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14U/16U Q-and-A: Early Plateau or Late Bloom?

By Kenny Rausch, Youth Hockey Manager, 02/24/16, 4:15PM MST


Q: My child attended a USA Hockey Player Development Camp last summer, but wasn’t one of the top players at the camp. Should I be worried?

A: Absolutely not! The only thing that should cause you to worry about your child’s future in hockey is if your child doesn’t have burning passion for the game.

I’ve been involved with USA Hockey’s Player Development Camps for nearly twenty years and I can tell stories from both sides of the coin. There are many young standouts at our development camps that, quite simply, plateau early. Some players mature earlier than others and can be stalwarts at 14, 15, or 16 years old and then fall off of the development ladder later. I often look back through our evaluations of players and wonder whatever happened to so and so.

Conversely, in your child’s case, there are just as many stories – maybe more – of kids who were average players at the camps (or didn’t make the camps at all) who go on to have great hockey careers, whether it be college or professional.

I do a presentation about late bloomers (actually they are normal) who have gone on to stardom. I’ll highlight three players for you:

Jimmy Vesey, last year’s goal-scoring leader in NCAA Division I hockey, was a smaller player at the USA Hockey Boys Select 15 Camp. He certainly wasn’t out of place, but he wasn’t a standout at 5-foot-8, 135 pounds. He now stands 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds – just a bit of a difference from when he was 15!

Shayne Gostisbehere is another player similar to Vesey. He was only 5-foot-7, 125 pounds at the Select 15 camp and didn’t make a return to the Select 16 or 17 camp, but he developed his game sufficiently to become a leading candidate for the NHL Rookie of the Year award after a standout career at Union College where he was a mind-blowing plus-7 in the national championship game two years ago. 

Lastly, I’ll reference Johnny Gaudreau. He was always a relatively small player and still is. He was cut from his district team at 16 years old and almost didn’t try out at 17 years old. Thankfully, he did, and he made it to the festival and was a standout there. How could he not be with those moves and skill? But he’s another player who was overlooked at 15 years old and became an NHL star. 

Here’s a little more food for thought: Historically speaking, only about 55 percent of the players at the Select 15 camp make it to the Select 16 camp. Roughly 60 percent (depending on the year) make it back from the Select 16 camp to the Select 17 camp. What this means is that everyone still has a chance at 14, 15, 16, or even 17-plus years old to develop into a career hockey player. If they keep their passion burning, keep working on their skills, and always have the greatest work ethic, you never know where it will lead. 

Don’t be discouraged by lack of early success. After all, isn’t it more important to peak later anyway?

The author, Kenny Rausch, began his coaching career in 1996 with Boston University, his alma mater. As a player, he earned Beanpot Tournament MVP honors and was named a Hockey East Distinguished Scholar.

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