Goals came pretty easy for Calgary Flames prospect Bryan Cameron in his junior career. In five seasons the Belleville and Barrie, Cameron scored 184 goals, including 53 in his final year with the Colts. However, his transition to pro hockey last season did not see the same results. In 60 games with Abbotsford, Cameron scored just six times to go along with two more in seven ECHL contests. It wasn’t the season he was expecting, and Cameron hopes he can take some large steps forward in his second season with the Heat.
I spoke to Cameron earlier this week here in Penticton as the Flames continue participation in the second annual Young Stars Tournament. After missing the first game on Sunday, Cameron played on a line with Dustin Sylvester and Michael Ferland on Monday night, as Calgary’s prospects fell 4-3 in overtime to the Vancouver Canucks.
The First Year
The transition from junior to professional hockey isn’t always an easy one, as many players over the years can attest to. Cameron isn’t a big guy, but he’s put on bulk over the last year, now listed at 190 pounds and 5’10. He looks at last season in Abbotsford as a learning experience.
"I took a lot out of it," Cameron said. "As much as I didn’t get too much ice time, I learnt a lot, and I’m probably a lot better for it now. I got that experience under my belt, and now it’s just time to bear down and get my chance and just…be the best player I can be."
There’s no question the roles were different. In his final years in junior, Cameron was used in a very offensive role, utilizing his impressive shot and pinpoint accuracy to a large degree. He saw a lot of powerplay time and took advantage of his superior skill as an overage player in Barrie. However, as a 21 year old in the American Hockey League, the role changed significantly under Head Coach Jim Playfair.
"It’s a little different," Cameron told me. "When you’re out there you knew you had to make an impact, and whether it was once or twice a period or you were playing out there a lot, you just had to know everytime you get out there you had to do something special and once I figured that out everything started going smoother.
It bothers you a little bit but you can look at it as a downside or you can look at it as you’re learning, you’re seeing what other guys are doing around you for them to be more reliable and that and for me, it was more in my own zone and defensively, I had to figure out.
The offensive part I felt great, I didn’t feel much different than junior, and just the fact that being more of a two way player was what I needed to figure out, and I think I’ve done that."
Even though Cameron felt comfortable in his offensive game, the goals didn’t come in the same manner they had in the past.
"It’s a process," said Abbotsford Heat Head Coach Troy Ward, who coached Cameron as an assistant last season. "I think that just because you’re a goal scorer in college or you’re a goal scorer in (junior), it does not translate into pro hockey and there’s a lot of markers that show that, so I think that there’s a select few that have been able to do it, but I think in general it’s not always the case.
What we’re interested to see with Bryan’s development is: Can he even ever reach that? If he can’t, we have to find other ways to help this young man be a part of the organization, be a part of the team, but with that is we give him direction, he’s going to have to make sacrifices and change.
Now in his second year Bryan comes back, he’s got to play to a level that he thinks he can play, but at the same time if he can’t reach that level of the goal scoring that he once was, he has to re-invent himself into another role and we’ve got to give him the confidence to do that, we have to give him instruction to be able to do that, but that’s probably the toughest thing about being a pro is that often times you find yourself at one particular level in life being able to something, and then taking the next step, it’s a difficult step."
Cameron admits there were some growing pains as he adjusted to playing a number of different roles, and not one primarily geared at scoring goals. But there’s also a realization that diversifying his game started to pay dividends overall.
"I just had to figure out how to play a two way game a little bit better," Cameron said. "I figured that out the first couple months and once I got that down pat, I feel a lot stronger, I’m getting more chances in the offensive zone because my defensive game is picking up, so everything is just a lot better now.
The quicker you get back and get the puck out of your own end, the quicker you’re going to get the offence and the more time you’re going to get in the offensive zone, so it’s a lot better for my game."
Cameron hopes to play a bigger role in Abbotsford this season, and hopes to start showing more of the promise Calgary saw in him when they signed him out of junior last summer. Formerly a third round pick of the Los Angeles Kings, Bryan knows Penticton’s tournament is important. With main camp approaching, Cameron feels ready for the challenge.
"I came down about three weeks early and got to know a lot of the older guys around the team," Cameron revealed. "It was great, we’ve skated every day for the last three weeks in Calgary, so it was a great experience and it’s nice to get to know guys, get a little more comfortable on and off the ice, so it’s just an all around good experience so far."
Cameron likely won’t be making the Calgary Flames out of training camp this year. But a good season with the Heat could go a long way in keeping him on the radar. The good thing is, he doesn’t have much longer to wait.