Historic NHL draft class drives U.S. quest for gold at worlds

Mark Falkner
The Detroit News

The most successful draft class in the 23-year history of the National Team Development Program in Plymouth will help drive the American quest for gold at next week's Under-20 World Junior Championship in the Czech Republic from Dec. 26-Jan. 5. 

A record eight players from last year's NTDP were taken in the first round at the 2019 NHL Draft in Vancouver. Six of those players made the preliminary 26-man roster.

Team USA's Alec Regula (23) and Christian Krygier (74) watch practice at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth in preparation for the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship.

"It's one of the advantages we have here," said forward Cole Caufield, who was selected 15th overall by the Montreal Canadiens after scoring a record 72 goals last year and 127 career goals in two years.

"We have a good close-knit group of guys who have already had a lot of success together. Hopefully, we can bring that energy over there, create our own identity and play in that last game of the tournament."

Cole Caufield

Caufield, who leads all NCAA freshmen this year with 12 goals in 18 games at the University of Wisconsin, says the NTDP graduates are already prepared to take on whatever roles are needed to win.

"One of the hardest parts of playing in the program for most kids is adapting to a different role," Caufield said. "Every guy who comes here was the best player on their team, played a lot of minutes, was on the power play and basically did everything.

"Here it's about winning and developing, accepting your role and doing it to the best of your abilities. The teams that do that best in this tournament seem to have the most success."

Team USA has had a lot of recent success at the U20 world championships. For the first time, the team won four-straight medals, including a silver medal last year, a gold medal in 2017 and bronze medals in 2016 and 2018.

Trevor Zegras was drafted in the first round (ninth overall) by the Anaheim Ducks.

"I can remember how excited I was when they won the gold medal a few years ago, cheering and jumping around," said Anaheim Ducks prospect Trevor Zegras, who finished second on the team last year with 61 assists playing alongside Caufield and No. 1 overall pick Jack Hughes.

"Growing up, this was almost a tradition to watch this tournament around Christmas time. I think it's a little easier going to these international tournaments if you know each other and have that figured out."

The other NTDP first-round draft picks who traveled overseas on Wednesday to Ostrava were goalie Spencer Knight (Boston College/Florida Panthers), defenseman Cam York (Michigan/Philadelphia Flyers) and forwards John Beecher (Michigan/Boston Bruins) and Alex Turcotte (Wisconsin/L.A. Kings).

The roster also features four players with local ties, including Novi's Christian Krygier (Michigan State/N.Y. Islanders), West Bloomfield's Alec Regula (London Knights/Chicago Blackhawks), Western Michigan's Mattias Samuelsson (NTDP/Buffalo Sabres) and Northville's Nick Robertson (Peterborough Petes/Toronto Maple Leafs).

The U.S. will play pre-tournament games on Sunday against Sweden and Monday against the German team, which features Red Wings' first-round draft choice Moritz Seider. The U.S. opens the tournament the day after Christmas against Canada with two Detroit draft picks in the lineup, defenseman Jared McIsaac and forward Joe Veleno.

Team USA general manager John Vanbiesbrouck and coach Scott Sandelin are expected to trim the roster to 23 players by Dec. 24. One of the three cuts on Wednesday was forward Robert Mastrosimone, a second-round pick by the Red Wings and Zegras' teammate at Boston University.

Robert Mastrosimone

"Our ultimate goal is winning a gold medal," said Vanbiesbrouck, the assistant executive director of hockey operations for USA Hockey.

USA Hockey will also host the Under-18 World Junior Championships in Plymouth and Ann Arbor from April 16-26, 2020.

"That's the best tournament I've ever played in," Caufield said.

The U.S. has medaled in a record 16 consecutive tournaments, including seven gold medals in the past 10 years. Among the top NHL players who have played in the tournament are Dylan Larkin, Auston Matthews, Patrick Kane, Connor McDavid, Alexander Ovechkin and Nikita Kucherov.

Tickets went on sale last month at the USA Hockey Arena box office and online at: usahockeyarena.com/U18mensworlds.

Under-20 World Junior Championship 

Dec. 26, 2019-Jan. 5, 2020

(Ostrava and Trinec in the Czech Republic)

►Dec. 26: U.S. vs Canada in Ostrava

►Dec. 27: U.S. vs. Germany in Ostrava

►Dec. 29: U.S. vs. Russia in Ostrava

►Dec. 30: U.S. vs. Czech Republic in Ostrava

►Jan. 2: Quarterfinals, TBA

►Jan. 4: Semifinals in Ostrava

►Jan. 5: Bronze medal game in Ostrava

►Jan. 5: Gold medal game in Ostrava

Under-18 World Junior Championship

April 16-26, 2020

(Plymouth and Ann Arbor)

►April 16: U.S. vs. Russia in Plymouth

►April 17: U.S. vs. Germany in Plymouth

►April 19: U.S. vs. Czech Republic in Plymouth

►April 21: U.S. vs. Finland in Plymouth

►April 23: Quarterfinals, TBA

►April 25: Semifinals in Plymouth

►April 26: Bronze medal game in Plymouth

►April 26: Gold medal game in Plymouth