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FEATURE: Doneghey shines light on National Team Development Program

The USNTDP could be where the Blackhawks find their next superstar. Just ask the expert.

by Austin Siegel /

In the stands at the NHL Combine, Blackhawks Head USA Scout Mike Doneghey is ready for an NHL Draft that could be defined by the USNTDP.

Hockey buffs and fans of overly-ambitious acronyms might recognize the USNTDP. However, the program that could make up almost half of this year's NHL lottery picks isn't exactly as well known as Alabama football.  

But there is nobody in the Blackhawks organization who knows the program better than Doneghey.

"History tells us that the majority of those players who get drafted at some point play in the NHL," Doneghey said. "Patrick Kane went through the program, Jacob Trouba went through the program, John Gibson went through the program, the names are endless whether they're first round picks or seventh round picks."

Video: One-on-one: Alex Turcotte

Trevor Zegras, Matthew Boldy, Cole Caufield, Alex Turcotte and Cam York are all expected to be available when the Blackhawks are on the clock with the third pick. If Chicago takes an American skater at all in the first round, the pick is almost guaranteed to be a USNTDP alum.

A former draft pick of the Blackhawks himself, Doneghey lives and works out of his hometown in Boston, just a short plane ride from the program headquarters in Plymouth, Michigan. 

"It makes scouting more efficient, because you have a group of 20 players that you've followed for two to three years," he said. "The program says that these guys are going to play at some point and you have them in your backyard."

The USNTDP competes in the USHL and routinely scrimmages against top college teams. Players live with billet families in Plymouth and receive their schooling through the program. Many players are committed to NCAA powerhouses like Zegras (Boston) or Turcotte (Wisconsin). 

The two-year program culminates with the U-18 World Championships, where the USA took bronze in 2018 after hammering Canada 5-2 in the Third Place Game. 

"These kids are picked at 16-years old, they're the best players in their age group and no other country, Sweden, Canada, Finland, they don't have a program where the kids practice together, work out together, play together for two straight years," Doneghey said. 

While the program is already beginning to pay off for the United States on the international stage, the Blackhawks could be the ones who benefit on Draft night.

Sitting on the first pick without a true consensus selection, assuming Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko are off the board, the Blackhawks will know that the Americans skaters available at #3 have been conditioned at one of the top programs in the sport. 

"It's almost like one-stop shopping," Doneghey said. "You're getting 20 players. This could be the year that they might have every kid on the team drafted. Whether it's the first round, the seventh round or in between."

But for a scout like Doneghey, there are still plenty of decisions left to make. With three weeks before the NHL Draft, even the USNTDP is another puzzle waiting to be solved. 

"It makes life a little bit easier, but in that sense, Hughes is there but then is it Caufield, Boldy, Turcotte, is it Knight, is it Zegras, York, Vlasic?" Doneghey said. "It could change. You could seem them in October and it's XYZ and then it's ZYX."

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