He grew up with more size, strength and speed than his peers, an advantage that helped forward Jordan Greenway’s hockey career get off to a successful start.
But Greenway wanted to match up against players with just as much muscle and even more experience, so he suited up for Boston University — embarking on a litmus test that’s only helped him continue to emerge as one of the Wild’s most promising prospects.
And now, the 20-year-old is on the brink of yet another chance to share the ice with challenging competition after being named to the U.S. roster for the upcoming Winter Olympics — a rare opportunity that could further enrich Greenway’s journey to the NHL.
“A lot of these guys have professional backgrounds,” Greenway said. “Seeing the habits that they do and what’s allowed them to have success, that’ll help me out a lot.”
With the NHL skipping the 2018 Games, Team USA brass turned its attention to pros skating overseas, minor-leaguers and college athletes. Greenway was one of just four NCAA players to be included on the American roster, along with St. Cloud State’s Will Borgen.
“I believe it reflects on him as a player,” said Brad Bombardir, the Wild’s director of player development. “I don’t think the U.S. team would have taken him if they didn’t think he was capable of playing there and if they didn’t think he was making an impact there because he is young. But I really believe that just shows you the type of player Jordan has become.”
Drafted in the second round, 50th overall, by the Wild in 2015, Greenway had 17 points — seven goals — through 19 games in his third season with the Terriers.
“He has gotten better at the college level,” Bombardir said. “He certainly is a dynamic player and very effective player.”
While Greenway hasn’t determined whether he’ll turn pro after the season, the Olympics could certainly act as an appropriate tuneup for an eventual graduation.
His sturdiness along the boards and in front of the net should have no problem translating to the NHL, but skating on the larger ice surface during international play could prepare him for an elite speed of pace and quick decisionmaking that can stall some prospects’ transitions.
And there’s also the chance to learn from older players, off-ice insight about what it takes to be a professional that Greenway prioritized upon his return to Boston University.
Although he had heard NHLers probably wouldn’t be given the green light to participate in the Olympics in the summer, he wanted to return to the college ranks because he felt he had more to squeeze out of the experience.
“It still challenges me,” said Greenway, who won gold with the U.S. team in the World Juniors last year and is the first African-American to make the U.S. Olympic hockey team. “I think I definitely make strides in the right direction. I just think there’s more that I can do before deciding to make the jump.”
Like winning a national championship and now capturing gold with Team USA, a possibility Greenway couldn’t have imagined a few years ago.
Now, though, his impending trip to South Korea could be another memorable milepost on his trek to the Wild.
“It’s the Olympics,” Greenway said. “It’s almost like the world shuts down when the Olympic tournament starts. I couldn’t be more excited for the opportunity.”
• There were no surprises when the NHL announced the captains for the All-Star Game as voted on by the fans. The top vote-getters were Connor McDavid (Oilers), P.K. Subban (Predators), Alex Ovechkin (Capitals) and Steven Stamkos (Lightning). What will be more interesting is how each division fills out its roster. Center Eric Staal has to be a leading candidate to represent the Wild. Yes, goalie Devan Dubnyk has been a rock of late, winger Jason Zucker has had impressive stretches and defenseman Ryan Suter remains an anchor on the blue line. But Staal’s offensive contributions (17 goals, 35 points) are worthy of the recognition.
• At the midway point of the season, the Vegas Golden Knights remain arguably the best story in the league. Although the team had its eight-game win streak nixed Thursday by the Blues, its competitiveness in Year 1 as a franchise has been startling. It looked like General Manager George McPhee was loading up on impending free agents through expansion to set himself up for a busy trade deadline, but it has to be difficult to subtract from this group amid this run. Perhaps the Golden Knights locking up forward Jonathan Marchessault recently with a six-year contract suggests they’ll keep the team intact.
• Goalie Jeff Glass’ emergence is inspiring. After stints in the minors and Kontinental Hockey League, Glass finally earned a look in the NHL with the Blackhawks at the age of 32 when No. 1 Corey Crawford went down (upper-body injury). Talk about perseverance.
WILD'S WEEK AHEAD
Tuesday: 7 p.m. vs. Calgary
Wednesday: 7 p.m. at Chicago
Saturday: 6 p.m. vs. Winnipeg
Player to watch: Connor Hellebuyck, Jets
The reigning first star of the week in the NHL is a major reason why Winnipeg is contending for the top spot in the Central Division. Hellebuyck ranks among the best starting goalies in the league in wins, save percentage and goals-against average.
“This is going to be great for us. No excuses.”
Wild winger Charlie Coyle after the team had a full lineup of healthy players for the first time this season.
Sarah McLellan covers the Wild and NHL hockey for the Star Tribune.