January 20, 2011
Buzzing The Net is profiling Canadian Hockey League players who are in their NHL draft season.
One would never know how Mark McNeill spent last summer.
That timespan in between a prospect's rookie major junior season and his draft year can be make-or-break. Instead of working out, though, McNeill (pictured) was recovering from the surgery he had to repair a severed left Achilles tendon in the spring. That, along with being cut from Canada's U18 team in August, seems like a distant memory. In his second season, the 6-foot-1, 204-pound centre has already become a Prince Albert Raiders alternate captain and a point-per-game player (20 goals, 52 points in 47 games).
"It was a really tough summer, I was laid up on the couch for most of it," says McNeill, who International Scouting Services ranks 15th among all players for the 2011 draft. "I really had to work on my leg strength, build that up so it wouldn't hold me back."
Evidently, it hasn't. The Edmonton native has grown up quickly in Prince Albert, helping the Raiders maintain a playoff position in the WHL's Eastern Conference. On a typical night, he'll do a bit of everything, including taking critical faceoffs and working from the point on power plays. Having very few nits to pick with his game means McNeill likely will be a good, safe pick in June. (He is ranked 22nd among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting.
In conversation, McNeill has a way of cutting to the chase, which might speak well for him. For instance, ask what he needs to improve, and you get a quick, "Consistently playing with an edge." He's not one to mess around, as his disdain for that injury-induced idle time might have indicated.
"It has been pretty good. My 16-year-old year was more of a year to get to know what it takes to play in the WHL. This year [Raiders coach-GM] Bruno Campese and the coaches have really given me a lot more responsiblity. They told me right from the start of the year they'd be expecting a lot more from me, we going to give me a lot more responsibility, being on the PK, being on the power play, playing on the top two lines. It's been good."
2. What is the biggest asset you bring to a team?
"Leadership skills and the way I play my game, as a power forward who can play centre or wing."
3. What do you consider your proudest hockey achievement?
"I don't recall the exact age I was, but it was playing on Team Brick in a big 'super novice' tournament they do every year in Edmonton, playing against kids from throughout North America. We played at the rink at the West Edmonton Mall and the people who were walking around were stopping to watch us play. It was a pretty big deal, for back then."
4. Hockey players have to have very strict diets. What is something you know you can't eat too often, but you have it anyways?
"My guilty pleasure food? I'm a big fan of Chinese food."
5. What is the worst movie you've ever watched on the team bus?
"A movie called Cyrus. It went straight to DVD, didn't even make the theatres. It was just horrible. I hadn't even heard of it."
(There were two movies released in the same year with that same name. One is a John C. Reilly-Jonah Hill comedy with an 80% favourable rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the other, well, it stars career C-lister Lance Henriksen. Enough said. — Ed.)
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports . Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. (Photo: Aaron Bell, OHL Images.)