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Trio of Spokane Chiefs players get valuable experience at NHL development camps

UPDATED: Thu., July 4, 2019, 7:04 p.m.

Spokane forward Eli Zummack (29) celebrates scoring the Chiefs first goal of the night during the second period of a WHL playoff game, Tues., April 23, 2019, in the Spokane Arena. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane forward Eli Zummack (29) celebrates scoring the Chiefs first goal of the night during the second period of a WHL playoff game, Tues., April 23, 2019, in the Spokane Arena. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

A little more than a year ago, the National Hockey League draft came to its end, and Eli Zummack’s name wasn’t called.

Thirteen days ago, the NHL draft came to its end. Again, Zummack’s name wasn’t called.

But again, the Spokane Chiefs forward was invited to an NHL development camp. Once more, Zummack was happy to go.

“I wasn’t heading into the draft with super high hopes, but I told myself whatever happens, just know that personally I’m good enough where I should have been drafted,” Zummack said. “Hopefully I (would) go to a camp and make an impact and show them why I should’ve been picked.”

A year after attending Toronto’s camp, Zummack was in Brandon, Florida, last week for the Tampa Bay Lightning development camp.

He was one of three NHL draft-eligible Chiefs players invited to such events, and all three returned to their respective homes invigorated by the chance to work with NHL coaches and get to know players with whom they hope to play for years to come.

“You learn a lot about yourself as a player,” said Adam Beckman, who spent four days practicing with the Minnesota Wild in St. Paul. “It’s just cool, because you’re right there with other phenomenal players. You learn what you’ve gotta work on to make it to the next level.”

The Wild traded into the third round to select Beckman 75th overall, making the forward’s camp destination inevitable. It also made for a week of border crossings for the Chiefs’ leading goal scorer. He attended the draft in Vancouver, British Columbia, on June 22, a day later he was on a flight to St. Paul. This week he’s back home in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Luke Toporowski waited for his name to be called but never heard it, a disappointment for the Chiefs forward.

But he said that feeling was short-lived. Within an hour of the draft’s end, multiple teams had reached out to Toporowski’s agent about a development camp invite, giving him options.

Toporowski accepted one from the Winnipeg Jets, a team that didn’t have a pick in the sixth or seventh round of the draft. They are also don’t have a ton of forwards his age, Toporowski said, giving him a bit more opportunity going forward.

“It was sweet. Great facilities and they treated me real well,” Toporowski said. “I really felt like they wanted me there. I felt like I had a really good connection with the staff right off the start. They really wanted to focus on development, not an evaluation.”

Development camps provide NHL teams with an opportunity to invite not just their recent draft picks but undrafted players as well, with most attended by between 30 and 45 players.

A few other previously drafted Chiefs attended camps this week as well: Jake McGrew with the San Jose Sharks, Jaret Anderson-Dolan with the Los Angeles Kings, and Filip Kral with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The New Jersey Devils, who selected Chiefs defenseman Ty Smith in the first round a year ago, hold their camp later this month.

An invite to a development camp comes with few guarantees for the players – indeed, teams don’t always sign all the players they draft in a given year – but they allow teams to work with the players who they hope will comprise the core of their rosters a few years from now.

The players get plenty from it, too.

“We worked really hard in the gym as well as on the ice,” Zummack said, “so pretty much it was like we were continuing (our development) but at a higher stage, with elite players and top-notch training and on-ice practice.”

Zummack, back in Kelowna, B.C., for the summer, said he was highly impressed with the staff in Florida, who gave him suggestions on what diet to eat during the offseason – cut out carbs and focus on eating vegetables and meat, they said – as well as plenty of specific hockey skills to work on.

“It’s crazy. They start explaining the reasoning behind techniques … stuff I’ve never really thought of before,” Zummack said, “but it totally makes sense once they demonstrate it and explain it.”

Beckman, the only Chiefs player drafted by an NHL team this year, appears to have the most secure spot of the three, especially considering that the Wild traded their 2020 third-round pick to take him this year. But even then, little is guaranteed for him, Beckman said.

“At the end of the day, you just gotta work hard and work for what you get and continue to grow as a player, and that’s what my goal is. Being drafted doesn’t change any of that,” Beckman said. “There’s not a big difference between a guy getting drafted and not drafted.”

Though they could get invited to NHL training camps in August and September, all three are expected back with the Chiefs next season. After strong seasons, they will be counted on to contribute.

Zummack, who had 15 goals and 53 assists last season, is entering his 19-year-old season. Beckman (team-high 32 goals, 30 assists) and Toporowski (21 goals, 28 assists) are a year younger.

“I’m gonna be coming back to Spokane with a big role on this team, and I know we’ll be young, but that won’t change our approach,” Toporowski said. “Things will be good for us, and I think all the other guys are excited.”

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