The U.S. National Team Development Program (NTDP) regularly produces some of the top under-18 American hockey talent. Formerly based in Ann Arbor, the NTDP is now located 20 minutes away in Plymouth, MI. This proximity has been instrumental in their relationship with Michigan hockey.
Over the years, the Wolverines have consistently depended on NTDP prospects.
The current roster boasts seven NTDP alumni. 5th-year forward Michael Pastujov and junior forward Johnny Beecher highlight the upperclassmen. In the past two years, Pearson has targeted NTDP players even more aggressively, as sophomore forwards Matty Beniers and Thom Bordeleau, along with sophomore defenseman Jacob Truscott, all played crucial roles as freshmen.
The pipeline has been one of Michigan’s most reliable recruiting bases. With college hockey’s vast and complicated recruiting network, the Wolverines have even more reason to be proud of its connection with the NTDP.
“That’s extremely important,” head coach Mel Pearson said. “They get some of the best — if not the best — players in their age group. They do a tremendous job over there.”
The freshmen class consists of two former NTDP players: defenseman Luke Hughes and forward Dylan Duke. Both had productive careers in Plymouth and have already been drafted by professional teams. Duke was a fourth-round selection in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft to the two-time defending champions Tampa Bay Lightning. Hughes, meanwhile, went fourth overall to the New Jersey Devils. Hughes has been particularly impressive in preseason practices.
“He’s a more dynamic skater than maybe I realized,” Pearson said. “I know he’s a good skater, but I have been surprised how good he is and how quick and how elusive he really is.”
One key for the Wolverines this season will be turning that strong recruiting pipeline into on-ice success. But after missing the last three years of the NCAA Tournament, only one player (Pastujov) has playoff experience, presenting a big challenge for the talented roster.
As always, there is an adjustment period to the collegiate level. The game is faster, more physical and more strenuous than any level at which they have competed. Pearson, however, is very optimistic for his current group.
“One of the big advantages they (the NTDP) have is they play a college schedule,” Pearson said. “They play upwards of 20 Division I games. They’re not coming in as freshmen, per se, because they’ve already had the opportunity to play a tough schedule.”
This maturity is one of the most significant factors behind Michigan’s admiration for the NTDP.
Players like Hughes and Duke have a chance to come out of the gate unintimidated by the Division I game, a critical trait for the Wolverines, who value meaningful experience against like-competition.
While Pearson continues to recruit players from the NTDP, he also knows to keep an open mind. Considering ice hockey’s international popularity, Pearson sees opportunity everywhere, and first-overall draft pick, Canadian Owen Power, is one example of that.
“We just don’t want to take all the players from that program,” Pearson said. “There’s great players all over the country and all over the world. But, it’s a nice resource to have in our backyard.”
On the current U-18 and U-17 NTDP rosters, there is a total of six Michigan commits. If all holds, expect Pearson to go back to the bank for years to come.