Keaton Thompson is all for being one of the youngest players in Division I college hockey next season.
With his Sept. 14, 1995 birthdate, the nimble North Dakotan barely made the age cutoff for this month's NHL draft. So the graduate of the U.S. national team development program will still be shy of 18 when he begins classes at the University of North Dakota ahead of his freshman season. That's fine by Thompson, who hopes the collegiate experience will allow him time to physically mature into a NHL prospect.
The 6-foot-¼, 187-pound rearguard from Devils Lake, N.D., dazzled on occasion with the U.S. under-18 team, showing superb skating ability and a facility with running a power play. Part of the reason Thompson is ranked 53rd among domestic skaters by NHL Central Scouting, though, is that he struggled with consistency. He acknowledges that might tie back to needing to add muscle mass to his compact frame so he doesn't struggle against bigger forwards, noting that was an issue when his U18s played Division I squads.
"It's pretty much a dream," Thompson, who was born in Minneapolis but raised in the Peace Garden State, says of playing for coach Dave Hakstol at UND. "Watching the Sioux is a big thing around North Dakota. When they finally recruited me there was a feeling of 'wow, I can't believe this is happening.'
"At North Dakota, I really want to work on my strength, just being able to push guys around in our defensive zone. Definitely work on my offensive game too, put up more points."
Thompson's stock-in-trade is his skating and his offensive abilities.
"When I'm in a bad spot, that's what gets me out of it," he says.
1. How would you describe your progress in Ann Arbor this season, from start to finish?
"Ann Arbor was great. It was probably the best thing that's ever happened to me, just from the practices to the exposure to the college game and the international game."
2. When did it dawn on you that you need to be more physical, beef up, be a little tougher?
"The college games that we played this year with the NTDP. Sometimes I got manhandled, almost, in the corner, just getting boxed out from the play. So I definitely want to work on being able to resist them, push off and get myself free."
3. You have to play your style, but whom in the NHL do you really watch closely for pointers?
"I would have to say Nick Leddy from the Chicago Blackhawks — smooth-skating, really like his style." (But he played for Minnesota, UND's rival!) "He was a Gopher, but he's in the NHL now so that just kind of cancels that out."
4. What's the worst movie you've ever had to watch with your teammates; because, you know, sometimes it's easier to go along with the group than watch you want?
"There's been a lot of bad movies. One time, though, we watched the complete series of Band of Brothers on the way back from a long road trip, like 12 hours. It's really good, but it was just listening to constant exploding. It was a good show, but it was a little much."
5. Being from North Dakota, are you more into fishing or hunting?
"I'm a little too antsy for fishing, so I prefer hunting. I get a little more rush from it. I like going for duck, pheasant, geese, pretty much."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to email@example.com.