Cleve Dheensaw / Times Colonist
JUNE 26, 2018 10:30 PM
Carter Berger of the Victoria Grizzlies waited in vain last weekend, almost hoping against hope, to hear his name called in the latter rounds of the 2018 NHL draft.
It didn’t happen.
“Then I woke up Sunday morning to a whole bunch of missed calls from strange [area codes] I didn’t know,” said the six-foot-one defenceman, who’ll return for his third season with the Grizzlies in the B.C Hockey League.
Berger was invited by the Anaheim Ducks to their prospects camp beginning today in Southern California.
“This is a really good test for myself and a great opportunity to showcase myself,” said the North Vancouver product, who turns 19 in September.
Berger is a puck-moving blue-liner with a probing style, as evidenced by his 10 goals, 24 assists and 34 points last year in 56 regular-season games and eight points in 12 playoff games.
“My best attributes are my skating, hockey IQ and offensive sense of the game,” he said.
These early-summer prospects camps are for recent draft picks, AHL/ECHL rookie or sophomore pros within the system and youthful free-agent invitees such as Berger.
It is at such a prospects camp in 2015 that fans first saw that year’s first-round Vancouver draft pick Brock Boeser skate in Canucks colours at Shawnigan Lake School.
The prospects range from blue-chip first-rounders such as that to eager hopefuls such as Berger.
“I’m going in with no expectations and just trying to learn,” said Berger.
He’s keeping the opportunity in perspective. Only the select few will get invited to NHL rookie camps in the fall, never mind main camps.
“It’s just a prospects camp invite, not a contract, but it definitely feels rewarding that your hard work is being recognized.”
While it’s not unusual for non-drafted free-agents invitees to come from major-junior circuits such as the Western Hockey League, it’s rarer for them to come from Junior A leagues such as the BCHL.
According to head coach and GM Craig Didmon, Tyler Matheson was the last Grizzlies player to receive an invite to an NHL prospects camp, in 2009 with the Canucks.
If anything, Berger learned a valuable lesson. At this level in hockey, somebody is always watching. Even more so next season when Grizzlies forward Alex Newhook, projected as top five for the 2019 NHL draft, will be heavily scouted.
“We’re lucky in that regard in that because of Alex, there is going to be scouting eyes on the Grizzlies 24/7 during this upcoming season,” added Berger, who has had some fly-down visits to NCAA Div. 1 schools in the U.S., and hopes to lock down his choice for 2019-20 this fall.
(NCAA rules allow players to attend two days of prospects camps, fully funded by NHL teams, without losing their eligibility. Anything beyond two days, including the trip home, must be paid for by the player).