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2011 NHL Entry Draft
2011 NHL Entry Draft Hats

USNTDP's McNeely turning heads in his own right

Saturday, 06.18.2011 / 11:57 AM / 2011 NHL Entry Draft

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

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USNTDP's McNeely turning heads in his own right
Perhaps forgotten in all the hype surrounding NHL Central Scouting's top-rated North American goaltender for the 2011 Entry Draft -- John Gibson of the U.S. National Team Development Program -- was the play of his backup, Matt McNeely.

But unlike his partner at the USNTDP, McNeely was a tad more flashy and daring. That style proved effective -- most of the time. It was good enough to get McNeely the No. 4 spot among North American goaltenders on Central Scouting's list.

"I was pretty fortunate to get the opportunity to play for the NTDP and I made the most of my opportunities that they gave me," McNeely told NHL.com.

"He dances and flies around in the net, but has some holes. He's very quick, very athletic and has great drive and determination, but he's overanxious and overreacts and, at times, that's what hurts Campbell. The thing is, John Gibson cannot play like Campbell, but McNeely does have that ability."
-- Al Jensen

In 27 games, McNeely, who was hampered by a nagging ankle injury for parts of the season, finished 9-12-1 with a 3.84 goals-against average and .891 save percentage. He was unbeaten in six international appearances, going 4-0-0 with a 3.62 GAA and .883 save percentage. He'll spend next season with the Cedar Rapids Roughriders of United States Hockey League prior to entering the University of Minnesota-Duluth in the fall of 2012.

"I originally was going to play at Duluth next season, but I talked to the coaches and we decided it would be more beneficial for me to play a year in the USHL and then go to Duluth the following season," McNeely said. "The USHL is very competitive, having played in it for two years with the NTDP. We all struggled as 17-year-olds, but got more mature and stronger and came back even better this year. With two years under my belt, I'm confident going in there and making a difference for Cedar Rapids."

McNeely, who is good friends with former NTDP standout goalie and Dallas Stars prospect Jack Campbell, should draw plenty of interest in the later rounds for teams willing to give a prospect with plenty of upside some time to develop.

"I like to use my size (6-foot-2, 205 pounds) to my advantage the best I can," McNeely said. "I think I'm a pretty big goalie. I feel I have quick feet and a quick glove and I can play the puck well. I feel I'm mentally strong and don't like things getting to me on the ice. There are still things I need to work on, but I improved significantly in Ann Arbor (Mich.) this year."

NHL Central Scouting's goalie guru, Al Jensen, sees a lot of similarities between McNeely and Campbell, who was drafted with the 11th pick of the 2010 Draft.

"I think he's trying to play it like Campbell," Jensen said. "He dances and flies around in the net, but has some holes. He's very quick, very athletic and has great drive and determination, but he's overanxious and overreacts and, at times, that's what hurts Campbell. The thing is, John Gibson cannot play like Campbell, but McNeely does have that ability."

With the assistance of NTDP goalie coach Joe Exter, McNeely was determined to improve the mental aspect of his game this season.

"Coach Exter and I worked on becoming more mentally stronger than I was before as far as letting a goal in and not hanging my head … not showing the team or fans that I'm upset. I think I improved on that, so if a bad goal went in, I just did my best to treat it like a normal goal."
-- Matt McNeely

"Coach Exter and I worked on becoming more mentally stronger than I was before as far as letting a goal in and not hanging my head … not showing the team or fans that I'm upset," McNeely said. "I think I improved on that, so if a bad goal went in, I just did my best to treat it like a normal goal.

"The thing is, if my team sees me hanging my head, they could get discouraged, so I do my best to keep level-headed throughout the entire game or practice. But I feel great with it now. Every goalie allows a bad goal here or there, but I've felt I've made great improvements in that area."

The native of Burnsville, Minn., has enjoyed his time sharing the goal crease with Gibson.

"Me and Gibber had a good relationship and we're good friends," McNeely said. "We push each other at practice and support each other in games … we had each other's back, in a way, and when I was playing he'd support me and when he was playing I'd support him."

Gibson played 40 games this past season, going 24-11-3 with a 2.55 GAA and .921 save percentage, and also backstopped the U.S. to a gold medal at April's World Under-18 Championship.

"Toward the end of the season, (Gibson) played a little more than I did," McNeely said. "That was a little disappointing, but I just did my best to support him and the team and be as good a teammate as I could."

USNTDP captain Tyler Biggs thought McNeely handled the situation perfectly.

"There was never any negative energy from either of them as far as playing time," Biggs told NHL.com. "I think everyone understood the position McNeely and Gibson were in. We went into it thinking in terms of a third- or fourth-line guy who might not get as much playing time as they wanted. So you have to know your role and be able to contribute as much as you can when called upon. We were just as confident with McNeely in net."

For McNeely, who enjoys watching the way pros Martin Brodeur and Marc-Andre Fleury go about their business between the pipes, being drafted in his home state certainly would be something special.

"I've worked hard to get where I am the past two years," he said. "The way I look at it, I'm fortunate to be considered at the draft, whether it's the first or last round … doesn't matter. I feel lucky enough to be there."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale