For the past two years, the U.S. National Team Developmental Program had been working toward winning a gold medal at the IIHF U-18 World Championships this year.
The mission was accomplished, in overtime, against Finland.
But the byproduct of the two-year journey was creating a roster of NHL prospects.
Nine players from that team were at the NHL Combine.
“It definitely makes it a little more comfortable,” Jack Rosolvic said of having eight of his teammates with him in Buffalo. “We’re all competitors. There’s really no bad blood either between any of us. We’ve been doing it for the past two years so it’s fun and we definitely all compete. We’re all 18 year olds, a lot of testosterone, a lot of competitiveness, so it’s good.”
The year-round training program was launched by USA Hockey in 1996 and is based in Ann Arbor, Mich., playing regular season games in the USHL along with exhibitions against college teams. The USNTDP has had 246 players drafted in the NHL including 51st round picks. Overall No. 1 picks Patrick Kane (2007), Erik Johnson (2006) and Rick DiPietro (2000) are alums of the program.
“Every practice you’ve got to be good,” Caleb Jones said of playing for the team. “You’ve got to get used to getting beat and trying to get better. We had so many good forwards and everybody on the ice is competitive and good. Even in practices you’re always improving and in the weight room we push each other. I think it was huge for my career.”