The National Team Development Program was launched by USA Hockey in 1996 and has since been a proving ground for many young Americans looking to show they've got what it takes to carve out a career in the sport.
For the Blackhawks, their Development Camp this week at MB Ice Arena is host to a few high draft picks who chose the USNTDP path as their own.
Video: One-on-one: Jake Wise
"I think the program is probably one of the best places for any U.S. kid to develop," said 2018 third-round pick Jake Wise, who credits the program for helping prepare him for Boston University in the fall.
"I think the way they bring 22 of the best guys from 16 years-old in and they just work you so hard, you're forced to compete with everyone around you," said Wise. "I think that's probably the thing that makes the program work so well. You're always in competition, even if you're not trying to compete with someone you see what they're doing every day. That really helped me on the hockey side."
At Development Camp, Wise is currently rooming with fellow program graduate and future BU teammate Chad Krys, who the Blackhawks selected in the second round of the 2016 draft.
Krys is further along in his development and two years older than Wise, but their experiences of the NTDP are very similar.
"To be honest with you, I think when you get to the development program you're 16 years-old and for me, I was a kid and I had been living at home, going to public school and growing up with the same friends I had in kindergarten," said Krys. "I think for me, it was the first time away from home, first time with new friends and first time really experiencing any sort of adversity."
"Being away from home with the guys really helps you socially," said Wise. "Bonding with the billet family, you have no idea who they are. The way my billet family took me in, I felt right at home. That makes you grow up. Just being with 22 of your best friends. You go in knowing some guys and then by the end of two years, those guys are my brothers. I talk to them almost every day."
Wise credits the Childress family for taking him in, helping him adjust to a new life away from home. Here in Chicago, Wise's NTDP family helped him acclimate to the Blackhawks system. He bonded with those peers before branching out and meeting other prospects from different backgrounds.
"At the beginning, you gravitate towards them because those are the guys you know," said Wise. "But at the end, I think me, Chad and (Evan Barratt) have been trying to bond with everyone."
Barratt left the NTDP last season for Penn State, where he scored 11 goals as a freshman. The 2017 third-round pick is like his counterparts, using that program to prepare him for life outside of it.
"It was a lot of good things, it made me grow up," said Krys. "I had some down times as well as up times. More than anything, what you can get out of it is you can grow up and really feel out whether or not you want to be a professional hockey player."
Krys and Wise are having fun rooming together and joking with one another. Krys cracked the joke on Wednesday that Wise likes hockey a little "too much."
Wise responded with a laugh, "I like hockey, I guess."
Sharing interests and a similar background has allowed friendships to form at Blackhawks Development Camp, and perhaps future chemistry for Krys and Wise.
"You experience some of the same things other guys do," said Krys. "It's definitely a common bond."