In the wake of Thursday night's game, even in a loss, five words tumbled out of media and teammates and Twitter: Jacob Trouba is a special player.
The Jets believed this when they drafted him, even with flashier forwards on the board. University of Michigan fans believed it when they saw him cannonballing his way through his area of the NCAA, and then everyone believed at World Juniors at the turn of the year. He was magnificent there, even though he was a year younger than most defencemen in the tournament, and a generous part of Team USA's gold medal was won through his play.
Now Trouba stands in the final stretch of his first NHL training camp, looking for all the world like he belongs. On Thursday night against the visiting Bruins, he notched an assist, crushed Patrice Bergeron and skated like a song. Most remarkable: he didn't look like a teen at the most intense crossroads of his young career. He looked in control of what he was doing out there, and afterwards he said he was just having fun.
"Just his poise with the puck," Jets defence coach Charlie Huddy said of the kid, the morning after that first Bruins game. "The way he handles the puck, and holds onto it, and makes the right plays, but doesn't hold onto it too long and get into trouble with it. Just his d-zone coverage I think, for a young kid... the game's a lot quicker, things happen faster, but surprisingly, he's handled it well."
If Trouba stays up -- and by all indications, he will -- things won't always be so smooth. He's only 19, Huddy agreed, he will make some mistakes, and he'll make them under the ravenous eyes of a Canadian hockey crowd. The Jets know the potential they have on their hands, and now they must surround him with the support to keep him on a level, and bring him up right.
"You're under the microscope every time you step out onto that ice," Huddy said. "But from the time I've known him, I think he's a pretty level-headed kid. I don't think he's going to have any problems handling it. Is he going to feel it? I'm sure... but he can't worry about all the outside stuff. He's got one job to do, and we'll help him along with that."
So in the Jets dressing room, Trouba hangs up his gear now just to Mark Stuart's right, the same way they raced through the game Thursday night, and that's exactly where coaches want him to be. Stuart, 29, is in his ninth pro season now. He's earned his scars, and comes to work with the sort of guts-and-grindstone approach that keeps a guy in this league.
"It's kind of my job to just help him out," Stuart said on Thursday.
"For him, my advice is just to take it all in, really. Just play his game. I think if you try to prove too much right away, it's not healthy for a young kid. He wouldn't be in the position he's in if he didn't have the talent. So for him to just keep doing what he's doing, and the job of a veteran guy is just communicate as much as possible."
Then there is Huddy, who Jets defencemen describe as a "calming" influence and who, with his soft-spoken approach can seem kind of zen. Huddy can't remember himself ever playing with a blue-liner quite like Trouba, not quite that mix of size and all-around strengths and unbridled glee at taking the body. It's exciting to see, Huddy agreed, and he isn't too worried about how his youngest charge will adapt when the challenge ramps up.
"We all know once the regular season picks up, the intensity picks up," Huddy said. "But I don't see that being a problem for him."