BROSSARD – Hayden McCool isn’t attracting attention on his name alone.
At 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, the Whitby, ON native stands out from the crowd with his imposing frame. That’s an important asset for any invitee looking to make his mark.
“It’s huge. It’s definitely one of the bigger things in my game. I have to use my size. I’m definitely not a guy who’s going to go end to end and skate around everyone. I’m a guy who’s going to put the puck in the corner and go get it with my size and protect it,” explained McCool, an undrafted centerman.
With four days of development camp experience under his belt already, McCool is well aware of the opportunity the Canadiens have offered him this week.
“It’s definitely different as an invitee rather than being someone who was drafted, but you have to look at it as if you’re just like everyone else here,” confided McCool, one of 18 players on the Canadiens’ initial invitee list. “You’re trying to make an impression that’s going to last. You kind of have a short window to do that, but if you can make one that lasts, you’ve done your job.”
McCool, 19, has played three seasons in the OHL ranks, including the most recent campaign in Windsor with defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, the Canadiens’ first-round pick in 2016.
“I’ve been playing with ‘Sergey’ for a little bit now. He’s taught me a lot, and I think I’ve taught him some stuff, too. He’s a great kid. I think he’s grown on me. I think he’s hilarious. He didn’t know a word of English when he first came over. You’d say ‘Hi!’ to him and he’d look around and wouldn’t know what to say back,” said McCool. “He’s definitely grown as a person since he’s been here. I can’t believe how far he’s come already, and it’s only been a year. We’re definitely pretty close and we hang out a lot.
“When I found out I was going to come here, he was the first person I called,” continued McCool. “He was screaming on the phone, and I could barely understand him. It’s definitely special knowing that he’s here. I want to see him succeed. He’s a good kid and a good player.”
Sergachev, meanwhile, shared similar thoughts about his Spitfires teammate.
“He helped me a lot this year. He's a nice guy. He's so funny. He's a great teammate. He's skilled, he has a good shot and he’s a good skater. He's hard to play against and he's tough. Once, in a Windsor camp, I hit him and I felt it,” said the Russian rearguard.
Physicality is an integral part of McCool’s game. Proof of that is in the fact that he isn’t afraid to drop the gloves on demand. In fact, he did just that six times this past season.
“Protecting my teammates is important. We have some young guys, some 16-year-olds that we have to protect. If a young kid gets hit and I don’t like it, I have no issues stepping in and helping out a bit,” explained McCool, who upped his plus-minus differential from minus-28 to plus-23 between the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons. “That was a big thing for me this year. My biggest thing was to play every single game this year. Fixing my plus-minus was always in the back of my mind. My biggest thing was to play defense first. Don’t worry about offense, I told myself. If you focus on defense, the offense will come.”
Vincent Regis is a writer for canadiens.com. Translated by Matt Cudzinowski.
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