I was able to make it out to watch the NTDP U17 team play the Cedar Rapids Rough Riders last night. It was my first chance to see the U17s play this year, and they came away with a pretty impressive 3-0 victory over a Cedar Rapids team that is currently in first place in their division. I'll hold off on saying much about Cedar Rapids in case I see them again tonight, but I thought I'd give some impressions on this U17 team.
Apple Valley's Collin Olson got the start in goal for the US and was extremely solid throughout. He probably made the difference in the game in the first period when Cedar Rapids dominated play, but still came out of the period down 1-0 thanks to a couple big saves. He helped kill off a lot of penalties in the third period as well to protect a two-goal US lead. He's really athletic and moves well for his size. The NTDP hasn't drawn too many prototypical pro-style goalies like that in recent years.
The defense for this team was what I was most excited to see. They lived up to the considerable hype, with some fantastic looking prospects on the blue line. They're still all 16 year olds, so there were some rough spots, especially in terms of handling and passing the puck, which was a bit disappointing at times, but all eight defensemen can skate really well, and should be able to round out their games more with experience. This group reminds me a lot of the '92 birth year defensemen at the NTDP, which was incredibly strong. Of course, I viewed a lot of those players as projects when I saw them in the first half of their first year with the program, but with the type of coaching they receive, it's likely only a matter of time before they develop to the next level.
The forwards are somewhat similar to the '92 group as well, in that nobody really stands out as a star yet. It's still early though. As a general rule, you have to wait until the second half of this first year for a player like that to really emerge. Frankie Vatrano had a huge game, scoring on a nice shot from the slot, and then a breakaway goal in the second period. I loved the game that Northeastern recruit Cameron Darcy had as well. Not flashy, but he's a workhorse forward that did so much dirty work for his team. Quentin Shore is another player that could step up and be a leader for this team.
Overall, I like this group a lot. They'll get their first serious international test later this month at the World U17 Challenge, but once again the half a year against USHL competition should give them a serious leg up at this competition. I wouldn't go this far with the U20 team, but I would say this team has to be the favorite to win the gold at that event, and it will be interesting to see how they deal with that pressure. I would also expect to start hearing a lot more talk about defensemen like Jacob Trouba and Seth Jones after this tournament.