The USA Hockey National Team Development Program (NTDP) in Plymouth, Michigan is nationally renowned for cranking out high draft pick after high draft pick, and for good reason.
There have been five players from the program picked No. 1 overall in the NHL draft — Jack Hughes, Patrick Kane, Auston Matthews, Rick Dipietro and Erik Johnson. Every player that goes to the program has nothing but fantastic things to say about how it helped mold them both on and off the ice.
I thought I’d take some time to look at what some of the most well-known alumni had to say about the program and the effect it had on their growth as a player.
Seth Jones, an Arlington, Texas native was selected No. 4 overall in the 2013 Draft by the Nashville Predators. He spent two years at the NTDP before heading to Portland to play for the Winterhawks of the WHL.
Not shortly after, he headed to Nashville for his debut.
Jones played immediately in his rookie season for Nashville, scoring 25 points in 77 games. He was later traded at the deadline in 2015-16 to the Columbus Blue Jackets. He has tallied 258 points in 524 games in his career between the two teams, and has been named an All-Star in each of the past four seasons.
He credited much of his progression in the league to his time in Plymouth, and he said that he was grateful for the experience.
“(The NTDP) helped me a ton,” said Jones. “I went there to develop on and off the ice, and we’d work out really hard there, and I came out of there weighing 20, 25 pounds heavier after two years. That was my main goal when I went there, and it happened, and that definitely played a huge part in my career. I’m very thankful I went there.”
Patrick Kane spent two years in Plymouth from 2004-06, tallying 172 points. He currently ranks third all-time amongst Team USA alumni in goals scored with 84, behind Cole Caufield (126) and Phil Kessel (104).
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He was later drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks first overall and has scored 938 points (356 goals, 582 assists) in 903 career games in the league. At 31-years old, Kane has been named an All-Star nine times, and is a three-time Stanley Cup Champion. He has also won the Hart, Conn Smythe, Art Ross and Ted Lindsay trophies.
Kane said getting a chance to play for a great coach at the program and having fantastic teammates really helped him to progress as a player and taught him what it took to be a pro.
“I was lucky and fortunate enough to play for John Hynes at that time, played with some great players like Erik Johnson and Peter Mueller, Phil Kessel and Jack Johnson — I had a really great time there,” Kane said. “I think, looking back, it couldn’t have worked out any better for me to go to that program for two years — become more mature in my body and learn a lot about how the game should be played to get yourself to the next level. I was very fortunate to be selected to the program there, and I think it had a huge impact on my development.”
Hughes, selected first overall in the 2019 NHL Draft by the New Jersey Devils had two of the best years the program had ever seen. He scored a whopping 112 points in his second year there.
He scored 21 points in 61 games in his rookie year for the Devils this past season.
Hughes, an Orlando, Fla. native, remembered the first time he had a chance to visit the program, and spoke about when he knew that he wanted to be a part of it.
“I skated twice with Quinn and the practices were unbelievable, so uptempo, all-skill workouts, all about getting better,” Hughes said. I liked the life away from the arena, too. I went back to the house where Quinn was billeting with Brady Tkachuk. I saw that this was a place where you’d make lifelong friends, just a really positive place. I could tell I’d be comfortable here.”
Zegras, who has just recently signed his entry-level contract with the Anaheim Ducks, was selected No. 9 overall in the 2019 Draft.
Spending two years in Plymouth, he had a sensational second year for the team, scoring 87 points in 60 games before he headed to Boston University for a year. In his one season at Boston U this past year, he scored 36 points in 33 games.
Zegras listed off some of the stars that have come through the program and spoke about how watching them helped him to further his development as a player.
“Patrick Kane, Auston Matthews, Clayton Keller, guys who have come through the program,” Zegras said. “It’s hard not to watch those guys because they’re so talented. Watching the stuff they do, how they play the game and how they see the ice, it’s really fun to watch. I definitely model my game after those guys.”
Matthews was selected No. 1 overall in the 2016 Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs, and has taken the NHL by storm since he left the NTDP.
In Plymouth, Matthews scored 117 points in his second year at the program. After he left, he headed to Switzerland for a season with the ZSC Lions, where he scored 46 points in 36 games.
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As a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs, he started off his career with a four-goal game in Ottawa. He has since scored 205 points in 211 games for the Leafs in his three years with the team.
Back in 2016, he spoke about what it meant to be able to play at the program, and that he had talked with some of the alumni to prepare him for what was to come.
“It’s always an honor to put on the USA jersey,” Matthews said. “It’s been an incredible year this year. It’s been a fun experience for myself as well as my family. I try to learn from a lot of people. Jack [Eichel] went through similar things last year, so I talk to he and Dylan Larkin throughout the year.”
Eichel, selected No. 2 overall in the 2015 Draft by the Buffalo Sabres has been one of the best centers in all of hockey since he arrived to the league. He was a part of the Team USA program for two years from 2012-14 and tallied 87 points in 53 games with the team.
He then went to Boston University for a year and tallied 71 points in 40 games for the Terriers, winning the Hobey Baker award. He has since recorded 337 points in 354 games in the NHL, and has been as an All-Star each of the past three seasons.
Eichel spoke in an interview back in 2014 about his experience in Plymouth and how he made great friends in his time there.
“Every day, you create a moment with your teammates,” he said. “I know our time is winding down in Ann Arbor, and it’s hard to think we only have so much time left. I live with [U18 defenseman] Brandon Fortunato, and we were talking about this the other day, how much we are going to miss being here. We never will make a bond like the one we have right now. These are my 22 best friends — my 22 brothers. I have never become closer to anyone. Leaving here, I know I’ll miss them all, but we will stay in touch.
James van Riemsdyk
Van Riemsdyk attended Christian Brothers Academy in New Jersey for a year before he headed to the program in 2006. He had a solid, but not spectacular year, scoring 38 points in 30 games, but was selected No. 2 overall by the Philadelphia Flyers.
He then headed to the University of New Hampshire for two years. In Durham, he totaled 74 points in 67 games, starting to solidify himself as a top prospect in hockey. In 2009-10, he headed to the NHL for good and has scored 481 points in the league in 741 games with the Flyers and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Van Riemsdyk in an interview in 2017 praised USA Hockey for the level of consistency that they have had in their goal of getting their players to the NHL.
“It’s something for us to be proud of, myself and the other guys who were part of that, and it speaks volumes to the job USA Hockey has done growing the game,” van Riemsdyk said. “Back then, it was a major milestone, and now it’s become the norm, which I think is pretty cool. Just to keep pushing the envelope is exciting for USA Hockey.”
The Team USA NTDP continues to produce the highest level of talent and that talent has continued to produce consistently at the top level of hockey. In past drafts, 80 players from the program have been taken in the first round, 68 in the second round, 40 in the third, 36 in the fourth, 33 in the fifth, 34 in the sixth and 22 in the seventh.
The commitment that the program has to its players is unparalleled. That’s not going to change any time soon. More and more players are lacing up skates and putting on pads because of USA Hockey’s efforts in expanding the game, and that’s a wonderful thing.
After covering college and high school basketball for six years as a college student and after graduating for various outlets, I’ve turned to hockey the past couple years.
Most recently, I started the BTS Hockey Podcast, on which I interview players and dive a bit deeper into how they achieve the heights that they have and what their goals are.
My main goal is just to tell stories about people, and learn about them beyond just being an athlete.