2012 Draft Class: Jacob Trouba
USA U-18 defenceman ranks ninth among North American Skaters by CSS
NHL Central Scouting Services has eight ranked in the Top 12 among North American Skaters, giving this year's crop a chance to surpass 1996's surplus when six blueliners -- including No. 1 overall pick Chris Phillips -- were chosen in the Top 10.
It's a mixed bag of size, skill and high-end potential, but one stands out among the rest.
While most patrol the line with CHL clubs, Jacob Trouba is a unique breed. The 18-year-old rearguard has spent the past two seasons with the United States Development Team, posting nine goals and 32 points in 2011-12 with the program's U-18 squad.
He hasn't done it alone, mind you. 12 USHL teammates, including centre Stefan Matteau (featured here) will also be making the trek to the 2012 Scouting Combine, which goes all week in Toronto, ON.
"It's a pretty tough program," Trouba said, noting the league's intense on- and off-ice development system. "You're not going to make it through if you don't really love hockey. I don't think there's a better place to be if you do, but it's not for everyone. There are hard times and days where it's really tough, but it makes you better as a player and as a person.
"It's pretty cool to go through it all with the guys. It's been a fun experience so far and we're all soaking it in."
Anaheim's Cam Fowler also anchored the blueline on the United States Development Team in 2008-09, scoring eight goals and 40 points before making the move to the OHL -- and a Memorial Cup Championship with Windsor -- the next season.
"I don't play anything like him," he laughed. "But it's nice to have similar numbers. I play more like Jack Johnson (Columbus Blue Jackets)."
Trouba's progression and top-end ability has spurred opportunity at the international level, too. The 6'2", 193-pound rearguard was the youngest US player at the 2012 World Junior Championship in Edmonton and Calgary. And while that tournament didn't result in any hardware, he helped Team USA capture gold at the U-18 World Championship in the Czech Republic in April -- his second straight gold medal at that tournament.
"It's been really awesome," Trouba said of his decorated red, white and blue, world-stage accomplishments. "You get to play against other countries' best players. Getting the chance to represent my country is pretty cool, and I'll never get tired of wearing the Team USA colours. It's something I love doing and hope to continue to do throughout my career, wherever it takes me.
"It's obviously helped in my development, too, and I think I'm a much better player because of it."
It's the international stage where the Michigan product has properly honed his two-way skill-set. While Trouba's production on the scoresheet is a valued commodity, his bone-crunching physical edge and smooth stride is what separates him into an elite-level class of potential.
Oh, and a point shot that resembles a cruise missile doesn't hurt, either. All things considered, it's a body of work that mirrors one of the NHL's best.
"I love watching Shea Weber (Nashville Predators) play," he said. "Not only the goals and assists, but I like seeing how he hits and how mean he is on the ice. It's something I try to incorporate into my own game.
"Being a hard, physical presence is a big part of how I play. That's something I'm proud of and will continue to develop, because it's going to become even more important at the next level."
That, along with quickness and mobility had been keyed on during the all-encompassing sessions with the US Development Team. During a player's U-17 season, weights and workouts dominate the agenda as their weaknesses are sharpened in preparation for a larger on-ice component when they're older.
In combination with summer training and a strict development plan between the boards, Trouba is a more well-rounded athlete. He credits much of that to the USDT's relentless work in helping carve the proper path to a pro career.
"I've improved a lot over the past year," he explained. "It all started with the summer workouts that Darryl (Nelson, Strength and Conditioning Coach) gave us at Hockey USA. It was a pretty hard summer, because I was working at getting stronger and to become a better skater. I knew that was one thing I'd have to get better at. It's really helped me and I couldn't ask for a better situation to have been in."
Once the program is over, players move on -- either to their respective NHL clubs or to another league in which development is in high priority.
While destined to be a high-end selection at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft in Pittsburgh, Trouba has committed to the University of Michigan for next season. But it won't be long until he makes some noise, knocking on the National Hockey League's door as he locks his sights on an open spot.
"I'm going to take it year-by-year," he laughed. "Once I'm done at Michigan, we'll see where I'm at. When I'm ready to make the move (to the NHL), I'll make it."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow @ryandittrick