The second time around was a charm for Haydn Fleury.
“I think I was a lot more comfortable this year than last and a little more pleased with the way I played,” the Red Deer Rebels defenceman said Monday, two days after being reassigned by the Carolina Hurricanes for the second year in succession.
“The way I played in training camp and in the NHL preseason … just the way I showed myself makes it easier to come back to junior.”
Fleury, the Hurricanes’ first-round puck — seventh overall — in the 2014 NHL entry draft, suited up for two exhibition games this fall. He was one of 10 defencemen remaining with the ‘Canes when the club reduced its roster to 27 players on Sept. 28, but, as expected, didn’t survive the final cut with six rearguards already signed to NHL contracts.
Still, he got an extended look and should be that much closer to making the big club next fall.
“It was a good opportunity for me. I started off playing well in Traverse City (NHL rookie tournament) and just took that into camp. I thought I played well and showed that I have made improvements in my game.”
The Hurricanes coaching staff had some advice for Fleury as he packed his bags Saturday.
“They told me to just keeping working hard and to work on the little things, keep developing my pro habits,” said Fleury. “I still have a couple of things I need to work on, but being able to work on those things here will help me for next year.”
In regards to ‘pro habits’, the 19-year-old rearguard noticed certain practices that skaters who play for pay are prone to follow on a daily basis.
“I know the pro guys work out every day, where in junior you might want to slack off one day,” said Fleury. “I just have to learn how to hold myself like a pro even though I’m back in junior. If I hold myself to those expectations I’ll develop a lot.”
If he’s disappointed that his second stint at Carolina’s camp ended with another reassignment, Fleury wasn’t exhibiting those emotions Monday. Of course, he’ll make his Rebels debut tonight against the host Lethbridge Hurricanes as a member of a 4-0 team that will host the Memorial Cup tournament in May.
The six-foot-three, 207-pound blueliner also has an excellent chance of representing Canada in the world junior championship Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Helsinki, Finland, after being a late cut of the national team last year.
“It just makes me excited to come back. For anyone playing their last year of junior hockey … to play in a Memorial Cup and potentially the world juniors, it’s going to be a really exciting year,” he stated.
“This is probably the most skilled team we’ve had since I’ve been here, this being my fourth year. It will be a really exciting season. You look at our team, and unlike some past Memorial Cup hosts that have traded for a lot of guys, we have a good group here right now and a group that can win.
“These guys believe it right now, they’re four and oh. I just want to come back and be another piece of the puzzle. I don’t want to do too much, just jump right in.”
A solid final season of major junior hockey will have Fleury even more prepared to contend for a NHL job next fall.
“I feel I’m going to be right in the mix next year. I want to keep working hard and improving and make it difficult for them to send me down next year,” he said.
“I don’t want to play in the AHL next season, I want to be in Carolina, for sure. I just have to take it day by day and just keep working hard.”
Following tonight’s contest in Lethbridge, the Rebels will engage the Calgary Hitmen in a home-and-home set with games Friday at the Saddledome and Saturday at the Centrium.
The club will head west Monday on a four-game B.C. Division trip that opens Tuesday at Kamloops.
• Rebels prospects Brendan Budy and Eli Zummack, both forwards, will play with Team British Columbia in the Western Canada U16 Challenge Cup Oct. 28-Nov. 1 at the Markin MacPhail Centre in Calgary.
Zummack was a second-round pick of the Rebels in this year’s bantam draft. Budy was selected in the fourth round.