In 2017, Jayden Struble was widely regarded as one of the best 2001-born players in New England.
So a few eyebrows were raised around the region’s rinks that March when he was not one of the 16 defensemen from all over the country to be invited to USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program Evaluation Camp.
You certainly can’t argue with the squad that USA Hockey picked, led by Jack Hughes, that turned out to be arguably the best in the star-spangled history of the NTDP. While Struble may not have made the team, I believed at the time and still do that he was worthy of a look in camp.
Struble readily acknowledges that he was surprised by the snub. And to his credit, he did not let it get in his way. Not one bit. Instead, he used it as motivation.
“You want to prove that you are one of the best players. When you don’t get picked, you’re just thinking, ‘I have to work harder now.’ Then see where you’re at in the future compared to those guys (who did get invited),’’ Struble said this week.
“Time will tell. All you can do is work hard and keep your head on straight and the rest will play itself out.’’
As the NHL Draft unfolds in Vancouver this weekend, look for Struble to be picked ahead of several of the D-men who attended that NTDP camp while he sat at home in Cumberland, R.I. I’m expecting that a team looking for a good skating defender with offensive skills who plays with an edge (wow, does he ever!) will take him no later than the third round. [UPDATE: Struble was picked by Montreal with the 46th pick in the second round on Saturday.]
[UPDATE: On Thursday, Struble was named to the initial U.S. roster for the 2019 World Junior Summer Showcase this summer.]
The 6-foot, 195 pounder helped himself with a light’s-out performance at the NHL Combine a few weeks ago, finishing first in 5 of the 18 tests — bench press, mean power output, standing long jump, right hand grip and left hand grip.
He credited trainer Korey Higgins of Brian McDonough’s Edge Performance Systems in Foxboro with helping him prepare.
It will be the first trip to British Columbia for Struble, but maybe not the last. After playing for St. Sebastian’s for the last two seasons, he is expected to move on to Victoria of the BCHL this year before enrolling at Northeastern in 2020.
“I’m excited to go with my family. Just hearing my name get called and then knowing what team I’m going to is going to be exciting,’’ he said.
Struble said his maternal grandfather, Paul Struble, has been the biggest influence in his hockey life through the years.
“He taught me how to play, coached me growing up, drove me to all the practices. My love of hockey is directly impacted by the amount of work that he put into me, coaching wise, advice wise, all that stuff,’’ he said.
The crowd will be big and spotlight bright at the draft. That won’t be a new experience for Struble, who played in two of the biggest events in youth sports, the Quebec Pee Wee Tournament and the Little League World Series (as a slugging first baseman for Dave Belisle’s Cumberland American team in 2014).
“Just being that young and playing in front of that many people, it’s crazy,’’ he said of his LLWS experience.
“It’s definitely helped me. Calmed my nerves a little bit. If I can do that when I’m 12 years old, I can do it now.’’
Struble interviewed with 24 teams (including Boston) at the combine and is ready for whatever happens at the draft.
“At the end of the day, I don’t really pay attention to the rankings. The teams tell you one thing, the rankings tell you another. Draft day, wherever you go, you go. I’ll be happy with whatever team picks me. Wherever it is, it’s going to be a good experience,’’ he said.