“Lots of ups and downs, but always keep your chin up.”

That was Justin Sourdif’s answer when asked about his main takeaway from his rookie season - a campaign that showed a bright future ahead for the young forward but was frustratingly truncated by injuries.

It was a mature approach for the rookie, who made the jump to the pro level after completing a successful junior career. A third-round pick by Florida and a lauded prospect, Sourdif was thrown right into the thick of things when he got to Charlotte.

“He played in a lot of situations,” said head coach Geordie Kinnear. “All of a sudden now you give Justin the whole thing - PP, PK, 5-on-5, playing against the top guys. We didn’t protect him at all. And he had a lot of positive impact on the game.”

It was a sink-or-swim approach with Sourdif, and the prospect succeeded by remaining true to his core abilities.

“When you’re a young guy sometimes you lose what makes you good along the way,” said Kinnear. “Because it’s a long season and it’s a tough league. He knows what makes him tick and when he’s elite he’s a pretty special player.”

For Sourdif, that meant an emphasis on being a slippery presence across the ice.

“I would say my speed,” said Sourdif on what part of his game translated the most to the AHL. “It’s a very, very fast game, transitioning to the pros from junior. So I think me being a bit of a quicker player, that definitely helped me a lot. That helped me to avoid some big hits because guys are a lot bigger and stronger and I’m not the biggest guy in the world.”

Carrying the offensive touch he showcased in junior - he finished his WHL career with over a point per game - was a building process for Sourdif. He came out hot with five points in his first nine pro games, then recorded six over the next 19 contests. The forward looked to be heating up again at the end of that run with three points over a three-game stretch before an injury forced him to the sideline for the majority of the month of January.

Reinvigorated, a recovered Sourdif again came out firing upon his return. He logged 13 points over his next 20 games, including four multi-point efforts, before he fell victim to another injury - one that would put an end to his regular season in mid March (though he would battle back to appear in six of Charlotte’s seven postseason contests).

Through it all, though, the 21-year-old remembered to keep his chin up.

“Obviously, unfortunately this season I had a couple of injuries,” said Sourdif. “But I think it was a big learning experience for me, trying to be a pro. Just working with our strength coach and our trainers to help me get back on track and rehabbing as quickly as possible. They did a tremendous job helping me with that. I think the season - besides the injuries - couldn’t have really gone any better. I came to the rink and worked as hard as I could and tried to learn from our coaching staff every day and tried to improve every day.”

Sourdif is poised to carry that appetite for improvement into a critical offseason ahead of his sophomore campaign.

“The main thing is to try and work on my release more,” said Sourdif of his biggest focus over the summer. “There’s so much less time and space out on the ice, so I think if you have a quick release and an accurate shot it’s definitely an attribute that you want to perfect at this level.”

Sourdif’s rookie campaign may have featured its fair share of highs and lows, but there was enough there to have the coaching staff eagerly eyeing his bright future ahead.

“There’s so much ceiling there,” said Kinnear. “I feel like it was the total package with him. It takes a special individual that plays a gritty, hard game and makes enough plays in the end to be able to win. I feel like Justin has that.”