June 12 2011 10:36AM
The Flames head to this month's draft with a relatively barren prospect cupboard to fill, so decent players of any sort will do, but the primary deficiency the club faces at the developmental level is the absence of skilled forwards. The 13th pick in the draft represents an opportunity to address that need, and one of the potential players of interest is Prince Albert center Mark McNeill.
McNeill is a slightly unusual case for a young player in that a team won't be waiting very long, if at all, for him to physically mature. He's already roughly 210 pounds at age 18 and a few months, so it's possible he might be almost done filling out. His power numbers from the recent NHL draft combine certainly indicate he's a specimen, with very high grip and leg strength present in the testing. That does leave one wondering if he simply bullied his way around in the Dub, and if he can translate that power when he works against men, but if nothing else, there won't be many questions asking if his frame is NHL-ready.
That state of physical near-readiness fits the rest of the prospect evaluations on McNeill as well. Corey Pronman's profile at Hockey Prospectus included this bit:
McNeill's best quality is in regards to his hockey sense, as he thinks the game at a notably above-average level and has a very advanced defensive game for a pre-draft prospect. He comes back and supports his defenders on every shift with good positional and physical play and rarely leaves the zone until he's sure there's no threat, but yet still puts offensive puck possession pressure on the opposition. There are very few holes in Mark's game, and he's a prospect that can fast track to the NHL and be playing scoring minutes within a couple of years.
As Corey also points out, McNeill appears to be an acceptable skater with good top-end speed. Whether that translates to the bigs is another matter, but again, it doesn't seem like his movement will be a serious negative as he progresses to the pro level.
In terms of on-ice performance, the Edmonton native made waves this year with an 81 point campaign in P.A. on a fairly mediocre club. As Kent noted when he profiled Sven Bartschi, it's often instructive to examine both a player's production and surroundings in junior, and McNeill's efforts are well worth a look in that regard. Of his 81 points, 51 came at even strength, or roughly 63 percent. That's not out of line for good prospects, and it's worth mentioning that the likely top pick in the draft scored 59 of his 106 points on the PP this season. Plenty of high scoring juniors fatten their totals when their team is a man to the good (cough Rob Schremp cough), so that split should always be considered, and McNeill's tally of 25 PP points doesn't raise any red flags in that regard. By way of comparison, Max Reinhart had 27 PP points this season as part of his 79 point total on a very good Kootenay squad.
As mentioned, surroundings are worth noting as well. McNeill's Raider team finished 8th in the WHL's Eastern Conference, scoring 237 goals. He was in on just over 34 percent of Prince Albert's total scoring, and 30 percent (51pts on 170 G) of their EV goals. Those numbers are right in line with Bartschi's 29 percent at EV (63/214), but the difference in McNeill's favour when we use this metric is that the quality of his teammates was slightly weaker than Bartschi's. Of the other scorers in P.A.'s top five, exactly zero of them have been drafted, and the team's leading scorer headed to the ECHL for his next gig, in contrast to the two top-five picks on Portland's squad. In other words, it seems unlikely McNeill was carried to a high point total by the endeavours of others.
In terms of potential red flags, McNeill did appear to burst out of nowhere this season, going from 24 points to 81, and as Scott Reynolds has noted, players that make a major leap in their draft year don't always carry that to the next level, so more than tripling his point total might not automatically be considered a plus. His relatively late birthday of February 22nd, 1993 hints that he might just have needed a bit of time to finish growing into his body, so the significant leap for his 17 year old to 18 year old numbers may not be entirely negative, but it's still a matter of interest.
Overall, if Mark McNeill turns out, a player of his style would fit the needs of the Flames quite nicely. A right-shooting power center is a relatively rare commodity in the game, and the club's two best center prospects (Backlund/Wahl) are certainly of a slighter build. If he's available at 13, the Flames will have to give him very serious consideration.