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The 2023-24 season was transformative for Kyle MacLean. The 25-year-old center began his fourth professional season in Bridgeport and ended the campaign having carved out a role and making an impression on the New York Islanders. 

“He asserted himself, created a position for himself when I'm not even sure that there was a position necessarily available,” Cal Clutterbuck said. “I think he came up, willed himself in and it's really nice to see young player come and do that.”

“And he’s only going to get better,” Clutterbuck added. 

MacLean got his first crack in the big leagues in the absence of Casey Cizikas, when the veteran was dealing with an injury in January. Instead of providing just reinforcement, MacLean proved himself deserving of a regular spot in the lineup even when a fully healthy Cizikas was ready to go. After his second call up, MacLean broke into the scene and never left. 

“He competed every single night,” Cizikas said. “He threw his body around, scored big goals, had fights at times where we needed a momentum switch. He did it all. The way that he came up here the way that he played, he definitely earned everybody's respect in this dressing room.”

NYI@TOR: MacLean scores goal against Ilya Samsonov

MacLean played with an edge and had a noticeable energy and grit in his game, providing value at both ends of the ice. The 25-year-old center quickly understood how he could utilize his natural skillset to fit in on the team.

“As a player, I kind of figured out that role is what I have to do to be successful,” MacLean said. “It's nice to build confidence and kind of that feeling of being able to play here.”

His first NHL goal was a beauty on Feb. 5, scoring on a breakaway in Toronto. Ironically, he was loaned back to Bridgeport, but that assigned lasted less than two weeks before he was recalled and from there, he played a role in meaningful hockey down the stretch. He recorded four goals and five assists through 32 games, earning Head Coach Patrick Roy’s trust along the way. The Basking Ridge, NJ native earned the opportunity to suit up in the postseason, scoring 8:20 into Game 1 for his first playoff goal, capping off a whirlwind of NHL firsts in a few months.

“It was special to play in that first game, that first call up,” MacLean said. “It was really cool to be a part of that stretch playing important games and getting a little playoff experience as well. I look back fondly on this year because of all the firsts, it was awesome.”

With a front row view to it all was his father, Islanders Assistant Coach John MacLean. It’s a rarity for a father-son duo to double as player-coach, but they got to share Kyle’s important milestones together while staying professional and composed in the moment.

“You can't really draw it up, that's the dream,” Kyle Palmieri said. “I'm sure there's moments where the two of them had to hold back a smile… realistically, sometimes you want to go hug your dad [after your] first NHL game first NHL goal. That's it's something really special for their family and all the people who kind of helped them along the way to get there.”

NYI@CAR: MacLean scores goal against Frederik Andersen

Now with the 2023-24 season in the books, the MacLean’s have the chance to enjoy those full circle moments in a more intimate way. 

“I’m sure in the offseason we'll have a bit more time to talk about it and reminisce,” MacLean said. “During the season it’s just player-coach. In the summer here we can enjoy it a little more.”

During the offseason, MacLean will gear himself up for Islanders training camp the way he does every year since 2018, when embarked on his first camp. This time around in September, he’ll come in with prior NHL experience and the confidence that comes with it. 

“Making sure that I come ready for camp and just kind of keep building on it,” MacLean said. “It was only 30 games but that confidence and that experience, I’ll just keep going from there.”

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