Shortly after the 2023 Upper Deck NHL Draft ended, Jackson Desouza, a Revelstoke Grizzlies alum (2020-21), got the call he always wanted – to attend an NHL development camp. The Kelowna Rockets defenceman packed his bags and headed for Detroit for the Red Wings camp, which concluded on July 5.
In this Q&A, Desouza talks about his experience.
KIJHL: What was it like for you to attend the Detroit Red Wings development camp?
JD: It was awesome. The first couple of days you’re really anxious and you want to know how you match up against those you don’t really play against – college and European players. The more time you spend around the facilities and coaches, going on the ice, you get more comfortable. You treat it like it’s another practice and don’t get in your head as much and just soak everything in.
KIJHL: What was it like pulling that Red Wings jersey over your head?
JD: My hockey route has been pretty different compared to everyone else and going through ups and downs. To be able to actually put on that NHL jersey felt really good. It was pretty funny going in, the first day, going to my stall and seeing the number 52. That was pretty funny because Adam Foote (who wore 52 in the NHL) was my first coach in Kelowna when I was 15. And being from Colorado, and my brother Noah playing with Joe Sakic’s kid and Adam Foote’s kid, it honestly relaxed me quite a bit to see the number 52. It was kind of an omen.
KIJHL: What are some of the things that stood out for you during the camp?
JD: The compete level and the fact you go into practice and the coaches made it very clear, every drill that we’re doing, don’t play the drill, play the game. In practice and drills, you know where guys are going to be and where the puck is coming. Play it like it is in a game. The development camp was about learning. The coaching and the staff were all big on showing what it’s like to be around pros and play that level.
KIJHL: How do you feel that you performed?
JD: I thought I performed really well as an undrafted guy. My goal was to make a name for myself and play to my strengths.
KIJHL: What kind of feedback did you get about your play?
JD: It was pretty positive. Most of what we did was skill work, especially with the D-men. They were really happy with my speed and strength. Some of what they wanted me to work on was just off-ice. I have the strength to move the weight, but moving that weight at a faster speed.
KIJHL: How important was it for you to go through that development camp heading into your final junior year?
JD: It’s a confidence booster to know that you are playing with guys at the highest level. You are on the ice with first round NHL picks and guys who have been in the system a long time. It’s a good feeling to know that you made it there and your skills are up there. It’s just being a sponge. When the season starts, it’s applying everything you learned and they were telling you.
KIJHL: Do you adjust some of the things you work on to get ready for next season?
JD: Absolutely. You are seeing what everyone is like and their playing styles. The big thing to take away from my exit meeting with the head of player development was going into September, and their rookie camp in Traverse City is just doing what you do best. Go in there with the skills you have and make sure your best traits are your best traits. Especially for me as a defensive defenceman, it’s closing away time and space. Boxing out from the front of the net and getting in front of shots.
It’s really exciting, especially with being able to play against other NHL teams. I will see what their prospects are like and how I match up against them.
KIJHL: You are going into your final year with Kelowna, what advice would you give a young defencemen entering junior hockey for the first time?
JD: Know your strengths. Find out what makes you successful and how you contribute to the team and just hone in on that. When I started my junior career with Kelowna, coming up as a 15-year-old in Bantam, I was more of a power-play, rush-the-puck kind of guy. Going into Kelowna, they told me straight how it is. If I want a hockey career, “you have to elevate more into the defensive side. You have got to find your role that makes you successful, that will get you minutes and opportunities. Honesty, just enjoy it. You have to embrace all the challenges that you are going to face in your career. The more fun you have, the better you are going to play.
When I was talking to my brother Noah, who played for the Revelstoke Grizzlies, he told me, you never know, this could be my only opportunity at a development camp. This could be my only opportunity to get to that level. You just need to embrace the moment.