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McNeill working hard now, with an eye on the future

by Brad Boron / Chicago Blackhawks
Photo by Getty Images.

Returning for his final season in the Western Hockey League, Blackhawks 2011 first-round draft pick Mark McNeill is once again leading the Prince Albert Raiders both on the ice and in the locker room. The Raiders' captain currently paces his team in points with 21 (7G, 14A) in 19 games, including a four-point effort Wednesday night against the Swift Current Broncos. Prince Albert currently leads the WHL's Eastern Division with a record of 12-5-0-2. recently caught up with McNeill to discuss his team's strong start, his performance so far and how he's preparing for the next level.

It’s been a good start to the season for both you personally and the Raiders, hasn’t it?

Yeah, it’s been a pretty good start for us so far this season. A lot of things have come together the right way from the start of the year – the players and coaching personnel have a good mindset and great attitude every day, and a really strong work ethic. Everyone is really bringing it every game.

As for me, I think I’ve been pretty good so far. But I have to give credit to our coaches for giving me an opportunity and putting me in a position to succeed, and having the time and ability to create some chemistry with my linemates. We’ve been able to make some things happen out there.

You had a strong 2011-12 campaign, with 71 points in 69 games for Prince Albert, but you’re scoring at an even higher clip now. Was some of that how you prepared in the offseason?

Obviously you want to work on your whole body in the summer – not just building strength in certain areas, but everywhere. But a few things that I paid more attention to was adding more leg strength and making my feet quicker, adding that explosiveness and that NHL release.

I know that the Blackhawks hockey operations team closely monitors all of the team’s prospects, but how much feedback have you been getting from the team?

We’re in touch very often. A lot of the Hawks staff has been really great and given me a lot of useful feedback. We have a lot of scouts in the Western Hockey League, and they stay in communication with me when they come and watch me play. The player development guys like [Blackhawks Director of Player Development] Barry Smith will go over a lot of different things with me. They’ve really helped me so far.

Have they given you some skills or other areas that they want you to work on before you move up a level next season?

It’s been a lot of the things I’m currently working on, like building leg and core strength. I have got to be dominating every game – you can’t take games off at the next level. You have to work on that consistency in your game, every night, shift after shift.

Now that you’re in your last year of juniors before moving onto the pro game, is there a little bit of a different mindset, or is the focus just on what you can control at the WHL level?

It’s really still one game at a time. I can’t get ahead of myself. Personally and as a team, we’ve had a really good start overall. But you can’t get too overconfident or allow ourselves to think past it. My main focus is still working hard and trying to get better.

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