It was a familiar setting for J.J. Piccinich as he entered Maple Leafs Development Camp earlier this month. Drafted by the Leafs in the fourth round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, it was Piccinich’s fourth visit to camp at the Mastercard Centre. But this year was different. This time, Piccinich’s focus is on preparing for his first professional season.
“All the tactical stuff we work on at development camp, there’s a lot of information,” Piccinich said. “You definitely want to try to pinpoint what you need most, but at the end of the day you need to be able to take all of it and implement it into your game the following year.”
“It’s no secret what’s going on around here,” Piccinich continued. “It’s probably the most premiere development staff I’ve ever been able to work with.”
Piccinich signed a two-year deal with the Marlies this April, following the conclusion of the London Knights’ playoff run. In two years with the Knights, Piccinich had 138 points (56 G, 82 A) in 122 career games and served as captain last season.
As he prepares to make the jump into his first professional season, Piccinich is looking to improve his pace this summer.
“It gets quicker, it gets bigger, it gets faster, it gets stronger,” Piccinich said. “The pace of the game picks up. You have to be able to match that intensity, and the players that excel exceed that intensity.”
He put on an impressive display at Development Camp, scoring twice for Team Clark in two scrimmages, playing on a line with fellow draft picks Adam Brooks and Martin Dzierkals.
While he showed off his offensive prowess at the camp, Piccinich is a versatile player who has excelled in each role that he’s been placed into. With the Knights, Piccinich averaged over a point-per-game, spent time on the power play unit but also shifted at times to a checking role and was tasked with shutting down opponents’ scorers.
“Being versatile is huge at any level, you have to be able to do all different types of stuff. For a forward, you have to be able to take draws, be able to play the wing.”
In addition to his on-ice abilities, Piccinich will bring strong leadership skills and big game experience to a Marlies team that looks to accomplish a seventh straight playoff appearance. He was a member of the 2016 Memorial Cup champion London Knights, where he played alongside Maple Leafs breakout forward Mitch Marner, and helped lead the Knights to the second round of this year’s OHL playoffs.
Piccinich will look to carry that success into the fall when he makes his professional debut.