’s fourth and final season playing in the Ontario Hockey League couldn’t have gone much better.
The 20-year-old defenseman captained the Kingston Frontenacs for the second consecutive year, leading them to their best season in team history. McKeown recorded a career-high 35 assists and added 12 points (3g, 9a) during their playoff run.
With four OHL seasons under his belt, McKeown is finally making the jump to professional hockey and is looking to secure a roster spot in Raleigh or Charlotte.
“As the years went on, I kind of figured out my game more and figured out that I was going to be a defenseman first and a penalty kill guy as opposed to a power play guy and that’s my mindset heading into the Canes organization,” he said. “Defense is my first mindset, but I know when you move pucks, you’ve got to jump up into the play and that’s the style they (Carolina) play so I look forward to doing that.”
McKeown approached his second Prospects Development Camp with a level of comfort and familiarity, but was still prepared for a high level of competition from the other 26 camp attendees.
“There’s a high skill level and Carolina’s really starting to come to the forefront in terms of high-end prospects,” he said. “Anytime you get to come to a camp like this, it’s special and you have to put the work in to be better.”
The defenseman skated alongside Charlotte’s new head coach, Ulf Samuelsson, for the first time during development camp in early July and got a better feel for his coaching style.
“He seems to be a real calm guy. He’s really willing to teach,” McKeown said. “When you’re a developing player, you really appreciate that and you love to notice those kinds of things.”
During his weeklong stay in Raleigh, McKeown focused on getting more comfortable with Carolina’s system and how his style of play fits into that system.
“Every organization has their motto and Carolina’s is obviously high-paced hockey,” he said. “As a defenseman, I like their fleet of guys that can really move and move the puck. That fits into my game, my style so it’s a good thing to look forward to.”
McKeown said that he will bring the confidence he gained from his leadership role in Kingston with him as he moves to the professional level.
In addition to the confidence gained in the OHL, McKeown also played on the world’s stage this season. Representing Team Canada in the World Junior Championship was a “dream come true.”
“You grow up every Christmas watching that tournament, in Canada it’s a huge deal,” he said. “So to be on that team was an honor.”
While the end result wasn’t what McKeown or Team Canada had hoped for, he still viewed the tournament as a learning experience.
“We fell short in the end and that’s what really counts. You want to come home with some hardware and we failed to do so,” McKeown said. “When you lose, you have to learn from those experiences and I learned how hard it is to win – to win Stanley Cups, to win championships. It’s not easy to reach that every year, no matter what level it is.”
McKeown’s play on the ice and his off-ice demeanor make it clear that he is ready to make the jump to the professional level. The 20-year-old defenseman knows that jump won’t be easy but is up for the challenge and knows what he has to do to reach the next level.
“Everyone seems to be big and strong these days. It’s those guys that can make plays in tight areas and high-end plays. There’s such little room for error in the game today that you have to be able to make high-end plays,” he said. “In my summer skates, we have a lot of good pros and high-end NHLers so I’ve got to keep skating with them and be able to make those quick decisions and think on your toes out there.”
McKeown’s offseason routine consists of working out in Aurora, Ont., with Gary Roberts' training program and skating with the previously mentioned “high-end pros,” including Connor McDavid, Steven Stamkos and James Neal.
“Those guys make you better,” he said. “When you skate with the best and you want to be the best then you’re able to really develop your game no matter what month of the year it is and that’s what I’m looking to do.”
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