"He skates well, is physical, he moves the puck, and communicates pretty well on the ice. He doesn't make a whole lot of mistakes, and he's just going to get better and better."
--U.S. World Junior Coach Dean Blais on Jacob Trouba
Jacob Trouba made a name for himself in the midst of the U.S. flameout at the 2012 World Junior Championship. As the team lost consecutive games to Finland, The Czech Republic and Canada, Trouba was a rock in the defensive end and created chances with his skating and passing on a consistent basis. He's committed to the University of Michigan, but the Kitchener Rangers will come calling in an effort to make that decision a difficult one. Trouba has been a fixture in the Consensus Top 10, starting 10th in October, moving to 8th in December before falling back to 9th this month. He's the 4th-ranked defenseman, but a number of scouts think he's as talented as Ryan Murray. If you're a fan of the Minnesota Wild, Carolina Hurricanes, Winnipeg Jets, Tampa Bay Lightning or Washington Caps, Trouba could be headed your way, though nearly every mock draft has him headed to Winnipeg.
For a more in-depth background on the surefire first round selection, I spoke with Future Considerations' U.S. Scout Dan Shrader.
Copper & Blue: You moved Jacob Trouba up two spots in your May ranking, and he now sits as the #2 defenseman in your rankings. What's behind that?
Dan Shrader, Future Considerations: A couple of things in regards to Trouba- he's been consistent in his play, especially after playing as a 17 year old at the World Junior Championships- he played very well during the rest of his USHL season, then capped it off with a Gold Medal at the U-18's. That's alot of hockey for anyone, and we've seen players wear down during the year because of it (Zemgus Girgensens case in point) and Trouba not only avoided the lulls, but finished his season in a strong manner. Also, we at FC feel he should be rewarded for somehow staying healthy in a Draft Class that has a freakish occurrence of injuries this season. Ok, not really, but its impressive that Trouba's managed to stay on the ice.
C & B: Ryan Murray has been the consensus #1 defenseman for awhile now, but over the last month, a number of names have come up as "better than Murray", including Trouba, Dumba, Rielly, and even Reinhart. Is this a case of picking nits or does Murray have some flaws?
FC: Scouting by nature is opinion for an indeterminate length of time, until it becomes a truth. Full disclosure here as I haven't seen Ryan Murray play live, but his resume, skillset, and character has many believing he's certainly close to being pro-ready, if not already. His invitation to the World Championships is certainly an extension of that. While I don't doubt that there are many scouting staffs around the league that think highly of him, there will be opinions that there may be guys like Trouba, Rielly, Reinhart, et al who have higher ceilings in terms of potential. Look at where Cam Fowler was selected in 2010 as compared to where he was ranked most of the year, and I don't think anyone had Jonas Brodin going in the Top 10. As is the case with many players who are under the spotlight, their game can get picked apart unfairly and unnecessarily as well.
C & B: Murray is almost a half of a year older than Jacob - does that work to Trouba's advantage?
FC: I think so, because teams have a benchmark so to speak; they can look back at film or tape of Murray at the same age and compare where He and Trouba are at this stage of development. You often hear that adage tossed around, that Player A is better than Player B at that age.
C & B: In your mind, how large is the gap between Murray and Trouba and what sticks out as Murray's biggest advantage?
FC: Like I mentioned before I haven't seen Murray live, but did catch some of him at the WJC. Based on that limited view and whatever information I've managed to gather on him, I think that he and Trouba project to be pretty similar; sure-fire Top 4 guys who can play special teams minutes, and play tough minutes. The only real advantages I can think of for Murray would be that he's got a longer history of playing at a higher level of play- 3 full seasons in the WHL.
C & B: I've talked to some people who think Trouba can be as good as Kris Letang and some who think that his very best is going to be like John-Michael Liles. Can you project his career arc?
FC: For me I like to use this analogy- I think Trouba at his very peak is Brent Seabrook, a guy who is likely a #1 D on weaker to mediocre teams, but ideally is a really strong #2. An all situations "horse quality" type D you can play tough minutes every night. I struggled to find a low end example, but ultimately I think it would be a Nick Schultz type, where he plays tough minutes but in more of a matchup role rather than in an offensive capacity.
As far as his career arc...I think going to the University of Michigan is good from the standpoint of being able to play against older, stronger, more mature competition, and refining and growing his game in a practice-intensive environment. Going to the CHL will always be an option, and there will be pressure from Kitchener to head east from Ann Arbor (and maybe the team who drafts him has a preference), but going the NCAA route also gives him a chance to play in the AHL at age 19 if he proves to be well adapted to the CCHA.
C & B: Is there a possibility that some teams have Trouba as their #1 defenseman?
FC: Absolutely. There may be teams who may very well have him as one of their top 2-3 players.
C & B: I've seen Trouba live once and I watched him during the World Juniors. What stood out to me, especially live, was how well he moved. He skates like an agile forward. How do his skating skills measure up to the other defensemen at the top of the class?
FC: He has exceptional skating ability. Its not just that he has directional mobility, but he has a powerful stride too. I saw him in Dubuque this Winter and he was able to jump up in the rush and retreat so easily, but maybe an underrated facet to his skating is how sturdy a skater he is- he rushed the puck up ice at one point and literally was able to skate through three different skaters blatantly obstructing his path and just blew through them before ringing the shot off the crossbar- a sequence where you just say "whoa". That same sturdiness is key in terms of winning leverage battles and playing with a physical edge in his own zone too.
C & B: If Edmonton and Columbus go chalk, Toronto, Montreal and Anaheim certainly don't need defensive help first. There is a real possibility that Minnesota, Carolina, Winnipeg, and Tampa will draft Dumba, Rielly, Trouba and Reinhart in order. Which of those organizations would be the best place for Trouba to grow and develop his game?
FC: I know its a reviled cliche, but even though on paper Toronto, Montreal, and Anaheim don't need defensive help, you still have to take the best player available- that is, unless the "best player on your board" is someone you think you can slide down a few picks, grab some assets, and still get your guy- think The Islanders drafting Josh Bailey in 2008.
Carolina typically doesn't like to take defensemen high (even though they took Ryan Murphy high, and tried to trade up to get Cam Fowler in 2010 after they took Jeff Skinner) but its a possibility- Minnesota lacks in defensive prospect depth, and both Winnipeg and Tampa have renewed emphasis on Drafting and Developing. You also have to take into consideration some skilled forwards like Teuvo Teravainen (whom I believe will go Top 10, and maybe even Top 5) and Sebastian Collberg- since there is a good amount of defensive depth in the first 30-40 picks, you may see a run on skilled forwards early because they are a limited commodity relatively speaking. So you might even see those aforementioned teams letting those four D slide by.
No matter who takes him, I think Jacob Trouba's "incubation period" before turning pro will be short.
C & B: Thanks Dan, this was great stuff.
FC: It was a blast.