PLYMOUTH, Mich. -- Brett Berard knows he's never going to make the NHL on size and strength.
The 5-foot-9, 152-pound forward for the USA Hockey National Team Development Program Under-18 team is small even for a League that has started to recognize that bigger isn't always better.
At 17, Berard has discovered more than a few ways to overcome his size on his way to becoming one of the top United States-born prospects for the 2020 NHL Draft at Bell Centre in Montreal on June 26-27. He's No. 36 in NHL Central Scouting's midterm list of North American skaters.
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Berard is third in scoring for the NTDP with 34 points (16 goals, 18 assists) in 41 games. He had a goal and an assist at the 2020 BioSteel All-American Game on Jan. 20, a showcase for the top draft-eligible players from the NTDP against a team of draft-eligible players from the United States Hockey League.
"It's a great accomplishment to be here, but the key is to block out all the distractions and just play your game," Berard said the morning of the game. "If it doesn't go well, I'm going to have a lot more opportunities to show what I can do."
A native of East Greenwich, Rhode Island, Berard's first advantage was genetics. His father, David Berard, was a goalie at Providence College and is coach at Holy Cross.
"As soon as I could walk, he had me on skates," Berard said.
Berard's mother, Lynne, was a college standout in field hockey, so he always seemed destined to have a stick in his hand. But Brett also was a talented center fielder and middle infielder for Bishop Hendricken Catholic High School's varsity team until giving it up to join the NTDP in Plymouth, Michigan.
"It definitely helped with my hockey, because you learn coordination when you hit the ball, and that gets tougher as you get older," he said, "It helps with my hand-eye coordination, when I have to bat a puck out of the air."
Beyond the gift of athletic ability, David Berard introduced his son to high-level competition at an early age, even if it was unofficial.
"That was obviously a huge part of my development," Brett said. "He's been a coach my whole life and whenever we had a day off from school, we would always go to the rink. And even if me and my little brother just wanted to skate around, he would be working on making us better."
At the time, David Berard was an assistant coach at Providence College, which meant Brett got to spend quality time with the players. When he turned 14, things got even better.
"That's when I got to go on the ice and practice with the team," said Brett, who will play at Providence in the fall. "There was no contact, of course, but I was able to skate some of the drills with them."
Playing with bigger, faster players was an obvious help to young Brett's skills, but his immersion in his dad's program also gave him a hockey IQ well beyond his years.
"Being a coach's son meant he came to the NTDP with a solid understanding about how to play the game of hockey," coach Seth Appert said.
Though Berard's parents have been a boon to his career, there's one challenge he's had to face on his own, overcoming his diminutive stature. He didn't have far to look for a role model.
"As an undersized guy, I'm trying to play like (5-9, 181-pound Boston Bruins forward) Brad Marchand," he said. "He doesn't take anything from anyone, no matter how big they are, and he's a great offensive player."
The effect on Berard's game is obvious. He's third on the NTDP with 46 penalty minutes.
"Brett's size means he has to have the drive to have the skills the bigger players don't have and the willingness to take pucks into tough areas in order to do what he needs to do," Appert said. "There are various ways to do it, guys like Theo Fleury (5-6, 182), Johnny Gaudreau (5-9, 165) and Alex DeBrincat (5-7, 165) have shown that, but Brett has a feisty side, so we use tapes of Marchand to work with him.
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