Defenseman Jacob Trouba of the U.S. National Team Development Program Under-18 team expected his draft year not only to be exciting, but challenging.
Part of those exciting challenges featured Trouba representing his country at the 2012 World Junior Championship in Edmonton and Calgary in January, and then getting to win his second straight gold medal at the World Under-18 Championship in the Czech Republic in April.
The 6-foot-2, 193-pound native of Rochester, Mich., was the youngest player on the U.S. WJC team that finished seventh, but coach Dean Blais had nothing but praise for Trouba, who had two assists in six games.
"He skates well, is physical, he moves the puck, and communicates pretty well on the ice," Blais said. "He doesn't make a whole lot of mistakes, and he's just going to get better and better."
He did just that, totaling nine goals and 22 assists in 50 games for the USNTDP, and was ranked ninth among North American skaters in NHL Central Scouting's final rankings. After captaining the U-17 team last season, Trouba and top 2013 Draft prospect Seth Jones were co-captains of the U-18 team this season.
Trouba never backed away from a challenge, either, as was the case March 15, when another top 2012 draft prospect, Zemgus Girgensons of the Dubuque Fighting Saints, decided to square off against Trouba during a regular-season United States Hockey League game.
The results weren't favorable for Girgensons.
"From where he was last year as an underage player to where he is now, he's developed physically and has even passed some players his age," Central Scouting's Jack Barzee told NHL.com. "He's very mature and pretty close to what he's going to be [in the NHL] ... he's got confidence, tenacity, combativeness and leadership qualities."
Trouba has taken all the positive attention in stride.
"This year was a pretty exciting one for me with all the tournaments I got to play in and you just kind of take what you learn from all of them and try to use and remember it because you're only going to do it a couple of times in your life," Trouba told NHL.com. "I don't want to get caught up in all the draft stuff and worry about the rankings because that doesn't really change how I play or how good I am ... it's just what people think."
As a youngster learning the game, Trouba always played defense. He recalls wanting to receive more ice time, and in order for that to happen, had to play the back end because everyone wanted to be the big-time goal-scorer. He said playing every third shift benefited him.
Today, Trouba is considered very highly by NHL scouts and general managers. He's the top-rated U.S.-based player, and fifth among defensemen in what is considered a remarkably deep crop of blueliners.
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"There are all kinds of stories of guys that are thought of who will be really high and then you have to live up to those expectations, they naturally fall off," Central Scouting's David Gregory said. "With Trouba, he stepped in and showed leadership, showed unbelievable skill and ability to lug the puck, defend and be tough. So he's a complete package-type defenseman who skates so well that he'll make someone very happy in this draft."
"He's a bigger hitter than Yandle," Gregory said.
Trouba will play next season at the University of Michigan and already has a major in mind -- kinesiology. The Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League hold his Canadian Hockey League rights, but Trouba said he has no intention of giving up college, unlike recent draft picks who picked the CHL over the NCAA.
"Jacob is big and strong both offensively and defensively," Cole said. "He plays the game right and is a solid leader. He's a complete player and will be a good one for a long time. I think he's probably as close as any other 17- or 18-year-old being able to play [in the NHL], but I think the smarter organizations take a little bit more time, especially with defensemen and goalies. Teams might have to be a little conservative, but he's darn close."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale