Six U.S.-born players were drafted within the top 10 picks of last month's NHL draft and, in total, 11 Americans were taken in the first-round.
- Eight of them — including No. 1 pick Jack Hughes — came from the National Team Development Program (NTDP).
Why it matters: This is proof of the incredible progress that American junior hockey has made over the last two decades and bodes well for the future of the sport domestically.
The backdrop: Before the turn of the century, American hockey players with NHL aspirations had two choices.
- Choice 1: Go to college, where they would develop well into their 20's before scouts took a chance on them.
- Choice 2: Leave home to play major junior hockey in one of three leagues under the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) umbrella.
- The CHL provided a big stage, but since players are paid "stipends," they lose their NCAA eligibility, which forced American teens to make an early call on foregoing a college career.
Fast forward: "That's no longer the case," writes Seattle Times' Geoff Baker, "with USA Hockey founding the NTDP in 1996 and designating the USHL as the nation's top-tiered junior circuit in 2002."
- Since then, the USHL has spent millions on infrastructure and has added the NTDP's under-17 and under-18 squads as member teams, placing many of America's elite prospects into one central league.
- Oh, and if players don't get drafted, or are looking to hone their skills further after being picked, they retain their college eligibility.
What's next: The owners of Seattle's future NHL team are interested in bringing an expansion USHL franchise to their new facility, as well as a "West Coast version" of the NTDP.
The bottom line: The growing number of top American-born NHL draft picks is no fluke, and that number should only go up as investment at the junior level continues to increase.
Watch: Day in the life of Jack Hughes while playing for the NTDP (via WXYZ-TV Detroit on YouTube).