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FEATURE: Hobey Baker finalist Dylan McLaughlin eyes different path to NHL

Canisius College standout set to begin pro career in Rockford on AHL deal

by Chris Kuc @ChrisKuc / Blackhawks.com

About 20 minutes prior to the start of practices at Canisius College in Buffalo, players will often filter out of the dressing room and take the ice to fiddle with pucks and get in some individual work before the full coaching staff calls the team to order.

Throughout his four seasons at Canisius, forward Dylan McLaughlin was a noticeable presence at the informal pre-practice sessions, so it was confusing to head coach Trevor Large when he skated out one day early in the 2018-19 season and saw McLaughlin not on the ice but seated by himself on the bench.

"It was a day where there were lots of guys on the ice and I saw him sitting there and I was like, 'That's pretty rare, let me go see what's up with Dylan,'" Large said. " 'He said, 'Can we start practice now? There are too many guys on the ice. Let's go.' It was 20 minutes before a practice and Dylan was already chomping at the bit. By the end of the year I made sure I just went out there and grabbed him and said, 'You and me, Dylan, we're going to work on whatever you want to work on.' He doesn't want to waste a day and to me that's part of what made Dylan great."

Indeed, McLaughlin put together a stellar career at Canisius, including being a Hobey Baker Top 10 Finalist in 2018, Atlantic Hockey Conference Player of the Year in 2017-18, Atlantic Hockey Association First Team selection for '17-18 and '18-19 and winner of the AHA Individual Sportsmanship Award in '18-19. McLaughlin finished his college career tied with Cory Conacher, who is currently in the Lightning organization, for first place on the program's Division I era scoring chart with 147 points in 152 games.

That resume made McLaughlin a much sought-after college free agent and the Blackhawks feel fortunate they were the organization to nab the Lancaster, N.Y. native when the Rockford IceHogs signed him to a two-year AHL contract in March.

Tweet from @goicehogs: Roster update:The #IceHogs have agreed to terms with F Dylan McLaughlin on a 2-year AHL contract thru 2020-21.McLaughlin finished ninth in NCAA DI hockey in goals this season, and was a Hobey Baker finalist alongside Dylan Sikura in 2017-18.Info | https://t.co/L4KWaT7K63 pic.twitter.com/Wxum7lYsPX

"After last season I talked to a few teams and I was really excited about the opportunity that Rockford had and to be within the Blackhawks organization," said McLaughlin, who is among the prospects participating in the 2019 Blackhawks Development Camp this week. "I feel like there are good opportunities. In Chicago up at the big leagues it seems like there is a younger group of guys coming through. Like everyone here, my goal is to play in the NHL one day but I know that I have to make some steps for sure and that will probably be in Rockford next year. I'm excited to just try to keep proving myself here and do whatever it takes."

His signing came together through the efforts of Blackhawks brass Mark Bernard, Barry Smith and Ryan Stewart.

"I know there were many suitors trying to get Dylan to sign with them," Bernard, the Blackhawks Vice President of Hockey Operations/Team Affiliates said. "He's a skilled player. He's that prototypical player that you're looking for right now. He's a great kid with a great work ethic and he's got skill. We were very lucky to be able to get him wrapped up for the next two years."

McLaughlin completed his season by playing seven games with the IceHogs during which he had two assists, but it was his time at Canisius that shaped him into the player he is today.

"Playing at Canisius College was a great opportunity for me," said McLaughlin, who at 24 is the oldest player on the ice during Development Camp. "I'm from the Buffalo area and basically playing at home so it was nice to have my family and friends be at most of the home games. I learned a lot about myself as a player and a person. I tried to be the best leader I could so it was a great experience for those four years."

During his junior season, McLaughlin led Canisius with 17 goals, 31 assists and a plus/minus rating of plus-12 and was named a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, given to the top NCAA men's ice hockey player in the nation. Also among the finalists in 2018 was fellow Blackhawks prospect Dylan Sikura, who played at Northeastern University. As a senior, McLaughlin had 19 goals and 21 assists in 37 games.

"He is an elite skater and one of the elite skilled guys really in all of college hockey," Large said. "We played North Dakota this year twice at our place and they were loaded with draft picks and we ended up sweeping them and Dylan was the best player on the ice by a mile. We ran power plays through him because he could have the puck forever. He's a great passer and his skill set is through the roof."

It was at Canisius that McLaughlin also displayed leadership skills that have carried over to Blackhawks development camp, where he has been a bit of a mentor to some of the younger players.

"Being the oldest guy here, I know a little bit," said McLaughlin, who attended the Rangers' development camp a year ago. "I was in Rockford for a month or so, so I got a little pro experience under my belt. If they have any questions for sure I'm right there with open arms."

That also means trying to jump to the front of the line for drills to show younger players the way.

"I'll just do whatever it takes to try to be the best professional I can be out here and just keep proving myself," McLaughlin said.

Hearing that McLaughlin was displaying those attributes at the next level was not a surprise to Large.

"He's very mature and he's very thoughtful," Large said. "I put him in the category of quietly passionate. He loves, loves the game of hockey maybe to one of the highest levels I've ever seen. He loved doing anything that was on the ice, the hard stuff, the fun stuff.

"Sometimes you have to shake a smile out of him because he's just so focused on the game, but he's very mature, he has a quiet focused demeanor about him," Large continued. "My hope is that it's going to make him a great pro."

For that to happen, McLaughlin knows that he needs to keep improving, including becoming bigger, stronger and faster. That was a lesson he discovered during his brief stint with the IceHogs.

"That level from college hockey to playing in the AHL was a big step," McLaughlin said. "Everyone is so good up there and they're so big, they're strong, they're fast. It's keep adjusting, keep learning, keep gaining some experiences of pro hockey."

Bernard said that the 5-foot-10, 187-pound McLaughlin needs to work on his strength, first and foremost.

"We talked to him about that at the end of the season during our exit meetings," Bernard said. "He looks strong and I liked what I saw on the ice (during development camp). We're really happy to get him at the end of last year so he could get his feet wet. He learned what Rockford's all about and I'm excited for him to start his first pro year."

McLaughlin is slated to be a member of the Blackhawks squad that will participate in the 2019 NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City, Mich., in September before likely attending Blackhawks training camp. Following camp, McLaughlin is expected to re-join the IceHogs to continue his development.

"The goal is to play in the NHL," he said. "I know I have a lot to work on and I'm excited to put that work in. Hopefully, I can prove myself in Rockford in the next year or two. I'll do whatever it takes."

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