's been working on his game a lot. He's improved not only on the ice but off it," said Soucy, a fifth-round pick who signed a two-year entry level contract with the Wild this spring. "He came in and he's a good locker room guy. Everyone gets along with him. He's one of those guys who is going to show emotion out there and he's going to try hard. He's going to commit to the team."
Both Peterson and Soucy said the annual Wild development camp is a good gauge of how far they've come as hockey players and this being the fifth year, it's interesting for both to see how much they've grown since their debut in 2013.
"Over the years being in Duluth, I've improved not only my strength but my skating kept improving coming to these camps," Soucy said. "They have some good instructors, so I've been able to work on a lot of things."
Skating is an area Peterson said he has also improved upon since his first camp, though the major strides in that category came in 2016 when he was forced to sit out two semesters per NCAA transfer rules after going from Nebraska-Omaha to UMD.
Much of the free time Peterson had while not playing in games was spent improving his skating. It's an area he said he never would have been able to address had he been playing regularly and preparing for games.
"I improved more in my year off than I did in my year and a half playing college hockey prior to coming to UMD," Peterson said. "It's something I knew that I needed to do if I wanted to continue to play hockey in the future. I'm glad the situation worked out like that."
When he first transferred to UMD, Peterson hoped to not only play right away for the Bulldogs in the fall of 2016, but to possibly gain a fifth year of eligibility. He petitioned the NCAA last year for a hardship waiver due to the circumstances of his transfer. One of the big reasons he left the Mavericks and became a Bulldog was to be closer to his family, specifically his older brother, Evan, who has a terminal brain disease.
The NCAA denied his request last summer and while he could still try and petition the NCAA again to get a year of eligibility back, Peterson said "that's out the window now." He's hoping to sign with the Wild next spring and join Soucy.
And why not? Peterson will be 23 years old at this point next summer and have graduated from UMD with a degree in criminology.
Peterson is also coming off his most productive season of college hockey, despite missing the first half. In 2016-17, he posted seven goals and eight assists in 25 games (.60 points per game) after becoming eligible Dec. 17, surpassing his offensive output from his rookie season with the Mavericks when he had 11 goals and 10 assists in 39 games (.54 ppg).
"I haven't really thought about it since it didn't go through the first time," Peterson said of seeking a fifth year of eligibility. "I'm looking forward to getting the year going and focusing on having a good year personally. I want to have a good year as a team after what we did last year."