Projected by most scouting services to be one of the top goaltenders selected in next summer’s NHL Entry Draft, Minnesota native Jake Oettinger is preparing for his freshman season at Boston University this upcoming fall.
But before he hits the ice as a Terrier, he’ll travel to Philadelphia this Thursday to take part in what has become an annual tradition for USA Hockey, skating in the USA Hockey/CCM All-American Prospects Game.
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This will be the fifth edition of the AAPG since the inaugural game in Buffalo in 2012. This year’s game is being hosted by the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center. U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame members and former Flyers Mark Howe (Detroit, Mich.) and John LeClair (St. Albans, Vt.) will serve as coaches for the two teams, selected from a roster of 42 players.
Since the 2013 draft, 25 players from the game have been selected in the first round, but none of them have been goaltenders. Oettinger could be the first to change that, currently ranked as the No. 29 overall prospect for the 2017 draft by Future Considerations, a publication that tracks draft prospects.
“Honestly, I’m trying not to focus on the draft much,” he said. “I’ve talked to a lot of players who have gone through the process and they all said to just focus on what I can control. If I play the way I know I’m capable of playing, the rest of the stuff will take care of itself.”
Oettinger has come up through the ranks of USA Hockey and has been with the U.S. National Team Development Program for the last two seasons, putting together a decorated career while wearing the Team USA sweater.
In 2014-15, he appeared in games for both the U.S. National Under-18 and Under-17 Team, and last season he played exclusively with the Under-18 Team.
After being on the roster of the team that won gold at the 2015 International Ice Hockey Federation Men’s Under-18 World Championship, Oettinger helped Team USA win bronze on home soil at the 2016 event in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
Oettinger was already a top prospect when he played for Lakeville North High School in Minnesota, but his game really took off once he joined the development program.
“The biggest thing for my game when I joined the development program was [goaltending coach] Kevin Reiter,” Oettinger said. “For the first time, I had a goalie coach with me every single day. He was always on us to make sure we were getting better, but he was also someone I could talk to like a friend when I was having a problem and he was really great in making sure we were always developing.
“It definitely also helped playing for that team and playing in the tournaments we played in. There is a lot of pressure in those games and playing with those expectations have definitely helped me. I owe a lot to the development program.”
The development program’s goal is preparation. It’s in place to prepare players for one day representing Team USA at the World Championships or even Olympic Winter Games.
Oettinger could be on a path to one day wearing the red, white and blue once again after attending the 2016 USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp, which is part of the process to select the U.S. National Junior Team that will compete at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship in Montreal and Toronto, Canada. For now, he’ll be wearing the scarlet and white of Boston University, but he admits he would not be where he is today if not for his two seasons in Ann Arbor.
“Learning how to prepare was big for me,” he said. “It wasn’t just getting your body physically ready, I think I learned how to better prepare mentally. [Reiter] helped me learn how to prepare and also how to practice. That’s really important, you want to make your practice time useful.”
Oettinger found out he was selected for the game about three weeks ago. On Wednesday morning, he’ll leave Boston and fly to Philadelphia where he’ll meet with the other players and coaches. There is a dinner scheduled for Wednesday night as well as a practice during the day.
This also won’t be Oettinger’s first experience at the actual game itself. Although he didn’t play in the game last season, almost the entire U.S. Under-18 team was invited last season. For Oettinger, it wasn’t his draft year so he wasn’t eligible. But he did attend the game to watch and cheer on his teammates.
“Every guy I talked to about it said to just enjoy it,” he said. “It’s fun. It’s supposed to be fun being on that stage and the game is really fast paced. I’m looking forward to it.”
Oettinger’s transition to BU, while not having yet officially begun, has gone smoothly. He was on campus this summer and took some freshman classes and since the start of September, the coaches are allowed to be on the ice with the players for a few hours per week.
“The last few weeks have been really smooth,” Oettinger said. “I think that’s a credit to the older guys. We have a lot of good leaders here and good upperclassmen who have been there for us and helped us get acclimated. It’s been fun. I’m eager to get going and competing for playing time.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.