A year ago, Austin Watson showed up to Nashville shortly after being drafted in the first round, 18th overall.
Extremely young and not quite bulked up yet, the Ann Arbor, Michigan, native was returned to the Peterborough Petes almost as soon as training camp started.
“I don’t think I was prepared last year – mentally and physically,” Watson said. “I didn’t really know what to expect and the physical side of my game wasn’t there.”
With a better idea of what to anticipate when training camp began, Watson committed to a training regimen during the offseason.
“This year I had a good summer training in different places like in Calgary with Marty (Gelinas) and had a good World Junior camp so I think coming into this I know what to expect and know what I need to do to have a good impression here and I think that’s a big difference.”
Gelinas and the Peterborough trainers set up a regimen to get Watson in shape and prepared for his second NHL training camp.
“It helped me learn how to train, how to eat, you’re focusing a lot on diet and that kind of thing and just making sure that the daily routine as followed. Going to the gym 5-6 days a week and getting the proper amount of skating in each week was huge.”
At 6’3″, Watson is one of the larger rookies in camp. While he might be built more like a quarterback than a power forward, he considers himself a versatile player and is willing to take on whatever role he is given, as long as he as given a chance.
“I think my game is pretty well-rounded and I can fit into a lot of different areas and a lot of different roles in which they might want to use me,” Watson said.
Last season, Watson was on a brutally bad Peterborough team in the OHL. The Petes finished the season with only 20 wins in 68 games and missed the playoffs, a relatively difficult feat to achieve in a league where 16 of 20 teams end up in the bonus round. Watson, however, managed to finish at a point-per-game pace, racking up 68 points. It was a tough sort of season for a player who had been traded from the Windsor Spitfires the year before, a year after Watson had helped the Windsor capture the Memorial Cup.
However, with Watson’s season ending earlier than most in the OHL, it opened a door for him. On March 30, Watson signed an entry-level contract with the Predators and joined the Milwaukee Admirals on an amateur tryout.
“Any chance you get to play with the American League guys, it helps your game so much,”Watson said. “You’re playing at a higher level of hockey and you’re learning how to play the pro-style game which was great for my game.”
Watson was with the Admirals for 5 regular season games and 3 playoff games, but was not able to register a point. However, Watson was able to spend a few weeks on the Admirals roster, playing with professional players and working with different coaches.
“I think my game evolved by being able to play with that,” Watson said.