Alexandre Fortin had a pretty modest goal last summer as an undrafted, unaffiliated prospect-camp invitee. He just wanted a contract and an organization to call his own — a viable path to the NHL, no matter how long and unrealistic it might have seemed.
A year later, Fortin is 20 pounds heavier, a little bit faster, and a whole lot more ambitious.
“Last year, I came here looking for the contract,” Fortin said. “Now I’ll be here [to] make the team, and hopefully as soon as possible.”
Not the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the QMJHL, where he’s spent the past three seasons. Not the Rockford IceHogs, a likely destination for many of the prospect-camp participants. No, Fortin is gunning for an opening-day job with the Blackhawks. And unlike nearly every other player in camp, Fortin can say that with a straight face. That’s just how impressive he was last summer.
He was the breakout star of prospect camp, with five goals in the first three scrimmages. That earned him a three-year, two-way entry-level contract and a long look in training camp, and he posted two goals and an assist in five preseason games, and was one of the last cuts before opening night. Posting 22 goals and 30 assists in 52 games in juniors — while dealing with a sports-hernia injury that required surgery three weeks ago — didn’t hurt, either.
In one year, the 20-year-old Fortin has gone from an absolute nobody to one of the Hawks’ top prospects, and perhaps their most NHL-ready one. He’s still likely to start in Rockford — the Hawks stockpiled bottom-six players on one-way contracts via trades and free agency, blocking the paths of most NHL hopefuls in the fall — but if he has another strong training camp, it’s not inconceivable that he makes the team.
“It just goes to show you that players can come from anywhere,” Hawks general manager Stan Bowman said after Fortin’s breakout performance. “You don’t have to be a first-round pick, you can be undrafted, and it’s how you perform.”
Had he arrived a year later, it might have been tougher for Fortin to break through. Instead of daily scrimmages which make it easier for players to stand out, this year’s camp is focused more on drills and individual player development. There will be just one scrimmage, on Friday morning. So Fortin isn’t losing much ground as an off-ice participant as he recovers from surgery.
His focus is now on training camp. And his hunger hasn’t waned now that he’s got a little job security.
“It won’t be hard [to match last summer’s motivation] because once you have the contract, the day after it’s wasn’t the contract I wanted, it’s something else,” Fortin said. “You always work for something, then something, then something [else]. It’s not hard to have the need and the power that you want. It’s a dream, so you work for it.”
After sending him back to juniors last fall, Bowman said Fortin needed to work on his strength. Now 20 pounds heavier, Fortin feels he’s better equipped to handle the rigors of professional hockey. And while the offseason surgery has kept him off the ice in July — he expects to be 100 percent by training camp in September — he thinks it will only help him and increase his speed in the long run.
And whether it comes right away in October or further down the road, Fortin feels closer than ever to the NHL — especially considering how far away he was just one year ago.
“It’s all mental,” he said. “It’s not where you rank [in the draft], it’s how you think. The only person who will make you ready for the NHL is yourself.”