It's an honor to be on the list, but it is motivation to move up. You see who's in front of you and you want to be the best you can be, so I think moving up is definitely a goal. - Roland McKeown on his place on the CSS' final rankings
Center Samuel Bennett wasn't the only top prospect making headway with NHL scouts playing for the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League this season.
Roland McKeown, a 6-foot-1, 197-pound right-shot defenceman, was another gem added to the short list.
"I believe my game translates well at the next level," McKeown said. "I think my skating, agility, IQ and strength to battle in the corners are all key components to making a successful pro. And I feel being able to do those things will get me to the next level."
So do the scouts. McKeown is No. 27 on NHL Central Scouting's final list of the top North American skaters eligible for the 2014 NHL Draft at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on June 27-28. He's the sixth-highest defenceman on the board.
Two of NHL.com's three draft experts predict McKeown will be a first-round pick in their most recent mock drafts.
"It's an honor to be on the list, but it is motivation to move up," McKeown said of his place in Central Scouting's rankings. "You see who's in front of you and you want to be the best you can be, so I think moving up is definitely a goal."
Central Scouting's David Gregory likes what he sees in McKeown, who has been compared by some scouts to Chicago Blackhawks defenceman Brent Seabrook.
"I love this kid … he can play offensively and move the puck and has a bomb of a shot," Gregory said. "When defending you he presents himself as a big, strong and mobile guy. He'll push guys to the side; he's a legitimate top prospect."
McKeown served as captain for the Toronto Marlboros Minor Midget AAA team in 2011-12 and led the team's defencemen with 10 goals and 35 points. His teammate that season was current Kingston center and the more publicized Bennett, who is No. 1 on Central Scouting's final list.
"Sam is a very complete centerman that can play in all situations and can really skate the puck with authority," McKeown said. "He has the ability to change the game in a matter of seconds and create something out of nothing, especially through the neutral zone. He's played great and will continue to prove himself as a contender for No. 1 pick."
At the 2012 OHL draft, the Frontenacs selected McKeown with the second pick, one spot after 2015 draft-eligible prospect Connor McDavid, who went No. 1 to the Erie Otters. Bennett was chosen No. 9 by the Frontenacs that year.
McKeown was named to the OHL's All-Rookie Team after totaling seven goals and 29 points in 61 games, and last summer he had an assist for gold medal-winning Canada at the 2013 Memorial of Ivan Hlinka Tournament.
This season he established career-high numbers across the board with 11 goals, 32 assists, 43 points, 61 penalty minutes and a plus-38 rating in 62 games. He had one goal, four points and a plus-6 rating in seven playoff games.
"I did feel stronger this year," McKeown said. "You could say I'm better defensively, but I think that comes back to the strength part of it. I'm able to get on the forwards a lot more and break up the ice quicker because I'm stronger."
Kingston general manager Doug Gilmour has seen the steady progression in McKeown's game.
"Roland has great upside as far as his skill; he's still learning," Gilmour said. "I think he'll be a first-rounder, but the projection is up to those scouts. He has great skill and talent."
Right wing Spencer Watson, No. 59 on Central Scouting's final list, is yet another highly regarded 2014 draft-eligible prospect from Kingston.
"I think Roland's got the credit he deserved this season," Watson said. "He's a great defender and has shown a lot throughout these past two years. I think he will only get better."
McKeown was asked how special it would be if all three Kingston players were chosen in the first round of the draft. The last time three players representing the same team were selected in the opening round was 2011 when Jonathan Huberdeau (Florida Panthers, No. 3), Nathan Beaulieu (Montreal Canadiens, No. 17) and Zack Phillips (Minnesota Wild, No. 28) of the Memorial Cup champion Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League were chosen.
"If [the three of us were picked in the first round] it would be special, but we don't talk too much about it," McKeown said. "We've talked about the draft and stuff, but don't get into specifics about it."
Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer