Teenage hockey’s traveling circus, better known as USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program (NTDP), took its high-wire hockey magicians to its latest big stage, the NHL Entry Draft in Vancouver this past weekend. An astounding eight first-round draft picks came from this one collection of supreme hockeyists, and all but kingpin Jack Hughes will be coming to the NCAA to ply their trade next season. At first blush, this is great news for the sport, but the benefits are fleeting. More on that later, but first the headliners, future stars going to brand name schools:
Alex Turcotte, the fleet playmaking center. He went fifth overall (L.A.) and will be heading to Wisconsin.
Trevor Zegras, a dynamic wingman with 360-degree vision, was drafted ninth overall (Anaheim) and takes his act to Boston University.
Power forward Matt Boldy (Minnesota Wild, 12th overall) brings his deadly wrist shot and soft hands to Boston College, a short commute from his home in Millis, Massachusetts. He’ll be joined in Chestnut Hill by NTDP teammate Spencer Knight, the first goaltender taken in the draft at No. 13 by Florida.
This was the portion of the first round where the NTDP hijacked NBC Sports Network, as NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman proceeded to call out four consecutive products from The Program, all heading to college this fall. Immaculate defenseman Cam York, a Michigan commit, was snatched up by Philadelphia at 14, and the diminutive scorer Cole Caufield was picked next by Montreal. Four straight first rounders, all impact players who have already faced—and beaten—the best in the NCAA and IIHF.
Caufield, who has been described as the next Alex DeBrincat (41 goals for the Chicago Blackhawks last year), will join his pal Turcotte at Wisconsin. The two snipers combined for five points a game at the NTDP last seasons. Off-ice officials in Madison should check their pens for ink in anticipation of the scoring barrage at the Kohl Center.
The final NTDP first rounder at the 2019 draft was John Beecher, a tall and sturdy center who’s heading to Michigan before getting inked by Boston. The Bruins are counting on Beecher as a top-nine stalwart for the next decade, once he’s done in Ann Arbor.
There they are, the NTDP’s magnificent seven, American hockey’s answer to the Flying Wallendas, scheduled to perform under the biggest tents in NCAA hockey: Boston College, Boston University, Wisconsin, and Michigan. One can hardly blame the sport’s pundits for projecting great success for those schools, institutions filled with dreams of 30-win seasons and NCAA Regional domination. If recent history is any indicator, however, those pundits will be wrong.
Loading up lineups with USA national team studs turns out to be fool’s gold, a recipe for NCAA elimination. No program had more NTDP teen sensations than BU the last three seasons, and yet they never made it to the Frozen Four, failing even to reach the national tournament last year. Ditto for Boston College, although BC still cannot help itself from plucking the best “one-and-done” phenoms from The Program every year. When you walk the halls of USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth Arena, the NTDP’s fortress, you’ll often find BC coach Jerry York coming in and out of meetings with prospects and coaches. Four fresh products of The Program will be repping the Golden Eagle for York this season.
Could all this extraordinary American hockey talent spreading out to college campuses be a bad thing? Certainly not for fans who are asked to shell out $30 per seat; they’re eager to see the next American Olympic and NHL stars in their favorite laundry. They also want their alma mater to compete in this hockey arms race, none more than crosstown rivals BU and BC.
But to the wise men who care about the long-term success of their school’s program, and the health of college hockey in general, it’s a troubling trend. These uber hockey kids have an entire new dimension of distractions from the primary goal of college hockey championships, a factor that rears its ugly head every postseason.