FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Ask Jacob Trouba about the secret to his almost-instant success -- and there are those who believe the 19-year-old rookie defenceman might just be the best player in the Winnipeg Jets lineup right now -- and he'll simply shrug and grin.
"The way I look at it," said Trouba Wednesday after a spirited practice at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, "is it's just hockey still.
"Obviously, it's a different game for me. It's a higher level, the guys are faster and you've got to be on your toes a little bit. But at the same time, it's more fun and it makes it a little easier because the guys you are playing with are so much better than at other levels.
"So, I'll just keep going with the flow and trying to get better."
Hockey -- and the NHL in particular -- doesn't do the gushing thing very often. Grizzled vets seldom toss around praise for a kid not yet of drinking age and with all of 12 games under his belt. And coaches are loathe to pump up a dude's tires too much for fear a prospect will begin believing he is the second coming of Bobby Orr.
But bring up Trouba's name in the Jets dressing room these days and there is a clear consensus: the kid is good. Really freakin' good. And the scary part? He truly is just starting to get comfy. That means performances like the one he served up in Monday's win over the New York Rangers -- two assists, a +2 rating, two hits and eight blocked shots in just over 20 minutes of ice time -- could soon become the norm.
"He's been real solid," said Jets assistant coach Charlie Huddy. "He's kind of a step ahead. I know he's still young, but nothing really seems to bother him. He's a level-headed kid who doesn't put himself above anybody. He knows who he is and the big thing is he just comes to play every day. He doesn't get rattled much if he makes a bad play... that's not easy to do.
"Look, nobody wants to get too carried away, but you can see he's got a lot of upside. He's got a little bit of everything in his game."
The Jets knew all about his compete level -- and his notorious mean streak -- when they drafted him in 2012. They knew he showed a great deal of poise with the puck on his stick, had a solid shot and could play in all situations.
But inject the team's brass with heavy doses of sodium pentothal and they'll likely admit they didn't think it would all come together this quickly. After all, the unofficial NHL rule of thumb is defencemen take longer than forwards to mature and understand the game and blah, de-blah, blah.
So, again, there's the question about how and why this is seemingly coming so easily for Trouba. Huddy, for example, wondered if the year with the University of Michigan -- with the heavy emphasis on practice -- didn't help mature his game.
But it might just be as simple as this: the more you speak to Trouba, the more there is a feel for his quiet confidence. It's not that he's cocky, but it's like he's tempted to counter the doubts about whether he can succeed right away with a question of his own:
Why the heck not?
"My dad always told me to enjoy it and have fun," said Trouba. "I've never really been too star-struck. I mean, it's hockey. It's pretty cool to play in venues like Madison Square Garden and I'm going to do that all year when I go to new places and have new experiences.
"But this is what I've been working for my whole life. This team does a good job of staying loose and having fun, always enjoying what we're doing because there's a lot worse things we could be doing than playing hockey.
"How could I not be having fun right now?"
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