The 2011 draft is a little more than a month away, and we all know that Gordie Clark, Glen Sather, and the collection of Rangers scouts are holding many meetings to discuss potential players on their draft boards. The Rangers have the 15th overall pick in this year’s draft, and while most of the prospects on people’s lists will be gone (Nugent-Hopkins, Larsson, Courturier, etc), there are a good amount of prospects that would help the Rangers in the long run. Today we look at #20 in the ISS Top-30 –but is likely higher on many other boards– Mark McNeill of the Prince Albert Raiders of the WHL.
The first thing you may notice about the 6’2″, 210lb center from Edmonton is that he is a big kid. So big, in fact, that he was able to compete in the WHL as just a 16 year old. He played four games for the Raiders in the 2008-2009 season (age 16), and played a full season in 2009-2010 (age 16-17). It’s not unheard of to have a 16 year old play in the WHL, but it is relatively rare. In that first season as a 16 year old, McNeill had a line of 9-15-24 with 27 PIMs and a -10 rating in 68 games. Last season –his age 17-18 season– he tore up the league, posting a line of 32-49-81 with 53 PIMs and a -4 rating in 70 games. In the playoffs, he posted a line of 2-3-5 in six games.
McNeill is a beast on the ice. Kirk Luedeke of Bruins Draft watch calls the kid a “Mack truck”. With kids his size, there is always a danger that he may not need to use his size because of the size of the players around him. That is untrue for McNeill, who uses his body for puck control, along the boards, and for intimidation. He doesn’t fight often, but when he does, he throws down with the best of them.
As for his hockey skills, his big frame (with ridiculously strong legs) makes him a fluid skater with good acceleration. He’s not Michael Grabner, but he has enough speed to leave defenders in the dust. His passing and shot are on par for a first round pick (ie: pretty good). What really sets McNeill apart (aside from his frame) is his work ethic. You don’t just become a Mack truck on skates without busting it at the gym and on the ice. His work ethic inspires his teammates, and makes him a natural born leader.
It’s tough to find anything that notes areas of improvement for McNeill. I find that hard to believe, because if there were no negatives, he’d be a lottery pick. The one thing I could find was that although he uses his size well, he is a bit inconsistent with using his size, especially without the puck. He is far from a liability in his own zone, but there is definitely a lot of room for improvement from McNeill without the puck. Consistency seems to be an issue for pretty much every single prospect under the age of 21 though.
McNeill is a big body center that seems to be coming into his own as a player in the WHL. He definitely has the work ethic to succeed, but it’s always a matter of making sure it all comes together. The Rangers seem to be on a trend of not only drafting talent, but drafting kids with good heads on their shoulders. McNeill is another player in that mold. He may not be the most skilled player, but he is definitely someone that I would be happy with the Rangers drafting.