PITTSBURGH - In Jacob Trouba, the Winnipeg Jets got a player that will eventually make them a lot tougher to play against.
Not this fall, but whenever the bruising defenceman is ready to make the jump, he’s the type of player other teams hate to face.
After sticking with the ninth selection in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, the Jets opted against adding one of the many skilled forwards that were still available and went with a physical blue-liner with some offensive instincts, not to mention oodles of character and a nasty streak — an important quality the franchise didn’t have enough of during their first season back in Winnipeg.
In fact, Trouba said he didn’t even enjoy hockey until he got to the point in his career when hitting was allowed.
“When hitting became part of the game, I kind of embraced it and really wanted to be around the game, learn it and be a part of it,” said Trouba, who spent the past two seasons as a member of the United States Development program. “No one in my family ever played hockey before me. My brother tried it one day and I kind of tagged along. At first, I really didn’t like it at all and I was crying but I kept with it. My dad made me stick it out with a little tough love and it’s a good thing he did because I really fell in love with the sport.”
While we figured the Jets were more likely to add a bigger centre with talent like Radek Faksa or Mikhail Grigorenko, adding another defenceman is never a bad idea for a franchise that’s trying to stockpile prospects in a system that isn’t exactly overflowing with them.
Trouba isn’t the sexy pick, but that was by design and the organization is prepared to be patient with him as he’s attending the University of Michigan this fall.
The Rochester, Mich. product already has a grasp for what he’s getting into and also had a good feeling the Jets might be calling his name after productive meetings at both the NHL Combine and the day before the first round of the draft.
“I just had a hunch. I don’t know. Something was there,” said Trouba. “I’m the first draftee to put on the jersey and that’s pretty special.”
Trouba also has a bit of history with the city of Winnipeg and province of Manitoba as he suited up for Team USA in the Under-17 World Hockey Challenge.
What did he remember most about that trip?
“We lost,” said Trouba. “It was disappointing losing, but it’s a great city.”
Trouba has been a captain on many teams he’s suited up for and accountability is a big part of what he brings to the table.
He’s already 6-foot-2, weighs 187 pounds and comes from a family that doesn’t lack height in their genes, as his father and grandfather are 6-foot-8 and one of his uncles stands 7-foot-1.
Much like Dale Hawerchuk gave his endorsement of first rounder Mark Scheifele last year, former Jet Danton Cole coached Trouba in the United States development program and had plenty of good things to say about him.
“Personally, I love the way he competes,” said Cole, who has coached Trouba the past two seasons. “He’s big, strong, he’s good offensively and defensively, but all of that doesn’t matter if the kid doesn’t compete. When he’s on the ice, he’s all business. He’s like an NHL pro. He’s what coaches want out of a guy. He has fun playing hard.”
That will to win is part of what attracted the Jets to Trouba.
This pick doesn’t help the Jets get into the playoffs next season but Trouba projects to be the kind of player you need to have around to make inroads on building a winning culture.