NTDP’s First Seven Commits for 2011-12 Unveiled

If you hadn’t heard, the National Team Development Program announced the first seven players to commit to be part of the 2011-12 U.S. National Under-17 Team Saturday. The announcement came the day before 45 players arrived in Ann Arbor to take part in the NTDP Tryout Camp.

The first seven are as follows:

Forwards
Connor Chatham – Shiloh, Ill. – St. Louis Blues Midget Minor
J.T. Compher – Northbrook, Ill. – Team Illinois Midget Minor
Hudson Fasching – Apple Valley, Minn. – Apple Valley H.S.
Brandon Shea – Marshfield, Mass. – Noble & Greenough School

Defensemen
Will Butcher – Sun Prairie, Wis. –  Madison Capitols Midget Major
Steve Santini – Mahopac, N.Y. – New York Apple Core (EJHL)
Scott Savage – San Clemente, Calif. – LA Selects Midget Minor

With those seven signed, that means there are five open spots on D, nine forward positions and both goalie slots are all up for grabs.

Coming up after the jump, a look at the commits, the impact of signing Hudson Fasching, and the importance of early commitments.

It was no surprise to see the names of Butcher, Santini, Savage and Compher on the release. It wasn’t all that quiet that they had pledged to the NTDP. It was reported widely that Fasching was offered a spot, but was taking his time with his decision. However, Shea and Chatham were not names that had been floating around as much.

The group of Butcher, Santini, Savage is a solid one. With that trio, the NTDP has a very good core of defensemen to build around. I talked about these three and J.T. Compher in my previous post about the NTDP camp, so check that out for more on that group.

Chatham was an interesting sign, mainly because he has been out for most of the year with an injury. One thing that can’t be denied is his size. At 6-foot-2, 185, he and the similarly-sized Fasching give the U.S. an imposing duo right off the bat. Chatham had two goals in 12 games this year with the St. Louis Blues Mm. He’s the second player to join the NTDP out of that St. Louis program in as many years, with Dakota Mermis joining up last year. It’s good to see a pair of players from Central Illinois, which could be considered a less traditional hockey area, have a place to develop and get seen.

Shea had a solid season at Nobles, with 34 points in 27 games. The forward verbally committed to Boston College when he was 14 years old and has continually lived up to the hype. I’ve heard good things about Shea’s hockey sense and that he’s not one to shy away from contact or the hard areas.

Clearly, scoring 16 goals and adding 18 assists as a young player in prep school hockey, he can produce. With an early commitment to BC, Shea now has the honor of being one of the first commitments to the NTDP for 2011-12. Not a bad start to his career.

Fasching was the one guy that it seemed everyone wanted. I mean everyone. Many believe him to be the best American forward in the 1995 birth year. He was certainly the top sophomore in the state of Minnesota and his leaving home made some headlines.

Perhaps one of the NTDP’s toughest places to recruit is Minnesota. The pressure on some of those players to stay home and the desire to win a state title for their hometown and school have kept some players in the State of Hockey. Just last year, Fasching’s Apple Valley teammate, A.J. Michaelson* was offered a spot at the NTDP and he turned it down to stay with his high school club. Nick Bjugstad, a first-round draft pick in 2010, also declined a spot in Ann Arbor, in favor of Blaine H.S. Another 2010 first-rounder, Derek Forbort, said no when first offered, but got a second crack when a spot opened up at the NTDP and he left Duluth East for his under-18 season.

Knowing that, signing Fasching is a coup for the NTDP. The top Minnesotan available is going to Ann Arbor right away. Having posted 50 points (18g-32a) in 28 games, Fasching brings a heavy dose of offense. At 15, he’s already 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, so size isn’t going to be an issue. A natural athlete, Fasching also excelled for Apple Valley’s soccer team. All good news for the folks in Ann Arbor.

What also makes this signing a touch surprising is that many believed Fasching would stay home for family reasons as he has two younger siblings, each suffering from a rare cell disorder. Fasching admitted to the Minneapolis Star Tribune that the decision to leave was a tough one:

“I think my leaving will be the hardest on my dad,” Fasching said. “My mom takes care of my siblings, so my dad and I were always stuck together. Now he’s losing his wing man.”

While the decision wasn’t easy, for a player of Fasching’s caliber, it was the right one. I was told that the NTDP gave the Faschings as much time and space to make the decision and to be sure it made sense for the family. It definitely made sense for Hudson to go from a hockey standpoint. Having produced at a high level for two years in high school, it was time for a new challenge and he’ll get a big one in Ann Arbor.

In every interview and everything anyone has ever said about him to me, it is clear that Fasching is a remarkable young man. Mature beyond his years and humble, despite being one of the best athletes in high school hockey in a hockey-mad state. All signs point to the NTDP getting a gem of a player, but also a person of great character.

* – Michaelson admitted to Minnesota Hockey Hub that if the NTDP offered him a spot on the U.S. National Under-18 Team for 2011-12, he’d take it and forgo his senior season at Apple Valley. However, there may not be a spot available to him unless a player leaves Ann Arbor before his two-year commitment is up. Time will tell.

The timing of the announcement of these signings is intriguing to me. As a former PR guy, I’m always curious as to why certain things are announced when they are. Typically (or at least when I was there), an announcement regarding early commitments to the NTDP wouldn’t come out until after the camp, but announcing it just days before competition started might actually be a really smart move.

The most important thing in any tryout camp is that the competition level should be high. Announcing the early commitments before camp should light a fire under the participating players that felt they should have been among the first to sign on the dotted line. Sometimes perceiving that you’ve been slighted sticks in your craw a little bit.

It also ngives other players a bit of a measuring stick. Seeing the guys that the NTDP thought so highly of to offer them a spot even before the tryout camp gives players an idea where they need to be if they want to make the team. Also, when players of a high caliber sign, others follow. When a player sees some of the top kids in his age group make that commitment, it’s a signal that this is where the top players go.

One could also assume that the reason for announcing the commits prior to camp is to signal to the junior hockey scouts, GMs and coaches in attendance that those seven players are off limits.

To explain the commitment a bit more, when a player commits to the NTDP, that player enters in a binding two-year agreement. By signing with the NTDP, the player will commit to training and playing for two years at the National Team Development Program. The NTDP, in turn, commits to the player saying that it will give that player two years of world-class training/competition, will house the player with a billet, provide schooling for the player, etc.

It’s different from any other junior league. The NTDP can’t trade the player and it will not cut the player without due cause (the cause usually being disciplinary reasons).

Players have asked to be released from the agreement in the past, leaving after one season, like Emerson Etem and Alexx Privitera in recent years. The terms of granting a player a release are never made public by the NTDP. So basically, once a player is signed to an agreement, the likelihood of that player leaving is slim as both parties have made a commitment to each other, essentially.

The camp is underway and will run through Thursday. Several players often sign agreements at the end of the camp and that tends to get announced in the following few weeks. So we’ll know more about the team then.

So there you have it. The 2011-12 U.S. National Under-17 Team is starting to take shape and we’re beginning to find out who some of the elite players across the country are. As we learn more about these players, we can be extremely confident in saying that the future of American hockey is incredibly bright.

Editorial note: I’ll have full Big Ten Hockey Conference reaction coming up tomorrow morning. In case you’d like to know my knee-jerk opinion: It’s a very, very good thing for college hockey in this country. Find out why tomorrow. I’ll also have the Tuesday American Prospect Update with analysis from my trip to see the U.S. National Under-18 Team take on Dubuque.

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About Chris Peters

Editor of The United States of Hockey. Contributor to CBSSports.com, USA Hockey Magazine and more. Former USA Hockey PR guy. Current Iowan.
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