John Tavares is the face of the Oshawa Generals’ franchise in the Ontario Hockey League, but Coyotes prospect Brett MacLean
is showing he belongs in the same breath as Tavares, the probable top pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
MacLean, taken by Phoenix last June in the second round (32nd overall), will turn 19 on Christmas Eve. Thus far this season for Oshawa, MacLean has 29 goals in 21 games (by comparison, Tavares has 23 in four more games) and just 14 penalty minutes.
Last season, MacLean played in all 68 regular-season games and posted 47 goals and 53 assists for an even 100 points – good for ninth in OHL scoring. This year, he’s third behind Tavares and Kitchener Rangers’ forward Justin Azevedo.
“There’s no doubt that right now, I think an argument can be made that Brett is the best player in our league, or at least top three,” Oshawa coach-GM Brad Selwood said. “I think there will be a strong case made by Brett next year to play in the NHL. He skates well for a big man (6-foot-2, 200 pounds), plays both ends of the ice and I use him on the power play, penalty kill, everything. He’s one of those kids that stays after practice and he’s smart in that he knows what he needs to work on.”
“This is my fourth year in the league and third in Oshawa, so I’m pretty comfortable with how things work around here,” MacLean said. “I’ve always been an offensive player, so to say that it just happened this year wouldn’t be true. I took a year to adjust to the OHL, but the past three years in Oshawa, I’ve been in my comfort zone.”
MacLean participated in both the 2007 Canadian Hockey League Top Prospects Game and was named to the 2007 OHL Eastern Conference All-Star Team.
“It’s nice to be honored with things like that,” said MacLean. “But I just go out and work hard.” Originally drafted by the Erie Otters with the 14th overall pick of the 2004 OHL Priority Selection, MacLean played almost a season-and-a-half with Erie before coming to Oshawa in November of 2005. MacLean said the trade from the Otters was what he needed at the time and Selwood said getting MacLean happened a year later than he originally hoped.
“I probably saw him play 8-10 times his (OHL) draft year in minor midgets,” said Selwood. “He was the captain of his team and I followed him shift-to-shift until he got back to the bench and he was always involved and interacting with his teammates. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to draft him that year, but when the opportunity came where we could acquire him, we went after it.”
“Erie was going for another run and wanted to get older,” explained MacLean. “I wasn’t getting a lot of ice and I requested a trade. Oshawa had a younger team, so it worked out well.”
The native of Port Elgin, Ont., was named the OHL Player of the Week on Nov. 6 after an eight-goal, one-assist weekend. Against the Brampton Battalion on Nov. 2, MacLean scored four straight goals in a 6-3 win and was Mario Lemieux-esque in scoring once on the power play, once shorthanded, once even strength and once into an empty net.
MacLean was then named the Canadian Hockey League Player of the Week to boot.
This season, on top of his scoring outbursts, MacLean played in both games of the ADT Canada-Russia Challenge and registered an assist in the game Nov. 22 in Kitchener and also played in the game on Nov. 26 in Sudbury.
He was one of four Generals to play for the Canada contingent along with Tavares, draft-eligible defenseman Michael Del Zotto and Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Dale Mitchell, one of his linemates this season along with Brett Parnham.
Still, with this season looking like his last in the OHL, the pro game and the Coyotes organization seems to be next on the horizon for MacLean. Continuous improvement is mandatory for that jump to happen and that’s something MacLean doesn’t take lightly considering he was slated to go in the first round last June, but slipped to the second round. MacLean was ranked 14th aming North American skaters going into the draft.
“It’s just a number,” MacLean said of his draft placement. “I was happy to go to Phoenix where they’re building for the future and hopefully I’ll get a chance to play there soon. I just need to get bigger, stronger and faster and we’ll see what happens.”
Selwood agrees. He added that MacLean is more than just a top prospect for the Coyotes.
“Phoenix has a real beauty with Brett,” Selwood said. “A real beauty.”