GLENDALE -- Jalen Smereck is back with the Coyotes for his third rookie camp and is excited about his future.
"I think I'm at a pretty interesting part of my journey," said Smereck, an undrafted defenseman whom the Coyotes signed to a three-year contract in 2016 after he turned heads at his first rookie camp with the team. "I think I'm right in the middle of where I want to be and in the right spot. Of course, everyone wants to play at the highest level, but if that doesn't work out I want to play in the American league (this season) and be an everyday player there, and just work my way up to being an everyday player in the NHL."
Smereck played two games for Tucson in the American Hockey League last season, but spent the bulk of the campaign playing for the Flint Firebirds of the Ontario Hockey League. The Detroit native thrived there as team captain and was voted the team's top defenseman. He notched a career-high 10 goals and 24 assists in 46 games.
"I really enjoyed being captain and it was really nice having a group of younger guys look up to you everyday," Smereck said. "The guys would ask me questions about what I learned up at the pro level. It was kind of like the best of both worlds. I got to go to the American league and learn from older guys and then go back and share it with the guys in the OHL."
Arizona's depth chart is loaded with left-handed defensemen, but Smereck is on management's radar.
"Jalen is a poised defenseman," General Manager John Chayka said. "He needs to develop his overall game, but he has some attributes that are tough to teach. He has good poise with the puck and can make some creative plays that lead to greater offense."
Speaking of teaching, Smereck, 21, enjoys mentoring children and inspiring them. He often spends free time introducing kids from Detroit to the game of hockey. His father and older brothers did the same for him and it gradually became the sport he loved most over the more popular sports played by kids in his neighborhood.
"I can remember getting teased for playing hockey because everyone else was playing basketball and football," Smereck said. "They looked down on me, but I just loved it ... I get an incredible feeling when I take the ice."
Smereck wasn't always a defenseman. As a kid he played forward until others realized he was very good at skating backward and encouraged him to switch to defense, which he did. His goal now is to become a shutdown NHL defenseman.
Smereck spent his off-season in Detroit, except for a week in late June when he attended the team's annual development camp in Arizona. He's eager to get back on Arizona ice at the rookie camp starting Friday, and then play for the Coyotes in the inaugural Vegas Rookie Faceoff, which begins this weekend.
"My first two rookie camp experiences were great, and I think this event in Vegas is going to be amazing," Smereck said. "I'm really looking forward to playing those games and playing with all the guys. I want to be a leader and show the young guys what the older guys showed me in my first two years here."
He added: "We all want to go out and show what we can do before the main camp starts next week. And you want the coaches to see that you've learned what they've taught you. It's all about getting better."