Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Pickin' Brains - Mark McNeill

This is the fifth and final installment of "Pickin' Brains" for now but I'll let you know that Dean and I have some interesting stuff in store in our lead up to the 2011 NHL Draft. You'll want to keep coming back to check for new stuff so if you haven't bookmarked us, if you're not following us on Twitter or haven't heard the show... this is a pretty good time to start.

Pickin' Brains is the result of conversations with 10 different scouts from 10 different organizations in regards to some players or specific topics in advance of the 2011 NHL Draft. Part 1 focused on Edmonton Oil Kings forward Dylan Wruck. Part 2 looked at the top D-men available from the WHL this year. Part 3 was similar but zeroed in on the WHL's 2011 crop of goaltenders. Part 4 shed the spotlight on Oil Kings skater Michael St. Croix.

Part 5 looks closer at a consensus 1st round pick, Prince Albert Raiders forward Mark McNeill. The Edmonton product had a very productive year finishing with 32 goals and 81 points in 70 regular season games. He also added 5 points in 6 playoff against with Saskatoon.

McNeill is listed at 6'2 and 210 lbs by the Raiders but Central Scouting has him at a hair over 200. McNeill himself recently said he's 207 lbs. There have been several comparisons made including the rather lofty one of a current Anaheim Ducks star. But is it at all accurate to suggest the former Calgary Hitman as a reasonable projection or is McNeill destined to disappoint fans (and media) who hold that expectation?

Pickin'Brains concludes with a 2-part question:

1) How valuable is Mark McNeill in the class of 2011?
2) Does McNeill project to be a pro player in the mold of Ryan Getzlaf?

The Good

"He’s got good skill. He had a very good year by putting up good numbers. I like his size and his skill and he’s a right-handed center – I think he’ll be a first rounder."

"A big rangy center that throws the body and casts a big shadow, he has a little grit to him and some offensive talents so he fits the mold of what a lot of teams are looking for."

"Size is good, he’ll drop the gloves and there’s no problem that way. skilled around the net, great hands, he can shoot hard and he has a quick release."

"I really like him, I think he has a good chance of becoming a solid 2nd line power forward. He ripped his Achilles tendon a couple of years ago and that hampered his skating a bit. He’s still really good but he was even more dynamic in his Bantam draft before that injury. I think he’s always used his speed to blow by guys."

"I saw him play a number of times this year; half the time he wasn’t very good but the other times I saw him he was absolutely outstanding."

"I like the physical element he has in his game. He doesn’t do anything spectacular but he does everything well. He wins battles when he has to win battles."

"He’s the captain of his team at a young age so there has to be something there."

"He’s a big guy with power and strength. He skates very well for a big man, very smooth."

"I’ve been all over the map with him but the tools are there. He’s a good sized body, a hockey body built throughout the core and the ass end. He can skate, he can shoot, he can handle the puck, he can make plays... I expect him to go in the top 20.

The Bad

"I saw him half a dozen times in the regular season and he was good the one night in Swift Current but I’ve got questions about his compete. I think he needs to compete harder and be more consistent with that."

"I think McNeill is a mystery. He has far more ability and skill than he wants to show. He has flashes of greatness and then he has moments of... the complete opposite. If he could ever learn to play consistent and if he was on a team that forced him to play hard every shift, I think this guy could be a pretty good player. He has all the NHL qualities that you want other than one thing; he has to learn to play consistent in all three zones, there and back. Once he’s learned how to do that, I think he’d have a chance."

"McNeill doesn’t skate well enough to be a first line center but maybe a 2nd or 3rd line guy on most clubs."

"I have had a real problem with his consistency."

"His compete level along the wall... in the corners and along the wall I don’t see second and third effort from him and he loses the puck to smaller guys who outwork him and want it more. He always leaves me wanting more."

"He has to work on his abilities when he’s in tight in terms of agility and quickness. If he’s going to be a power guy than he has to learn how to bowl over guys and he’s not used to doing that yet."

"He’s got all these physical tools but hasn’t been able to put it all together yet. That’s the big question, is this guy just scratching the surface now or is this what he is? I watched him a number of times, and every time I'd leave the game I'd say to myself that there has to be more. I don’t know if it’s immaturity or his personality. I spoke with someone who coached him before and he told me that when you looked down the bench, McNeil was not the guy that you thought was going to get it done for you."

"Intensity and grit level... I would like to see him play with more emotion and determination. It’s just not there every night."

"The things that make me a little bit concerned are his consistency, his urgency and compete level. I’ve seen him really, really good and then I’ve seen him sleep through some games."

The Comparables

First a foremost... does McNeill remind scouts of Ryan Getzlaf either when the Anaheim star was a member of the WHL's Calgary Hitmen or when they are projecting what kind of player he'll be at the NHL level?

"No I don’t. I see some of the laziness that Getzlaf showed but not the unbelievable skill that Getzlaf had when he turned his game up. Getzlaf was scary, this guy isn’t scary, he’s only pretty good."

"No. Getzlaf was a mean player in the WHL. Against a guy like Dion Phaneuf, they’d be at war every night. There is a huge difference between Getzlaf and McNeill."

"No, I don’t see any similarities to Ryan Getzlaf at all. He was a pure goal scorer, a big shooter but McNeill is a different player. McNeill is more of a gritty player, a hard-nosed player while Getzlaf was a perimeter player in junior. He had a great shot and was a good skater, not overly physical in his draft year but he filled into his body. McNeill has the physical side now and that grittiness is probably the best trait that he has. So no, McNeill is nothing like what Getzlaf was as a junior."

"I don’t see that comparison. Getzlaf had a great shot, he was a real scorer. The one thing McNeill is, is tough; he can fight."

"No. This kid is a much nicer boy than Getzlaf, no cockiness but that’s part of what makes Ryan Getzlaf what he is too. McNeill is a solid, good quality kid."

OK with that out of the way... who does McNeil draw comparison too? What role do scouts foresee for him in the NHL?

"He’s a two-way guy at the next level. I keep thinking about R.J. Umberger in Columbus"

"In the few games I saw him play where he was excellent, he reminded me a bit of a poor man’s Brad Richards. But that was when he was playing his best. Most nights he's more of a dependable but not flashy guy... a David Legwand."

Note: Both Umberger and Legwand were 1st round picks.

The Bottom Line

"He would be in the ball park for a 1st round pick in that 15-20 area."

"I would have to see more effort from him on a regular basis to make me want to draft him in the first round."

"1st round? Yeah I think so... but in the bottom third of the first round."

"I think he’ll probably be a first rounder because of his size."

"I think he’ll be around 20th in the 1st round."

"I expect he’ll go in the top 20."

The popular opinion is that McNeill will almost assuredly go in the first round and probably within the first 20 picks. Interestingly, no one I spoke with suggested that they would take him inside the top 10 though.

Oh, and when you think of Mark McNeill, don't think of Ryan Getzlaf.

- McNeill played for Canada at the U18s and although he collected 6 assists in the tournament (4th in team scoring), it's worth noting that he didn't score a single goal.

- He finished 2nd (14.132 seconds) in the fastest skating event at the CHL Top Prospects Game.

- McNeill Went through a mid-season slump of 9 games where he only picked up 3 points and was a minus-16. However, a scout told me that "he was on IV during that stretch, battling the flu. He lost about 6 pounds."

- Another version of the explanation for the slump came from another scout who said "He had a bicep injury and he had a viral abdominal infection and was on antibiotics. I think that was the problem with him in the second half."

- McNeill ended the year on fire scoring in 15 of the last 16 games and piling up 28 points in that time. (Feb. 15 - Mar. 19)

(Photos: Hannah Zitner, IIHF Images, Hockey Canada, Andy Devlin, Liam Richards)


Greg said...

Great work as per normal.

C J N said...

Great stuff guys. Really nice to see people list some negatives as opposed to always listing positives about players.

misfit said...

Great article. This site is always a must-read especially leading up to the draft, and articles like this one are a big reason why.

I personally like the Legwand comparison myself, but the more I think about it RJ Umberger is a good one too.