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Undrafted Penn State Hockey Players Reflect On NHL Development Camp Experiences

Fourteen current and former Penn State hockey players got the chance to skate at NHL development camps over the summer.

Of that group, five Nittany Lions — Evan Barratt, Cole Hults, Denis Smirnov, Aarne Talvitie, and Kevin Wall — skated at the camps of the NHL squads that drafted them, while Andrew Sturtz skated with the Ottawa Senators after they signed him to an AHL contract in 2018. Seven other players, however, were extended invitations to their respective camps after standout seasons in 2018-19.

Liam Folkes and Sam Sternschein got their first taste of an NHL development camp with the New York Islanders, and others — including Brandon Biro and Alex Limoges — were back on NHL ice after previously receiving invitations.

Limoges was invited to skate with the New York Islanders in 2018, but he worked with the Detroit Red Wings from June 25-29 this year. College hockey’s reigning leader in scoring felt like he had a point to prove in Detroit throughout the Wings’ development camp.

“It was a lot of fun. I was feeling pretty confident and ready to go into camp,” Limoges recalled. “As an undrafted guy, I’ve got something to prove. You look around, and you see guys who played a couple NHL games and first-round draft picks and stuff like that. The team has something invested in them, so I’m going to try to beat them and show that I deserve to be here.”

The left wing did receive some feedback on his game from Detroit’s coaching staff. According to Limoges, the coaches told him to work on his puck protection and skating, and he wasn’t the only Penn Stater to get some pretty strong feedback from an NHL-level coaching staff.

Liam Folkes, the right wing on Penn State’s dynamic top line with Limoges and Evan Barratt, spent some time at the New York Islanders’ development camp. The coaches on Long Island liked the way Folkes thinks and how he moves his feet during his brief time working with the Islanders.

“I didn’t really know what to expect,” Folkes said. “It was my first NHL camp, and going with [senior goaltender Peyton] Jones and [junior wing Sam] Sternschein made me feel a lot more comfortable. I went in there, worked my hardest, and thought I had a pretty good camp. I was moving my feet and just listened to what the coaches and staff had to say — including about nutrition.”

Seniors Brandon Biro and Nate Sucese have been almost inseparable for the past three seasons, but they attended different NHL development camps this summer. Biro skated at a development camp with Chase Berger for the second straight year. In 2018, the duo played together on Long Island with the Isles, but they skated in Pittsburgh at the Penguins’ camp this year after Berger signed with their AHL affiliate.

Biro discussed how NHL development camps are learning experiences, but like Limoges, he was also there to prove a point to NHL talent evaluators, scouts, and executives.

“You just want to leave a good impression,” Biro said. “There’s lots of guys from different leagues, but there’s only a certain amount of guys who can be on a [NHL] roster. To get to that point, you have to be better than someone who plays like you — or anyone, really. You’re always competing against someone — whether it’s in the gym or in practice.

“Obviously you go in wanting to learn as much as you can, but you want to leave a good impression. You get invited because a couple guys from the organization see you. It’s your chance to really show everyone there that you can play. It’s a good experience for [the Penguins’ coaches and staff] to get to know you, see who you are as a player, and see if there’s potential for you to be part of their organization.”

Sucese, meanwhile, got to skate with the defending Eastern Conference champion Boston Bruins from June 25-29. He talked about trying to be a “sponge” and learning as much as possible from an organization that had so much success last season.

The senior center’s mindset is firmly on Penn State and being successful this season, but that didn’t stop him from elegantly sharing the feedback he got from Boston’s coaching staff.

“Good stuff,” he said.

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

In the most upsetting turn of events, Mikey graduated from Penn State with a digital & print journalism degree in the spring of 2020. He covered Penn State football and served as an editor for Onward State from 2018 until his graduation. Mikey is from Bedminster, New Jersey, so naturally, he spends lots of time yelling about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey also loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is really hard. If you, for some reason, feel compelled to see what Mikey has to say on the internet, follow him on Twitter @Mikey_Mandarino. You can also get in touch with Mikey via his big-boy email address: [email protected]

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