Devils prospect Miles Wood already making the most of his opportunity to represent U.S. in world championship. (Photo: Getty Images)
What a difference a year makes.
Last season, Miles Wood played 17 games for Noble & Greenough - a prep school in Massachusetts. This year, he was nearly a point-per-game player at Boston College, played in the Frozen Four, signed his first professional contract with the New Jersey Devils - who drafted him in the fourth round of the 2013 NHL Draft, played in his first professional game and now finds himself wearing the red, white and blue at the 2016 IIHF World Championship in Russia.
While this is by far the most hockey the 20-year-old has ever played in one season, Wood wouldn't have it any other way. Having represented Team USA at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship last season, he told his advisor in September that it was his goal to play in this tournament.
"I saw Jack [Eichel] and [Dylan] Larkin play last year after their freshman season and it gave me hope that maybe I could earn the opportunity too. So it was a goal right from the start," he explained.
When he got word of his invitation, he was excited for another opportunity to put the USA jersey on again, but also to see where he stood among some of the best hockey players the world has to offer.
"I am definitely more aware of how fast these guys are here," Wood said. "Your time and space is definitely not the same as college. You definitely have to know where you want to go with the puck before you even have it. The guys are just so much faster and stronger, so I have to be smart and use my speed and strength to my advantage."
The guys are just so much faster and stronger, so I have to be smart and use my speed and strength to my advantage. - Miles Wood
According to New Jersey Devils and Team USA head coach John Hynes, that's not something Wood struggles with.
"His speed and size are two things that standout right away because when he has the opportunity to use them, they're difference makers in the game," he said of the 6-1, 185-pound winger. "Sometimes when you make the transition to pro hockey it's difficult to get players to use their assets, but he has done a great job with it. He's physical and strong on pucks and he plays at a very high pace.
"He's very coachable and has a strong work ethic" Hynes continued. "He seems like one of those kids that whatever level he's playing at, he can figure it out pretty quick and adjust his game to best use his attributes."
Wood is not only embracing the opportunity to wear the red, white and blue once again, but also to show the Devils' head coach and management what he's capable of at this level.
"I definitely lucked out with John Hynes being the coach here and Ray Shero will be here as well, so it's a good showcase opportunity for me," Wood said. "My role for the next few years is definitely going to change. It's not going to be the same as college and I'm prepared for that. Overall, it's doing the small things well and making sure Coach Hynes has trust in me in the d-zone and hopefully from there I can do more offensively like I did in college, but it starts with doing all the small things."
So far, he's making the most of the opportunity.
"We're really happy as an organization that he is here because he's getting pro experience playing with and against really good players and, of course, having the opportunity to work with him. It's been great," said Hynes. "When you look at his personality, he's outgoing and has a lot of energy and that's how he plays."
Now that he scored his first international goal in Saturday's game against Belarus - a 6-3 win for the Americans - he's feeling some confidence and sees the team coming together more and more every day as they work towards their common goal.
"It's a great group. We're pretty tight and it's really fun to play for each other," he said. "I'm still super excited to be here and I'm going to do everything I can to help this team win gold."