Many of the top 2019 NHL Draft-eligible players representing USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program under-18 team are hoping to win a fifth straight international tournament this week at the Under-18 Five Nations Tournament in Sochi, Russia.
The 2001 birth year group has won four straight events dating back to Oct. 2017. The program had its 18-game winning streak in international events end with a 7-5 loss against Sweden in the opener of the Five Nations Tournament on Wednesday but has a chance to rebound against Finland on Thursday.
Center Jack Hughes (5-foot-10, 168 pounds), No. 1 in NHL Central Scouting’s midterm list of North American skaters, is one of eight players on the NTDP U-18 team projected to be selected in the first round of the 2019 draft. Spencer Knight (6-3, 197), who is 16-2-0 with a 2.38 goals-against average and .921 save percentage in 20 games, is No. 1 among North American goalies.
Hughes, who leads the NTDP with 56 points and 43 assists, didn’t make the trip to Sochi because of a lower-body injury. But there are six other NTDP skaters in the tournament projected to be chosen in the second round, and Cameron Rowe (6-2, 201) is No. 4 in Central Scouting’s midterm list for North American goalies.
“It’s an honor to be with this team and as the years pass, I think that some of what we’ve accomplished will settle in,” said NTDP coach John Wroblewski, who has coached the 2001 birth-year group the past two seasons. “To be honest with you, I’m trying to enjoy every single day with these guys. It really hit me around the new year that there’s only four months left.”
Last season, Wroblewski’s charges finished 7-0 at the 2017 Under-17 Challenge in Dawson Creek, British Columbia; 3-0 at the 2017 Four Nations Tournament in Järvenpää, Finland; and 4-0 at the 2018 Five Nations in Veliky Novgorod, Russia. In November, the U.S. opened its U-18 season by winning all four games to secure first place at the U-18 Five Nations Tournament in Kravare, Czech Republic, outscoring the opposition, 24-7.
“If we’re going to keep that streak going, we’re going to have to earn it coming out of this one,” said Wroblewski, whose team plays four games in four days. “If it falls, then we’ve got a learning experience and we’ll adjust from it. We won’t compromise our process to keep the streak alive.
“Is there pressure on this group? Yes. But it’s pressure we put on ourselves on a daily basis to be our best. We’ll continue to be that four-line team, relying on every guy to do it because that’s what international hockey is truly about.”
Here are the six other skaters playing for the NTDP U-18 team projected as first-round picks in the 2019 draft (listed according to ranking by NHL Central Scouting):
Alex Turcotte (No. 5 in Central Scouting’s midterm list), C: The 5-foot-11, 189-pound left-handed shot has been one of his team’s driving forces, according to Wroblewski. Turcotte has 23 points (11 goals, 12 assists) in 13 games since returning Dec. 15 (22 games missed) from a lower-body injury. He’ll attend the University of Wisconsin in 2020-21.
Matthew Boldy (No. 6), LW: Boldy (6-1, 187), who will attend Boston College next season, has an excellent release, accurate shot and is a creative thinker who can manufacture scoring chances for himself and his linemates. He has 45 points (21 goals, 24 assists) in 39 games. He competes hard every shift and plays a strong 200-foot game.
Trevor Zegras (No. 7), C: The left-handed shot finds the seams and knows when to shoot; he ranks second on the team with 55 points (16 goals, 39 assists) in 38 games. Zegras (6-0, 166), who will attend Boston University next season, can play center or wing.
Cameron York (No. 12), D: York (5-11, 171), committed to play for the University of Michigan next season, has good hands, is elusive and can run the power play. He has 30 points (six goals, 24 assists) and a plus-19 rating in 38 games.
Cole Caufield (No. 15), RW: Jack Hughes called Caufield one of the best pure goal-scorers of this draft class. The 5-7, 155-pound right-handed shot, who will attend the University of Wisconsin next season, leads the NTDP with 34 goals, 10 power-play goals, and 165 shots on goal, and is third with 52 points.
Alex Vlasic (No. 25), D: Vlasic (6-6, 193) is considered by Wroblewski a future franchise-type NHL defenseman because of his reach, fluidity, and footwork for a player of his size. Committed to Boston University next season, Vlasic, who is a left-handed shot, has 19 points (four goals, 15 assists) in 37 games.