When William Dufour sat down with his trainer at the start of the summer, one item was at the top of the agenda.
After the summer of 2022 amounted to an abbreviated offseason, with Dufour playing in the Memorial Cup and the COVID-affected World Junior Championships, this was his first chance since he turned pro to put some down time to use.
He intended to take advantage.
“What do we want to improve? I said my skating, my explosiveness, my first step,” Dufour recalled Thursday.
It’s no secret that Dufour’s skating has been the biggest question mark hanging over his game.
The Islanders’ fifth-round pick in 2020 got on a lot of people’s radar with a 116-point QMJHL season in 2021-22, and he had a successful first AHL season last year, with 48 points for Bridgeport.
He made his NHL debut in December, a one-game cameo for the Islanders against the Bruins that could have gone better, though everyone involved acknowledged it was a nearly impossible situation to throw him into.
In a minor league system that hasn’t produced many pros in recent years, though, Dufour is at or near the top of most rankings.
If his skating can jump a level, the rest of his game profiles as an effective power forward in the NHL.
“He looks a little leaner,” Bridgeport coach Rick Kowalsky said of Dufour. “And hopefully stronger.”
Take two days of rookie camp with the smallest possible grain of salt, but Kowalsky took note that Dufour led the bag skate at the end of practice Thursday.
In a battle drill on Friday, he blew past Aidan Fulp, showing the sort of burst the Islanders would like to see more often.
That is what Dufour was working toward this summer, when his trainer had him running 400 stairs in Quebec.
He is unlikely to ever be the fastest player on the ice, but at 6-foot-3, 212 pounds, he doesn’t need to be.
If his skating ability could move up a notch or two, that could be enough.
“I trained for four months, four and a half almost, so I’m just in way better shape [than last year],” Dufour said. “My fitness is way better this year. My cardio, it’s way better. So I’m just happy with my summer, with what my trainer did this summer.”
He also has a year’s worth of familiarity with the organization, compared to last year when he had signed an entry-level deal going into the summer and came to development camp not knowing what to expect.
“I knew a couple guys, but not too much,” he said. “Right now, I know almost all the boys here. So it’s nice to be in a place where I’m used to it and just getting better and better.”
Rookie camp is a place at which Dufour, a highly rated prospect, should stand out.
It will be far more meaningful if he can do so once NHL players are on the ice next Thursday.
Barring the sort of camp that makes abundantly clear he has outgrown Bridgeport, it will probably be another year before Dufour is on the Islanders’ opening-game roster.
Though he will be at the front of the line for a call-up, the club is just about set at forward.
Of course, that does not change his hopes.
“When I played [in the NHL], it’s a dream that came true,” he said. “When you taste it, you don’t want to be back [in the AHL]. I came back to Bridgeport, I did my thing, I was happy to be back with the boys, I had good friends there and everything. [But] when you touch the NHL, you want to stay there.
“And that’s the feeling, as soon as I played, that’s the feeling inside of me. I just want to feel it back again.”