Spencer Knight and Cole Caufield sharpened their skills by going head-to-head every day in practice with USA Hockey's National Team Development Program the past two seasons.
Now they've moved to the next level, with Knight a goalie at Boston College and Caufield a forward at the University of Wisconsin. The two freshmen will compete against each other when their schools play at Conte Forum in Boston on Friday.
"We've been circling that game on our calendar since last year,'' Caufield said.
Knight and Caufield have more in common than just their NTDP background. Each was a first-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, with Knight going to the Florida Panthers at No. 13 and Caufield to the Montreal Canadiens two picks later. In fact, five of the first 16 picks from the 2019 draft are freshman who are expected to play in the game, as well as a player who could be a first-round selection in the 2020 NHL Draft.
Knight and Caufield are part of a bumper crop of high-profile NHL prospects who are entering the college game this season.
Here are a dozen freshmen to watch, including Knight and Caufield. All but one were chosen in the 2019 NHL Draft.
Alex Turcotte, C, University of Wisconsin
Drafted No. 5 by the Los Angeles Kings, Turcotte (5-foot-11, 185 pounds) had 62 points (27 goals, 25 assists) in 37 games for the NTDP U-18 team last season despite injuries and illness. "He's fast, he's strong, he's competitive," Knight said. "So many tools in his toolbox. When he drives the net, it's hard to stop him.''
Trevor Zegras, C, Boston University
Selected No. 9 by Anaheim Ducks in the first round, Zegras (6-0, 169) is a superb playmaker. The center set up a power-play goal in the season-opening win at Union.
Matthew Boldy, C, Boston College
Quick hands and good vision are Boldy's strengths. Drafted by the Minnesota Wild at No. 12, he (6-2, 196) should be a good fit at BC.
Spencer Knight, G, Boston College
Knight (6-3, 192) has all the tools and has been touted as the best American goalie prospect since Tom Barrasso, who won the Stanley Cup twice with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Cameron York, D, Michigan
York (5-11, 175) showed off his vaunted offensive skill by scoring twice in Michigan's exhibition win against the University of Windsor on Sunday. He was selected No. 14 by Philadelphia Flyers.
Cole Caufield, F, Wisconsin
After scoring 72 goals last season, Caufield (5-7, 162) picked up where he left off, scoring a hat trick in an exhibition game against the University of British Columbia. "He gets his shot off very quick and it's very accurate, too," Knight said of the right wing. "He puts it where he wants to put it.''
Alex Newhook, C, Boston College
Newhook (5-10, 190), who led the British Columbia Hockey League in scoring with 102 points (38 goals, 64 assists) last season, was selected No. 16 by the Colorado Avalanche.
John Beecher, C, Michigan
Selected No. 30 by the Boston Bruins, Beecher (6-3, 210) was overshadowed by higher-profile forwards with the NTDP. Boston is hoping the center's offensive game blossoms at college.
Ryan Johnson, D, Minnesota
Johnson (6-0, 170) was drafted No. 31 by the Buffalo Sabres. Johnson's father, Craig, played 11 NHL seasons with five teams.
Shane Pinto, C, North Dakota
Pinto (6-2, 192) was drafted in the second round (No. 32) by the Ottawa Senators. He scored 59 points (28 goals and 31 assists) in 56 games last season with Lincoln and Tri-City in the United States Hockey League.
Jayden Struble, D, Northeastern
Struble (6-0, 194) was drafted in the second round (No. 46) by the Montreal Canadiens out of St. Sebastian's, the Massachusetts prep school that has produced NHL players Noah Hanifin and Brian Boyle.
Dylan Holloway, C, Wisconsin
Eligible for the 2020 NHL Draft, the center (6-0, 192) is the only NCAA player to earn an A-rating in NHL Central Scouting's Preliminary Players To Watch List for 2020, which was released this week.