PLYMOUTH, Mich. -- The World Junior Summer Showcase can be a stressful time for players trying to make an impression in their first step toward making their country's team for the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship in the Czech Republic from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5.
But for 12 players who skated for the USA Hockey National Team Development Program Under-18 team last season, the setting at USA Hockey Arena had a familiar feel. The building had been their home rink for the past two seasons.
"I feel like I'm right at home, like I never even left," said defenseman Cameron York, who was selected by the Philadelphia Flyers with the No. 14 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. "Good to be back, back with all those guys. It's been a lot of fun."
After they spent most of the past two seasons together, the three months since the end of the 2019 IIHF World Under-18 Championship in April until now was the longest most of them had been apart.
"Being able to see the guys again, we were such a tight team," forward John Beecher (Boston Bruins) said. "Having to leave those guys was tough. To be able to just hang out with them in the hotel or the locker room has been awesome."
Video: Bruins draft F John Beecher No. 30
Their reunion started when the WJSS began Friday.
"When I saw them again, I was really happy," forward Alex Turcotte (Los Angeles Kings) said. "I haven't seen a lot of them since the draft, prior to that since the end of the [World U-18s]. Just to be around them, we didn't miss a beat. It's cool to be back with them. Makes you feel more comfortable too, ease your way in."
Turcotte looked plenty comfortable his first three games with three points (one goal, two assists). He stood out centering the top line for the USA Blue split-squad team with Joel Farabee (Flyers) and NTDP teammate Cole Caufield (Montreal Canadiens).
"I think craftiness is a word for that line I like," U.S. general manager John Vanbiesbrouck said. "Joel is so crafty with the puck, so poised. They all bring an element. But what we see in Turcotte is a real true center who can deliver."
Also standing out has been Beecher, who has used his size (6-foot-3, 210 pounds), reach and speed to score three goals in three games, including two in 33 seconds during the third period of a 7-1 win for USA Blue in a split-squad game against Finland on Sunday.
"Beecher is a very impressive young man," Vanbiesbrouck said. "His speed is a huge factor to his game. It looks effortless out there. The things about his game that have come through are a little bit of a scoring touch. ... He's a good hockey player, he's using his smarts, he's using his speed. Wants to make the team and we're seeing that."
Seeing so many familiar faces has helped Beecher feel comfortable and play his best.
"You're always on your toes in a setting like this, you want to be ready to go at all times," he said. "You're fighting for a spot. But at the same time, it does allow you to settle in a little easier and make the transition."
Forward Matthew Boldy (Minnesota Wild) also said he felt better knowing he's shared the WJSS experience with so many friends.
Video: Boldy on strength of USNTDP showing at 2019 NHL Draft
"Definitely have a comfortability level having a lot of guys from our team," he said. "Having them, knowing how they play, being in the rink, you feel a little bit more comfortable. Makes things easier to adjust."
Though the players have tried avoiding the subject, they understand the WJSS could be the last time so many of them are in the same place at the same time. Center Jack Hughes, who led the NTDP with 112 points (34 goals, 78 points) in 50 games and was the No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft, was not invited to the WJSS because it's assumed he'll be with the New Jersey Devils when the WJC starts. And Monday, five players from the NTDP, forward Owen Lindmark (Florida Panthers) and defensemen Drew Helleson (Colorado Avalanche), Case McCarthy (Devils), Alex Vlasic (Chicago Blackhawks) and Marshall Warren (Wild), were among the 13 cut from the roster.
That left York, Beecher, Boldy, Turcotte, Caufield, goalie Spencer Knight (Panthers) and forward Trevor Zegras (Anaheim Ducks) to enjoy their final time together in this large a group. After the WJSS ends, Beecher and York will head to the University of Michigan; Caufield and Turcotte to the University of Wisconsin, along with Lindmark; Zegras, Vlasic and McCarthy to Boston University; and Knight and Boldy, plus Helleson and Warren, to Boston College.
"We're definitely enjoying it as much as we possibly can," York said. "We're not going to have a position like this again. Just trying to enjoy it and have fun with this whole process."