Brock Trotter's KHL adventure lasted only one season and now the high-scoring forward from Brandon, Man., is back in camp with the Montreal Canadiens.
The first thing coach Jacques Martin noticed was his skating.
"He's improved his speed a lot," Martin said Monday. "He seemed to be a lot quicker than he was, and what I've seen that I didn't see in the past was his ability to get on the puck and show good poise.
"He had good production for Hamilton two years ago, so he has skills. It'll be interesting to see how he fares in pre-season games."
Trotter skated last season for Dynamo Riga in the KHL, where he had nine goals and 17 assists in 49 games. Although he had a two-year contract with the Latvian club, he inked a one-year, two-way deal with Montreal on July 4 that will pay him $550,000 US if he plays in the NHL.
Along with youngsters like Brendan Gallagher and Nathan Beaulieu, he has looked sharp in intra-squad scrimmages.
"Last season the emphasis was on skating because if you can't skate in Russia, you get exposed," said Trotter. "Every week we worked on developing speed and making plays at a high pace.
"I worked on skating a lot, and puck control. Those are two big parts of my game."
He is sure to get his share of pre-season action as the Canadiens begin a string of six exhibition games in seven days when they play host to the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night. The Buffalo Sabres are in town on Wednesday night, and there are back-to-back games Friday and Saturday against the Ottawa Senators followed by back-to-back games with the Boston Bruins.
Up to 50 players will be used, so there will be few early cuts. Of 64 players in camp, nine are out with minor injuries, including veterans Andrei Markov and Scott Gomez.
Defenceman P.K. Subban, who didn't scrimmage on the first two days of the camp, was on the ice Monday looking his smooth-skating self and said he had no trouble with what is believed to have been a sore back.
The undrafted Trotter signed with the Canadiens midway through the 2007-08 season after he was suspended for undisclosed reasons by the University of Denver.
He had 18 goals in his first full AHL campaign in Hamilton and then had 36 goals and 77 points in 2009-10, second on the team to David Desharnais. He was called up for two NHL games that season and had no points.
But after helping the Bulldogs to the AHL semifinals with 19 points in as many post-season games, he jumped to the KHL.
He said the decision was not taken out of frustration at being stalled in the Canadiens system, but because Riga made an attractive offer that he had to take or leave on short notice. He opted to go, but always with the intention of returning to try to fulfil his dream of playing in the NHL.
"My goal was to come back," the 24-year-old said. "It was a different experience.
"The calibre of hockey was really good. I wanted to get better and now I'm happy to be back in Montreal and I'll give it my best shot to try to make this team. Wherever I end up, in Hamilton or here, I'm just going to do my thing and try to play well."
For years the Canadiens have been good at producing skilled, smaller forwards, like the five-foot-seven Desharnais and five-foot-11 Tomas Plekanec.
The five-foot-10 Trotter fits that mould, as does the five-foot-eight Gallagher, the high-scoring Vancouver Giants forward who was a dynamo once again in Monday's scrimmage.
Neither has much chance of making the NHL squad out of camp, but both may have a future with the team.
Beaulieu also looked sharp, and got a big smile and a pat on the back from Subban after scoring in the scrimmage.
"I was happy for him because I know that when I scored in my first training camp when I scored I was happy too," said Subban. "He's going to be a very good player.
"I watched him play last year in the Memorial Cup for the [Saint John] Sea Dogs in Mississauga and he's good. You can see he's got poise with the puck and he's also good in his own zone."
Checking forward Gabriel Dumont was the star of the day with three goals in the scrimmage. The former Drummondville Voltigeur is pegged for a second season in Hamilton.
Martin said the Canadiens should be an improved team because they will have three scoring lines instead of two, which is standard for NHL clubs. That comes from the signing of veteran Erik Cole and the development of young players like Desharnais, Max Pacioretty and Lars Eller.
The likely lines to start the season would be Plekanec at centre with Cole and Michael Cammalleri, Gomez centring Pacioretty and Brian Gionta, and Eller between Desharnais and Andrei Kostitsyn. A fourth line would have Ryan White, Mathieu Darche and Travis Moen.
There may be a spot open for a 13th forward, or they could use defenceman Yannick Weber at forward. Scorers Trotter or Aaron Palushaj could have a shot at the job, although they would likely be more interested in a checking centre like Andreas Engqvist or Dumont, a right winger who can play in the middle.