Out of the four goaltenders that attended the Nashville Predators development camp, only one was not actually part of the organization. Devin Williams attended the camp as an undrafted free agent. Currently, Williams is enjoying a junior career with the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). Attending a camp full of NHL-caliber talent and prospects was quite the experience for him.
“It’s been awesome and nice to meet new people and players,” said Williams. “It’s obviously a different level, so I’m just enjoying it and taking it all in.”
It’s not unusual that undrafted free agents get invited to development and training camps for NHL teams. It gives teams an opportunity to assess a potential hidden gem that has yet to be drafted. Although he’s been NHL draft eligible since 2012, the young goaltender has shown tremendous strengths in Erie. The 5’10”, 160lb Saginaw, Michigan native has had to show composure while competing for starts in Erie with Oscar Dansk, a 2012 second-round choice of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Last season, Williams went 23-5, posting 0.905 save percentage and 2.57 goals against average (GAA), including five shutouts. Not an easy task when playing in the OHL.
“You’re playing against a lot of guys that have had some pro experience but have been sent back down,” said Williams. “Obviously it’s cool to play against them and you get to see how they step it up from junior to pro.”
There’s a star and projected top 2015 NHL Draft pick currently playing with Williams on the Otters in Connor McDavid. It’s safe to say that Williams is glad that McDavid is on his side of the ice and not the competition’s.
“He’s an awesome guy, a team guy,” said Williams on McDavid. “He has a lot of character and is one of the hardest working players I’ve ever met. Whether that’s staying after practice or in the weight room, he’s just an awesome guy. He’s tough to stop in practice. I enjoy playing with him.”
Having to practice against a talent like Connor McDavid is a good challenge to have when trying to impress NHL teams. During the camp, Williams showed off great ability with his footwork and discipline. That’s not always easy to do when you get the unexpected invite to an NHL development camp.
“Trying to get your legs back under you is pretty tough,” said Williams. “You don’t usually skate a lot at the very beginning of summer. Just getting used to being on the ice and getting into the flow of things was the most challenging.”
Having the experience of a week’s worth of training and testing with NHL coaches alongside players that have played professionally is something that Williams will take back with him to Erie for now. The speed of the game, even at development camp, proved to be a sight for him.
“It’s definitely a lot faster [than in juniors],” said Williams. “It was cool to get a taste of the speed and the players. It’s a step up from juniors, so I’m thankful for the opportunity just to be here.”
In year’s past, Predators development camp has taken place at Centennial Sportsplex. Due to renovations at the rinks there, all activities took place at Bridgestone Arena. Even though it was a scrimmage, the players got to play in a pro arena in front of fans.
“It was really cool,” said Williams on the experience. “It was cool to get my first experience on NHL ice against some NHL-caliber players. I really enjoyed it and look forward to the next time I can do it.”
Williams has the right kind of passion flowing in him. He’s hoping he made a good impression on the organization. Continuing to have a positive outlook on his career and setting high aspirations should prove fruitful for him.
“Hopefully I can be here for training camp.,” said Williams. “We’ll see. I don’t know yet, but we’ll see.”
We’ll have to opportunity to catch up Devin Williams in Erie when we catch a game there in late October. That is, unless he’s able to sign a pro contract. Best of luck to Devin in his career and maybe he’ll be seen in Nashville again.
*Header image courtesy of Erie Otters*