Jacob Trouba came into his draft season with a reputation that preceded him — and living up to it didn't become a burden.
The big blueliner was a cornerstone defenceman in the U.S. national team development program, capping off his season in April by helping Team USAwin a fourth consecutive gold medal at the IIHF U18 championship. Along the way, the 6-foot-2, 193-pound Trouba showed he's a future NHL shutdown defenceman in the making who can make opposing forwards' existence very uncomfortable.
The Rochester, Mich., native, also had a very good world junior tournament amid Team USA ending up in the relegation round for the first time this century, showing he can not only make the big check, but also carry the puck out of his own zone and get his shot through from the point. The Michigan Wolverines recruit is a likely a top-10 pick and should be the next American drafted after Sarnia Sting centre Alex Galchenyuk is chosen.
"Overall, everything really improved for me this year," says Trouba, who is NHL Central Scouting's ninth-ranked North American skater. "I got better as the year went on. That's probably the biggest thing."
As with many lanky defencemen, finding another gear in his skating is probably one the next pieces of the puzzle for Trouba. He's hoping to over his time at Michigan, which he verbally committed to last September. The Kitchener Rangers hold his major junior rights but Trouba has always given off a strong impression he favoured the NCAA. Going to UM means he'll be extending his stay in Ann Arbor, which is also where the NTDP program is based.
"I'm just looking forward to the whole experience, being in college, being on your own," he says. "It's going to be a fun time ... I'm thinking of taking kinesiology, something where I can stay in sports."
Trouba notes he benefited from having excellent family support during his time with the NTDP. Instead of billeting with a host family, he was taken in by his aunt and uncle, Janice and Jim Trouba. That meant one less distraction while he was honing his game.
"It was awesome. It was a big advantage because I didn't go through the whole awkward get-to-know-your-family stage. They were good to me. They took me in as family because they felt they needed to and it went pretty well."
1. Were you satisfied by the way Team USA finished off its season by winning the world under-18s?
"It was pretty cool. We all came together at the end of the year. Everyone played their position, played their role. We showed what we can do when we come together as a team." (BTN: How excited are you to find out what that group can do at the under-20 level, especially after last year's edition came seventh?) "That's a fun tournament, that's a big tournament. I hope I get to play two more times in it. I think our group is a good group. Finishing seventh wasn't our goal and we definitely need to improve on that."
2. How did you move on from the world junior disappointment to finishing your season strongly? It was a letdown for the whole team, but people always wonder about a player taking those losses to heart.
"For me personally, I had to let it go and not worry about it because I knew I had U18s. I just kind of dropped it. I still haven't sat down and thought about it because I'm still focused on things in front of me."
3. Whom in the NHL do you really like watching — not necessarily to model yourself on, but to get an idea of what it takes to be good in the NHL?
"I love watching [the Nashville Predators'] Shea Weber play because he's big, mean, physical. Tough to play against."
4. What is the toughest experience you've ever had to get over in hockey?
"I tripped someone in the finals in Quebec [the international peewee tournament] and took a penalty and they scored in overtime while I was in the box. That was when I was 12. I've been pretty fortunate to have been on teams that have done a lot of winning. That was one I would have liked to have had back."
5. Hockey players have to be strict about nutrition, but no one's perfect; what's your favourite guilty pleasure?
"I love fruit snacks, like Scooby Doo Snacks in the kids' section at Meijer's. That's probably my big thing."
(Stick tap to Muskegon Lumberbacks broadcaster Matt Gajtka for the the right spelling of the Meijer supermarket chain.)
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.