Four young Capitals used to playing together for U.S. National Team Development Program

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images - Connor Carrick is one of four Capitals draftees who played together in the U.S. National Team Development Program.

When Washington Capitals development camp opens Monday, roughly three dozen prospects will look to stand out in a week full of workouts and scrimmages as a gallery full of the organization’s scouts, coaches and front-office brass look on.

It’s the next pressure-packed step for these young players, who are trying to plot a course to the NHL, and many will hit the ice at the Capitals’ practice facility with no real knowledge of their competition. For a few of them, though, there will be camaraderie intermixed with their desire to make an impression.

Last month at the 2012 NHL draft in Pittsburgh, the Capitals selected four players who worked through the U.S. National Team Development Program together — forwards Austin Wuthrich, Thomas Di Pauli and Riley Barber and defenseman Connor Carrick. Three of them — Di Pauli, Barber and Carrick — are expected to attend this week’s camp.

Prior to this year, Washington had selected five USNTDP alumni but never more than one in any year. The Capitals’ scouting staff liked the way this particular class worked together and believes in the way the program helps groom prospects.

“It’s like an elite group of players within the U.S,” said Ross Mahoney, the Capitals’ director of amateur scouting. “You’re on the ice every day and you’re working out off the ice with elite athletes, which is only going to make yourselves better, and then they play in the international tournaments. So I think it kind of speeds up their development as compared to some of the other young players their age.”

In addition to the players Washington chose, eight other products of the program were selected in the 2012 draft. There were three first-rounders, beginning with defenseman Jacob Trouba, who was taken ninth overall by Winnipeg.

Since USNTDP players became eligible for the NHL entry draft in 1999, 210 have been selected. Notable NHLers from the group include Chicago forward Patrick Kane, Colorado defenseman Erik Johnson, Minnesota defenseman Ryan Suter and Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard.

Capitals forward Joey Crabb, who was signed as a free agent on July 1, is also a graduate of the USNTDP and credits his time there with helping to refine his game.

“That was huge for my development; there’s definitely other programs that will help players but I think that’s one of the top, if not the top you can get,” Crabb said. “When I went into that program I was still pretty raw. . . . A lot of players who come out of youth hockey, they’re a little bit of a star and they need to learn the game.”

Carrick, Di Pauli and Barber were teammates on the U.S. national under-18 squad that won the IIHF world men’s championship in the Czech Republic this past April. While in the program, players live with a billet family, attend high school in Ann Arbor, Mich. and play 60-game United States Hockey Leage seasons in addition to games against NCAA opponents. They also take part in international tournaments.

Next season, Carrick, a strong two-way defenseman, will play for the Ontario Hockey League’s Plymouth Whalers while Di Pauli, a tenacious player who is strong on faceoffs, and Barber, a winger with a heavy shot, will take the NCAA route with Notre Dame and Miami (Ohio), respectively. Wuthrich, a big-bodied two-way player, will enter his sophomore season with the Fighting Irish next year.

While they’ve all finished their runs with the USNTDP, because they were drafted by the same team, they must continue to compete against one another in order to pursue their dreams of reaching the NHL. But that’s something they’re already accustomed to.

“Day in, day out at the NTDP we work very hard. It’s a very competitive environment amongst my teammates and it really pushes guys,” Carrick said at the draft. “If you’re not able to hold your own, they’re going to be able to handle the extra ice time. You’ve got to be able to continue to get better or else somebody else will. That’s why the program is very successful. I don’t think that’s at the cost of being able to be great teammates.”

Capitals notes: Washington signed free agent forward Ryan Stoa to a one-year, two-way contract. Stoa, 25, has appeared in 37 career NHL games but none since the 2010-11 season. In 2011-12, Stoa (6-3, 200 pounds) appeared in 75 games with the American Hockey League’s Lake Erie Monsters, where he had 16 goals and 20 assists.

 
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