By Jourdon LaBarber for Sabres.com
Starting at the top with projected No. 1 pick Jack Hughes, the NHL's Class of 2019 is notable for the amount - and quality - of talent coming from the United States National Team Development Program.
Sixteen players from the program were present for testing day at the NHL Scouting Combine inside Harborcenter on Saturday. That list includes potential top-10 picks in Hughes, Matthew Boldy, Cole Caufield, Alex Turcotte and Trevor Zegras as well as a potential first-round goalie in Spencer Knight.
"This is a special group," NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr said. "We've spent time with them during the year, we've had them here all week, and they really live up to that projection of being a special group.
"I anticipate that USA Hockey will have the biggest smiles on their faces on Draft Day because of the number of players to go in the first round, the top three rounds, through the entire draft. I think they're going to set a record for that program."
It was a Buffalo native - and a current pro scout for the Sabres - who brought them all together. Jeremiah Crowe, a former assistant coach at Buffalo State College, worked as director of player personnel for the National Team Development Program for two seasons prior to joining the Sabres in 2017.
"I think he might deserve all the credit," Zegras said. "That was quite a team he picked."
WATCH: 2019 NHL SCOUTING COMBINE RECAP
Crowe scouted the players as 15 and 16-year-olds, attending games and making phone calls to build relationships along the way. John Beecher, an Elmira native who's ranked 49th among North American prospects, recalled the pressure of playing for a spot in the program.
"He'd come to games every now and then," Beecher said. "You'd kind of notice when he was there. It was a little nerve-wracking."
The last two years saw that team find success on the international stage, taking home gold at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in 2017 and bronze in the IIHF Men's Under-18 World Championship this past April.
They pushed each other to develop along the way, competing in practices with a game-like intensity.
"It pushed me on a daily basis," Clarence native Case McCarthy, a defenseman, said. "You play against guys who can beat you in any way. You play against Jack Hughes, that's just to say one. We have a deep list of guys who you play against on a daily basis."
The personalities meshed, too. McCarthy said the entire team would spend weekends together, be it at the movie theater or on the golf course. The bond the teammates shared was evident even in their interviews with the media on Saturday.
Asked which teammate he would bring to the NHL, Knight was unable to choose.
"I think this team is special," he said. "During the season, you're so focused on hockey. But after the season you're like, 'Wow, we built a special bond.' Not just with one, two, three, four kids. It's really the whole team."
It all started with the selections made by Crowe.
"He's kind of the one who picked out our team and watched us develop," Beecher said. "He obviously did a wonderful job at picking our team. … Props to him. He's an unbelievable scout and a great guy."
Here are more observations from testing day at the combine.
McCarthy was in familiar territory this week, having played at Harborcenter with the Junior Sabres as well as during summer skates with the Academy of Hockey. Those summer sessions have allowed him to interact with some of the current Sabres, including Jack Eichel.
His first interaction with a Sabres player predates Harborcenter, or even his relocation to Buffalo in fifth grade. Although he grew up outside of Albany, McCarthy inherited Sabres fandom from his father, a South Buffalo native. Jason Pominville was his favorite player.
McCarthy got the chance to skate with Pominville at eight years old during a spring tournanment in Montreal, thanks to a connection through one of his teammates.
"I think I had to right down on a questionnaire who my favorite player was, and it was Jason Pominville at the time," he recalled. "It was pretty cool. I got to skate with him at eight at some shooting clinic. It was cool to meet my idol."
Beecher grew up a Sabres fan in Elmira, often making the two-and-a-half-hour drive to KeyBank Center to catch games with his family. Ready to feel old? His favorite memory occurred during Eichel's rookie season in 2016.
"It was the first time we ever got to see Eichel in a Sabres jersey," he said. "They were playing against Carolina. There was about three, four, five seconds left into the game. He kind of came down and everybody stood up on their feet.
"He slid it five-hole and won the game with about a second left. I think it's pretty awesome the hype he's created around himself here and how much the fanbase really loves him."
Alex Beaucage, a right wing from Rouyn-Noranda of the QMJHL, mentioned a current Sabre when asked which NHL player he models his game after.
"I think Sam Reinhart because of his hockey sense," he said. "Like the way he thinks on the ice, the way he passes the puck and what he does with it. Yeah, I think I compare myself to him."
Players typically describe their interviews with teams as being fairly boilerplate, but there are always a few questions that seem to come out of left field. Spencer Knight was still pondering his answer to one question posed by a team when he met with the media on Saturday.
"One question that had me wondering - and I still think about it - is like, 'Do you like to stop pucks or prevent goals?'" Knight said. "I like to stop pucks, but I think the whole point of goaltending is to prevent goals. I'm still going back and forth. I'm still thinking on that one.
The results are in
Check out the results from the physical testing portion of the combine here.