Jeff Penner found the perfect way to avoid a letdown.
When Steinbach product attended his first NHL training camp with the Boston Bruins last September, he took a simple approach that ended up paying dividends.
"I went in not expecting much and I don't think they expected a whole lot out of my either," said Penner, in town this weekend as a member of the Providence Bruins for a pair of games against the Manitoba Moose.
"I made it a lot further than I expected."
Getting further than expected meant that Penner suited up in three NHL exhibition games, including one against the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings.
"It's a little humbling standing on the blue-line during the national anthem and looking at (Henrik) Zetterberg and (Johan) Franzen and those guys," said Penner, who had seven goals and 21 points going into last night's game. "It was unbelievable."
Having a chance to spend time around Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, who is considered one of the best defencemen in the NHL, was also a good learning experience.
"He's just as big in real life as he is on TV, that's for sure," said Penner. "It's amazing what he does out on the ice. He's so big and so good out there. You just can't get around him, he's got so much reach.
"It's nice to see how those guys react out there, as far as their style of play and how you can mould your game from what they do."
Penner doesn't turn 22 until next month, so it's not really accurate to call him a late bloomer. However, he only blossomed into a legitimate prospect this season.
Penner played three seasons in the Manitoba AAA Midget Hockey League with the Eastman Selects, then headed to the British Columbia Hockey League for his first year of junior.
Early in that stint, Penner decided the BCHL wasn't for him and returned to Manitoba to latch on with the Dauphin Kings of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.
After two solid seasons with the Kings, Penner advanced to the NCAA ranks, accepting a scholarship with the University of Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks.
At the end of his freshman season in 2007-08 -- which saw Penner score five goals and 12 points in 35 games -- the Bruins showed interest and the skilled defenceman decided to leave college early and turn pro.
"I went to Alaska hoping it would be a stepping stone -- I was there for school, but hockey was my main priority," said Penner, who signed an entry-level contract with Boston in March 2008 and joined the AHL Bruins for the final two games of the regular season.
"The second you got the opportunity to pursue what I wanted to do and what was my dream for a long time, of course I was going to take it.
"The year there was a good year. I was able to step in and play a lot. I don't regret any of my decisions and this has been a good year (in Providence)."
Rob Murray, a former Winnipeg Jets forward who is now the head coach of the Providence Bruins, sees the potential in Penner.
"He had a great training camp in Boston and they loved him," said Murray. "He's played in every game for us, he competes hard, works his ass off and he's a good skater. His learning curve right now has to do with him getting stronger."