Ryan Hartman feels confident that the homework he did before joining the Plymouth Whalers will pay off.
Being a member of USA Hockey's national team development program, which is based in Ann Arbor, Mich., meant the 5-foot-10, 182-pound right wing was in close proximity to the OHL which drafted him two years ago. So when the 17-year-old signed with the Whalers on Monday, it came with the confidence it will pay off at the 2013 NHL draft. Hartman, whose 18th birthday will fall five days after the cutoff for this summer's draft, is projected as a potential first- or second-rounder.
"I came to a lot of games this season, probably nine or 10 in the regular season and a few more in the playoffs," says Hartman, who had been slated to spend next season with the Dubuque (Io.) Fighting Saints before joining the NCAA's Miami RedHawks in 2013. "I've been in contact with Plymouth since they drafted me a few years back [in 2010]. I just thought overall this was the best place for me to develop and play a more NHL style of game to be better prepared for the future.
"Plymouth's going to develop me a lot, that's why I made the decision to come here," added Hartman, who recently helped Team USA capture its fourth gold medal in a row at the IIHF under-18 championship. "I think I can bring an all-around offensive and defensive game, help make players around me a little better, be kind of a team player, a playmaker.
"Defensive zone is definitely a big part of what I want to work on. Defence comes from offence."
Hartman is the second graduate of the U.S. NTDP in a matter of days to announce he's taking his talents to major junior. Miles Koules, son of the film and TV producer Oren Koules, announced last weekend he was joining the WHL's Medicine Hat Tigers. Forward Stefan Matteau announced in January that he is joining the QMJHL's Blainville-Boisbriand Armada. Finally and foremost, can't-miss defenceman Seth Jones seems like a better than even-money bet to join the WHL's Portland Winterhawks for his draft year.
The Whalers expect Hartman to be a top-six forward next season for a team which could return NHL first-rounders J.T. Miller, Stefan Noesen and Rickard Rakell for their age-19 seasons. Six-foot-four winger Tom Wilson, whom Hartman kept close contact with while debating Plymouth vs. Dubuque/Miami, could also go in the first round in June.
Hartman said he's willing to play a complementary role next season. He's shown a willingness to throw the big check despite his modest statute.
"I like to take the body and make plays, give the puck up and not hold on to it too long. Make the players around me better and goals will come from there."
Team America ambitions
Hartman added trying to make Team USA for next winter's world junior championship in Ufa, Russia is "definitely a major goal." Miller is a potential returning player for the Yanks, who fell to the relegation round in January after medalling in successive years. Noesen, the Ottawa Senators first-rounder who was Plymouth's top scorer in the regular season and playoffs, should also rate attention although he wasn't invited to the final selection camp in the fall.
"I think our team had a really good U18 tournament so I think we can bring a really good team to the U20s this year in [Ufa] Russia," said Hartman, who had 12 goals in 35 points for the U.S. under-18 squad in USHL competition.
As a native of West Dundee, Ill., Hartman is the newest member of the OHL's growing Chicagoland contingent. The league's American representation has expanded far beyond border states, reaching into the Midwest. Seven players with Illinois roots skated in the OHL this season, including another 17-year-old Whaler forward, Danny Vanderwiel.
"There's a lot more teams, a lot more kids coming up," Hartman said. "I've been getting a lot of kids on Facebook, friends of my little brother [Tanner Hartman], asking me about things because I've had a good relationship with them, skated with them when I'm back home."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.