Plymouth-based program steals spotlight, smashes record for first-round NHL Draft picks
It took a dozen picks for the United States National Team Development Program to set a new team record.
The program of elite American hockey talent, which is located in Plymouth, never had more than three players selected in the first round of the NHL Draft until Friday.
The old record was set in 2014, led by the Detroit Red Wings’ selection of Dylan Larkin, but it was shattered on Friday when seven players were taken before the midway mark of the draft, which is being held in Vancouver. Eight in total ended up being taken in the first round.
“I don’t think words can grasp how we’re feeling here,” NTDP Under-18 head coach John Wroblewski said. “It’s the culmination of a lot of effort from a lot of different people.
“All of these kids ended up in the appropriate spots and they place the went were huge beneficiaries.”
It all started with the New Jersey Devils, who made center Jack Hughes the fifth player to go through the NTDP program in its 22-year history the first overall in the NHL Draft and the eighth American ever taken with the top pick.
“Obviously, going first overall, that was a dream of mine,” Hughes said. “I’m just excited to be part of the organization now.”
The 5-foot-10, 171-pound Hughes finished his two-year career NTDP with a program record 228 points in 110 games, which breaks the previous mark of 189 points set by former NHL first-round pick Clayton Keller.
“I’m so excited to be a part of that organization,” Hughes said of the Devils. “Just really fired up right now. It’s a surreal feeling. It’s unbelievable everything you work for and I’m really just blessed to be around the people I am.”
Hughes was off to interviews when NTDP teammate Alex Turcotte went to the Los Angeles Kings with the fifth pick overall.
Turcotte (5-11, 186) has battled injuries, but still finished with 27 goals and 62 points in 37 games for the program. His 1.68 points per game was second on the team to Hughes, who averaged 2.24 points per game.
The son of former NHLer Alfie Turcotte, who was a first-round pick by the Montreal Canadiens in 1983, is scheduled to attend the University of Wisconsin in the fall.
The 2018-19 team tied the program record by pick No. 9 when the Anaheim Ducks took center Trevor Zegras.
Zegras (6-foot, 173) was third in team scoring this season with 26 goals and 87 points in 60 games and is scheduled to attend Boston University in the fall.
The new record for the program came with the 12th overall pick when the Minnesota Wild took left-winger Matthew Boldy.
Boldy (6-2, 196), who is headed to Boston College, is known to play a hard 200-foot game and had 33 goals and 81 points in 64 games with the program.
He showed his two-way ability by leading the team with four short-handed goals and was second on the club with 10 power-play goals.
Boldy was the first of four straight picks for the program. With the next pick, the Florida Panthers grabbed goaltender Spencer Knights. Knight (6-3, 193) is the first goalie to go in first round of the NHL Draft since Andrei Vasilevskiy went No. 19 to Tampa Bay in 2012.
With the 14th pick, the Philadelphia Flyers took defenseman Cameron York from the NTDP. York (5-11, 172) had 14 goals and 65 points in 63 games for the program and is headed to the University of Michigan in the fall.
Then, diminutive Cole Caufield was the seventh program player to go when he was scooped up by the Montreal Canadiens at No. 15.
The only knock on Caufield is his 5-7, 170-pound frame, but he has been a scoring machine for the program with a team record 126 goals in 123 games and is also headed to the University of Wisconsin.
Caufield, who got a hug from Hughes on the draft floor, is also headed to the University of Wisconsin in the fall.
The American run at the draft continued with the 18th pick as the Dallas Stars took Syracuse, New York, native Thomas Harley. A 6-3, 193-pound defenseman, Harley plays in the Ontario Hockey League with the Mississauga Steelheads.
Denver native Nolan Foote, who played for Kelowna in the Western Hockey League, went to the Lightning with the 27th pick in the first round. The 6-3, 187-pound forward is the son of two-time Stanley Cup champion Adam Foote, and his older brother Cal Foote was selected 14th overall by Tampa Bay in the 2017 NHL Draft.
The NTDP extended its record to eight picks in the first round when the Boston Bruins selected forward John Beecher with the 30th pick. Beecher (6-3, 212) is also headed to the University of Michigan in the fall.
And, after starting the draft with an American, the first round came to a close with the 11th player from the United States being selected as the Buffalo Sabres took defenseman Ryan Johnson.
Jim Parker is a freelance writer.