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Jacob Trouba

Jacob Trouba has 12 assists in 14 tournament games with the NTDP program this season. (Photo by Tom Sorensen)

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Jacob Trouba has 12 assists in 14 tournament games with the NTDP program this season. (Photo by Tom Sorensen)

As a Michigan native, it only makes sense defenseman Jacob Trouba would make the national team development program his preferred destination for prep hockey. But besides the fact the 17-year-old can room with family while playing in Ann Arbor, the allure of USA Hockey’s elite program was the main reason he came to town.

“You look at all the people who have gone through here,” Trouba said. “There really isn’t a better place for an American player to go. Every day we practise against the best players in the country - we know we’re going to be challenged every day.”

Of course, keeping the 6-foot-1, 183-pound blueliner on the under-17 team might be the biggest challenge of all. Trouba has already played seven games up with the under-18 installation thanks to his advanced play, which one scout described as “Cam Fowler with more of an edge.”

While under-17 coach Danton Cole notes the program tries to keep the younger players on their age-appropriate squad as much as possible, particularly early on in the season when tournament play can strengthen bonds and chemistry, he also knows what a special player he has on his hands.

“We describe him as a shark,” Cole said. “He wants to make things happen out there. He’s a great kid to coach. He likes putting the work in and wants to learn the position.”

As for the Fowler-but-nastier comparison, it’s not hard to pick up that theme when Cole describes his charge’s on-ice persona.

“With Jacob, he brings a lot of different elements to the game,” Cole said. “He has a real good edge to him and he likes to play that physical style. But he also moves the puck well.”

While Trouba has picked up points locally in games against North American and United States League competition, he has truly excelled with the NTDP on the international stage. His 12 assists in 14 tournament games lead the team, while his 15 points rank third overall. It goes without saying those contests are his favorite.

“I definitely look forward to the international tournaments,” Trouba said. “It really helps show how far USA Hockey has come.”

In a 2012 draft flush with defensive talent, Trouba’s name is already near the top. He’ll be vying for a spot in the top five alongside other blueliners such as Everett Silvertips captain Ryan Murray and Windsor’s Nick Ebert. The NTDP also has a top prospect for 2013 in blueliner Seth Jones and while Jones relies more on smoothness to Trouba’s edginess, their coach puts them in the same category when it comes to upside and under-18 spot duty.

“Seth Jones and Jacob are two guys who are making the jump,” Cole said.

The other similarity the blueliners share is the fact they haven’t committed to NCAA schools yet and have intriguing major junior options. Jones, ironically, could join Murray in Everett, while Trouba’s rights are held by Kitchener, the Ontario League powerhouse that has made a habit of getting the elite players it wants, no matter how remote the odds may have seemed originally. The fact Kitchener owns his rights and not, say, an OHL doormat, has made Trouba’s future plans that much more difficult to make.

“It is in the back of my mind,” he said. “It’s a tough choice.”

But in the meantime, Trouba is just concentrating on his own game, which he is constantly striving to improve upon.

“I gotta get better in all areas,” he said. “But in the defensive zone I need to focus on my guy more.”

That’ll be a change of pace from the scouts focusing on Trouba all the time.

THN.com's Prospect Watch focuses on up-and-comers from the AHL, Europe, major junior, the NCAA and even minor hockey destined to become big names in the NHL.

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