Lost among some of the more anticipated names at NY Islanders camp, like Isaiah George, William Dufour, and Matthew Maggio, Justin Gill is hoping to make the most of his opportunity when it once appeared the day may never come.
Gill was first eligible for the NHL Draft in 2021 at 18 years old, where he went undrafted following his draft-eligible season, not hearing his name again the following year. In his final year of NHL Draft eigibility, Gill was finally selected when the Islanders announced their pick in the fifth round at 145th overall.
Now, at rookie camp, where your draft location doesn't matter, Gill starts at the same position as his fellow participants. Like all prospects preparing to step up to the next level, they spend the off-season getting bigger, faster, and stronger, preparing for the speed and physicality of NHL camp.
"There's a huge step between the junior and the AHL level," said Gill, following day two of rookie camp. "I tried to work as much as I could on that (strength and speed), and I think, with my trainer, we did a good job, and I got here in good shape."
Gill took a massive leap last season in production, finishing with 93 points (44 goals, 49 assists) while playing with the Sherbrooke Phoenix. His 47-point improvement over one season was enough for the Islanders to take a chance on another overager like they have in the past with Dufour and Maggio.
While many people may have reservations about a 20-year-old who dominated in a junior league after going undrafted twice - the lack of hockey played over the last few seasons has negatively affected many prospects. With the pandemic causing leagues to cancel seasons or significantly cut down the schedule, player development took a toll. Some players are beginning to hit their stride a year or two later than they may have under normal circumstances, and the Isles hope this is the situation with Gill.
Gill has one year of eligibility remaining, where he'll play with the Baie-Comeau Drakkar of the QMJHL in an unprecedented sixth junior season.