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Montreal Canadiens prospect Tim Bozon speaks to media regarding his expected release from a Saskatoon hospital after falling ill with meningitis at the beginning of March, in Saskatoon on Friday, March 28, 2014.The Canadian Press

Players call it the "beep" test, and it involves a series of ever-quickening wind sprints as the interval between sound cues shortens.

The drill is no one's idea of fun, but Montreal Canadiens prospect Tim Bozon handled it well at the opening of the team's rookie camp, all things considered.

"Did better than last year," he said shortly afterward, sweat dripping from his nose.

Hockey players usually claim to be in the shape of their lives at this time of year. Bozon's achievement is that he can say anything at all, let alone vie for a shot at playing pro.

The 20-year-old is just over five months removed from a life-threatening bout of bacterial meningitis and lengthy medically induced coma that left him, in his words, "half-dead."

"It's changed my life. I'm a different person. I see life differently, that's for sure. When you've been between life and death you can't do otherwise," he said.

"I'm more mature, and it's changed me in that I know this will make me stronger. I've been to hell, and now I'm back."

The return journey required him to relearn how to walk, literally find his voice (extinguished because of the long days spent on a respirator) overcome damage to his short-term memory – he remembers nothing of March 1, the night he took ill in Saskatoon after his Kootenay Ice had played the Blades – and the loss of 40 pounds.

"The good news is at 6 per cent body fat you can eat as much as you want of pretty much anything," joked Bozon, who couldn't fit into any of his pants or shoes for weeks.

It took him nearly a month of intensive physical therapy at home in France to rediscover his balance, and a few more weeks following a fitness routine designed by Pierre Allard, the Habs' strength coach, before he could take a few strides on an ice sheet – his father Philippe, a former NHL player with St. Louis, rented an arena in Nice.

"That was one of the best days of my life, what a feeling. I was like a baby out there … my mom was there, in the stands at the rink, and she was crying because who would have thought I'd be back skating on the ice only three months after almost dying," he said. "I was actually surprised, after five minutes on the ice I felt good, you know? I had a big smile on my face."

Rehabbing generally induces more grimaces than smiles, and Bozon undertook a gruelling fitness routine: twice a day, five days a week, supervised by his doctors and dad.

"I suffered … I live in the south of France near the beach and in five months I didn't go once," he said.

Summers are crucial for hockey prospects. It's a time to pack on muscle and develop their skating ability and skills. While Bozon admits he's effectively lost a stage in his development, he feels ready for the challenge ahead.

His isn't a sympathy invite; the third-round pick already has an NHL entry-level contract, and as a goal-scoring winger is the kind of player the Habs need.

"The team isn't putting any pressure on me, but I also know they're not going to just hand me anything," he said.

Bozon could return to junior as an over-ager this fall, but his preferred destination is the club's minor-league affiliate in Hamilton if he can't crack the NHL lineup – which would be a great story, but is a massive long shot.

Fellow Habs prospect Dalton Thrower, a WHLer who was drafted 13 picks before Bozon in 2012, has become friendly with the former Kootenay and Kamloops winger in the intervening years, and said it was a welcome surprise to see him at camp.

"I think he's an inspiration to everybody," Thrower said.

Bozon doesn't shy away from discussing the events of last March, but he'd plainly prefer the focus to be on hockey.

But bouncing back from a near-death experience that showed him the best the human condition has to offer – Bozon has received thousands of expressions of support, including from NHL players, and spoke movingly of the efforts of both the Kootenay medical staff and Blades officials ("They treated me like I was one of their players," he marvelled) – is something that needs to be dragged to the forefront for at least one day.

He is right, however, to point out he's in camp for hockey reasons.

Bozon's immediate focus is on earning an invitation to the main training camp that opens on Sept. 18. Should he not win one, or eventually be returned to junior – where he has scored 105 goals and 230 points in 203 games – it won't ruin his year.

"At this point," he said, "everything is gravy."