PITTSBURGH - The marathon just started for Sam Lafferty.
The Hollidaysburg native, who was the Pittsburgh Penguins' fourth-round pick in this year's NHL Entry Draft, got to don the Black and Gold on the Consol Energy Center ice as part of the organization's week-long prospect development camp.
"It's been a lot of fun, for sure. It's definitely been a great learning experience and a good challenge," he said. "It was a fun week overall."
Lafferty, a Penguins fan, grew up playing local amateur hockey before spending the last three seasons at Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts. He produced 55 points in 25 games last season. His play got the Penguins' attention and the organization selected the 6-foot-1, 187-pound center with the 113th overall pick.
"I took a lot away from this week. When I got drafted, it was sort of surreal. When I got here, I guess it made the experience more real and more grounded. It's nice to see everything and get out on the ice and try to get better as much as possible," Lafferty said. "It's definitely a top-notch organization. I had high expectations and they definitely exceeded all of those. It was an awesome week for sure."
Throughout the week, Penguins prospects participated in workouts on and off the ice, helped instruct youth hockey clinics and engaged in team-building activities such as a cooking class and a wiffleball tournament. The camp concluded with Saturday's intrasquad scrimmage.
Lafferty and his Team Black squad dropped a 6-4 decision to Team White. However, Lafferty scored his team's final goal on a penalty shot with 4:01 left in the second of two periods played.
"I just went down and wanted to fake low blocker and shoot low glove," he said. "I felt the backchecker's stick at the end, but it went in and it's a good feeling. There's a little bit of luck involved."
Penguins Assistant General Manager Tom Fitzgerald was impressed with what he saw from Lafferty.
"He is a serious kid. He seemed like a rink rat. He was always around here. He understands the physical part of keeping your body in shape and stretching because that's all I've seen him doing. He really showed well out there," he said. "He skates well. He is deceivingly fast. He doesn't look like he's moving fast, but you watch him go by a guy and a then turn a corner on a guy and the guy can't track him down. So, no, he didn't look out of place at all. If anything, he looked like he not only belonged, but held himself well in some good company because he was playing with AHL kids and some other pros. He looked good."
The camp's off-ice element may have been most beneficial for Lafferty. He got a chance to discuss his hockey "roadmap" with Bill Guerin, Fitzgerald and other members of the Penguins organization as he heads to the United States Hockey League's Tri-City Storm in Nebraska this fall for a season of Tier 1 junior hockey before going to Brown University in the fall of 2015.
"It's definitely good to get here and just get acquainted with things and get my feet wet. Just meeting with Billy Guerin and Tom Fitzgerald and getting a plan in place moving forward, things to work on and sort of a foundation that I can always turn to and keep in mind as I go to Tri-City next year," Lafferty said. "We sat down and put a list together. Each player does it. It's a list of seven or eight things, just reminders of things you can work on for your game. This week has been a blast."
Fitzgerald is excited to monitor Lafferty's progress.
"I think he is going to have a real good career at Brown. To be honest with you, I think he could play college hockey next year and contribute. He looks to have a bright future," he said. "It's a marathon for him. He is on that long path. You can't rush kids. You want to put them on a longer path and let them grow at their own pace; that's important.
"That's our job - to help him understand what the future looks like and what kind of path his on. It's a marathon and not a sprint. We want to let his body mature and mind mature. As that's happening, his game is going to mature. That, to me, is a real important piece of development."
Lafferty understands reaching the NHL requires work. He was happy to see many friends and family on hand Saturday at Consol Energy Center to witness his start.
"It was awesome. It was great to see everyone. When I was skating off the ice at the end, I looked down towards the other goal and saw a bunch of friends and family. I want to give them a big thanks for coming out. It was great to see all them," he said. "There's definitely a long way to go, for sure, but it's just fun to play against high-quality players. I am definitely looking forward to the season so I can keep trying to develop and just have fun."