Now 28, the New York Rangers defenseman had his parents dig that notebook out of his childhood bedroom from his home in Rochester, Michigan in early August. He had to double check if one of the goals he remembers writing came true.
“They found it,” Trouba said, “and in there was, ‘Be an NHL captain.’ “
The Rangers named Trouba their 28th captain on Aug. 9. It’s a title Trouba has been working toward since arriving in New York more than four years ago, a move and a city that has allowed him to blossom into a powerful and respected leader.
“There’s just a lot of things that you guys don’t see,” Rangers center Mika Zibanejad said. “It’s the way he carries himself, it’s very natural. He took care of a lot of things last year. The way obviously he played, the stuff that he said in the locker room, the stuff that he was dealing with. A lot of people don’t know if you’re not in the locker room, just making sure everyone is on the same page if it’s a meeting, a dinner, a group gathering. I think it was honestly just a natural choice.”
[RELATED: New York Rangers season preview]
Trouba begins his first season as captain when the Rangers open the season against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET; ESPN, ESPN+, SN1, TVAS).
How he got to this point is a study in personal growth, how putting himself out there to learn from others allowed him to evolve into a leader.
Trouba debuted in the NHL at 19 years old with the Winnipeg Jets in 2013-14. Tall, lanky and loaded with power and potential, he had 29 points (10 goals, 19 assists) in his rookie season.
He was young, getting his feet wet, oblivious.
“A lot has changed in my life in 10 years,” Trouba said. “I was talking to my wife [Kelly] when I was going to meet someone and she was like, ‘Remember like six years ago, you wouldn’t even call the dentist to make an appointment, I had to do that for you.’ ”
Trouba played six seasons in Winnipeg and had success on and off the ice. He grew up some, became an NHL veteran and began to understand some of the nuances of leadership.
But it wasn’t until Trouba was acquired by the Rangers in a trade with the Jets on June 17, 2019, that his interest in leadership perked up.
New York already had gone a full season without a captain after trading defenseman Ryan McDonagh to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Feb. 26, 2018.
“There was a vacancy in leadership, they had no captain for a long time and I thought that was a role I can take on,” Trouba said of his mindset when he got to the Rangers, “something I wanted to get better at and I thought I needed to get better at. So it’s something I focused on the last three or four years.”
Trouba began to study leadership by crawling out of his shell and opening himself up to the knowledge and experience of others.
“I’ve talked to some former players, business people, CEOs,” he said, “but also some people who are floor managers that aren’t really at the top of the chain, but how do they handle the relationship with their bosses, what works for them, how do they motivate their sales people?
“Everything is a little different. You can take bits and pieces and how it all translates to sports and hockey.”
Video: New York Rangers look to build off last season
Trouba visited a mortgage company in Michigan and learned its CEO never books meetings on Thursdays, instead using that day to walk around and talk to employees, checking on them, asking if they have questions or ideas for improvements.
He got his master class in leadership this offseason by having dinner with Peter Cuneo, the former president, CEO and vice chairman of Marvel Entertainment Inc., hired in 1999 to turn around the company after it emerged from bankruptcy.
Cuneo, recognized by Forbes Magazine and Business Insider as one of the best turnaround CEOs in America, launched Marvel Studios and began creating the entertainment behemoth it is today.
He left Marvel after it sold to the Walt Disney Company for $4 billion in 2009.
Cuneo, who has also worked turnarounds at Clairol, Black & Decker and Remington, gives speeches across the globe on what he calls the 32 essentials of turnaround leadership.
He is close friends with MSG Network broadcaster Joe Micheletti, who arranged the meeting.
“Jacob called me up and said, ‘Can we go to dinner?’ ” Cuneo said. “He said. ‘We can’t do all 32,’ and I said they don’t all apply, but if you’re talking about you as the captain on the ice and maybe even more important in the locker room or on a road trip, on the plane, on the bus, at dinner, we could talk about some that I think apply.”
Cuneo told Trouba leaders need to generate positive energy from Day One, be honest and admit mistakes, communicate consistent messages, listen even if they know the answer, avoid prejudices, always be accessible, learn from past problems but never dwell on them, never think they’ve seen it all and have people around them who will tell them the truth about their performance.
They also discussed how leaders never panic, that they work on their failures and forget about their successes, how ego can’t get in the way and why finding time to escape into a hobby or family life fuels the energy needed to be a quality leader.
Cuneo said he told Trouba stories from his careers in the Navy and as a professional in business that relate to all of these qualities. He tried to relate many of the leadership essentials to Trouba’s role on an NHL team.
“I told him you have to be an actor at times,” Cuneo said. “You have a bad period, guys are all down, you get into the locker room, you’ve got to be up. Whatever it takes, you’ve got to be up.”
Cuneo also told Trouba leaders have a variety of tactics at their disposal to lead.
“Figure out who you can manage with a kind word and who you need to kick in the rear,” Cuneo said. “Both will get motivated if you figure out how to handle them.”
If a teammate needs five minutes to chat, make the time.
“People have to feel that they can come to you and you will listen,” Cuneo said.
Make a mistake on the ice? Get over it.
“It generates negative energy if you overemphasize mistakes of the past,” Cuneo said.
Realize when you, as the leader, need a wakeup call.
“Whoever it is has to be able to come to him and say, ‘Hey, Jacob, I don’t think that’s right,’ ” Cuneo said.
Trouba said he took a lot out of the dinner meeting and has reached out to Cuneo since.
“He’s grabbed onto this, and good for him,” Cuneo said. “He’s not responsible completely for how the team does, but he definitely has a role.”
Trouba’s challenge is putting everything he has learned into action.
He has already started, getting rid of the paper straws at the Rangers’ practice facility.
“Now we have bamboo straws,” he said, laughing. “Nobody liked the paper straws. That was my first move. We can’t go plastic, so bamboo was the alternate.”
Trouba may have made that decision unilaterally, but most of what he will do as the Rangers captain will be in a group setting, discussing everything with a leadership group that includes Zibanejad, forwards Chris Kreider, Artemi Panarin, Barclay Goodrow and Vincent Trocheck, and defenseman Adam Fox.
“The one thing I find so good with him,” Zibanejad said, “is as much as we rely on him, he relies on us as well to do this together.”
Said K’Andre Miller, Trouba’s defense partner, “I think you could have had 25 or 26 guys all say that Trouba was our captain last year. It’s an everyday thing for him. It’s not just, ‘I have a C on and now I’m going to start doing the work.’ It’s right where he left off last year.”
Which is another sign of Trouba’s growth.
“He was 19 when he got to Winnipeg, so I can understand why he didn’t want to talk to his dentist or know how to talk to his dentist,” former Rangers captain Dave Maloney said. “But it’s a good sign. I like to see guys evolve. I like to see them think differently and more responsibly as they get older. He sure has.”
Henrik Lundqvist, the former goalie who played with Trouba in 2019-20, said he can tell the Rangers players, particularly the younger ones, feel stronger knowing Trouba is on their side.
“I feel like he’s very consistent in his demeanor up and down,” Lundqvist said. “He’s always mentally in a good place. It’s not that you always have to smile and be happy, but his demeanor is very consistent and that’s good for a leader.”
It’s essential, according to Cuneo, and a big reason why Trouba reached his goal.
“I’m happy that it’s happened for me,” Trouba said. “And I need to continue to get better, need to continue to keep growing and learning.”
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