Photo by Rena Laverty
Like many around him, U.S. National Under-17 Team forward Devin Kaplan fell in love with hockey by way of his family. His father – who despite being a baseball player developed an enthusiasm for hockey in college – introduced Kaplan to the sport.
His brothers intensified that passion.
“[My dad] got my brothers into it,” said Kaplan. “Then when I went to their games and everything growing up, I kind of fell in love with it. I started skating when I was three or four and I did private lessons with the skating instructor that my brothers had.”
His family continued to be a strong foundation for Kaplan as his hockey journey began to take off.
The youngest of three, Kaplan’s brothers have served as role models in his pursuit of success at every level of hockey. Jordan, Kaplan’s oldest brother, plays college hockey at the University of Vermont, while his brother Jalen is in his second year playing at Colby College.
Not to be outdone, the youngest Kaplan will join the Terriers at Boston University in 2022.
Through it all, however, Kaplan’s father, Scott, has been the rock in his development.
“Growing up, after games in the car, we would always talk about the game and how I played. I think that helped a lot,” said Kaplan. “I still text him after every game.”
Kaplan was raised in Bridgewater, New Jersey, where he played for the New Jersey Rockets and the North Jersey Avalanche and was able to progress on and off the ice.
When the opportunity to represent the United States came along, Kaplan called it a “no-brainer,” and packed his bags for the storied program in Plymouth, Michigan.
“The guys who came through before me, the path they paved for everybody else is incredible,” said Kaplan. “Just seeing how much success they've had, there’s nowhere else better to be at this age.”
Kaplan was also excited for the chance to play with the country’s elite 16 and 17-year-olds. Before Kaplan donned the red, white and blue with his U17 teammates, he shared the ice with several of them as opponents, meeting them in games around the country and, interestingly, at the prestigious Quebec International PeeWee Hockey Tournament.
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Photo by Rena Laverty
“That was the first tournament where I really got to see the other competition around North America,” said Kaplan. “The other kids that are on my team now, I was able to see them for the first time and see how good they really were.”
Despite being foes on ice, Kaplan is happy to represent the United States with his former opponents.
“It's unbelievable,” said Kaplan. “Being able to represent the country every day, it's something not everybody has a chance to do so you can't take it for granted.”
When his time at the NTDP comes to an end, Kaplan will take the next step in his hockey journey suiting up for Boston University.
Many factors contributed to his choice to play there, including the campus and the alumni.
“Growing up, we always had to go travel to Boston a lot, so I kind of fell in love with the city during tournaments there,” said Kaplan. “Then in 2015, they made it to the finals and being able to see like Jack Eichel guys like that live, it kind of made me solidify my decision. I've always wanted to go there.”
His decision was also pushed along by a helpful friend in current U18 forward and Boston University commit Jeremy Wilmer.
“My buddy Jeremy Wilmer, when we played together on the 16U Avalanche, he was always pushing me to go there. He’s one of my best friends, so it’s a good situation. I love it there.”
For now, Kaplan will make the most of his time at the NTDP. By the numbers, it looks like he's doing just that.
In 28 games this season, including two with the U18s, Kaplan has 11 goals, 20 assists and 31 points, averaging over a point per contest. In addition, the forward has seven multi-point games including two four-point games.
“I’m just trying to grow myself and trying to be the best player I can be,” said Kaplan. “I’m also trying to be the best person I can be.”
And while his brothers and dad aren’t here, Kaplan can rely on a plethora of people to keep motivating and pushing him, from coaches to trainers, and especially the U18s, who, with a year of NTDP experiment under their belts, have plenty of guidance to give on maximizing their development.
“It's always good to see them because they've been through one year already so they know kind of the ropes,” said Kaplan. “If I ever need help I know some of those guys pretty well so they'll give me some advice. They just tell us to keep pushing even when things are going bad, and to keep trying and eventually things will start coming. It's good to have them around.