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Beefed-up McRae makes positive impression

by John McGourty

Philip McRae, who is ranked No. 56 among draft-eligible North American skaters, is the son of former NHL player Basil McRae.
Watch McRae's scouting video!
"How long will it take to put weight on that body" is one of the things NHL teams worry about most when drafting 18-year-olds. A good number of the prospects at the NHL Scouting Combine in Toronto seemed to be about 6-feet tall and weighed about 160 pounds.

Teenagers mature at different rates, and it's always a guessing game. But there aren't a lot of unanswered questions about the London Knights’ Philip McRae, the son of former NHL player Basil McRae, in part because it seems he's answered the "where's the beef" question.

McRae was 160 pounds two years ago and peaked at 192 earlier this season. He was a lean, fit, 189 pounds on a 6-foot-2 frame at the Combine.

The old man was a block of granite at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds. He crashed and banged, loved the contact and was very durable for most of his NHL career. Philip McRae is more of a skilled player but he can handle the pounding and dish some out, too.

There aren't a lot of unanswered questions about Philip McRae because has been under a microscope for a long time. He started playing early, won a national bantam title with the St. Louis Junior Blues, became the youngest member of the United States National Development Team, was an alternate captain on the U.S. Under-17 team a year ago and played on this year's bronze-medal American team at the World Under-18 tournament.

McRae was the early scoring leader at the U-18 tournament and wound up with three goals and three assists. He finished fifth on the Knights with 18 goals (including seven on the power play) and 46 points.

Family connections and close ties to NHL players have always been part of Philip McRae's life.

One of McRae’s coaches in London was Dave Gagner, who played on the 1991 Minnesota North Stars team with Basil McRae. Gagner’s son, Sam, was one of Philip’s teammates with the Knights in 2006-07, before going on to a strong rookie NHL campaign with the Edmonton Oilers this past season.

"I remember my dad playing hockey while I was growing up, but I didn't see him play much," McRae said. "I mostly remember being around all the rinks and the top players, like Brett Hull and Mike Modano. It's a big part of my life that my father played in the NHL, and I remember being in the locker rooms in St. Louis and Chicago and being around Hockey Hall of Fame players. They got me into hockey and hooked on hockey. That's how I started.

"My dad has been great in terms of helping me know hockey and what to expect at every stage of development. He's been through it and knows what it's all about. He coached me when I was younger.

"It's definitely been a positive to have a father who is well-known in hockey and who can prepare me for what's to come. The teams that interviewed me all asked about him. They know we are two different kinds of players. He was more of a role player and got into a lot of fights. I'm more of a skill player and don't fight as much as he did."

McRae has added plenty of muscle over the last couple of years, but thinks he can still add more.

"Right now, I'm the same height as my dad and I'm hoping I can continue to fill out and be as strong and powerful as he was," McRae said. "That takes time and maturing, but I'm still young and expect I'll be as big as he is.

"I started putting on weight as I got more into conditioning. In minor hockey it was a pain, but now I enjoy it and I've dedicated this whole summer to off-ice training. This summer is the most important one in my life for my career. I'll be working on speed, quickness and power."

It's interesting that while none of the scouts criticized McRae's skating or indicated it was a weakness, McRae has been quoted in several articles as being unhappy with his speed. As a result, he's always working to get faster.

McRae made rapid progress with the Knights. He was the team's No. 1 pick in the 2006 OHL Priority draft, but he had only two goals and eight assists in 63 games. He said coach Dale Hunter stayed patient and told him success would come.

"London is a great place to play because of all the experience on the coaching staff," McRae said. "You've got NHL veterans Dale and Mark Hunter, and Sam Gagner. They all played and had good careers. I listened to everything they had to say. The most important things that I've learned are defensive play and avoiding turnovers.

"I think London is the best junior city to play in because we have a great rink and fans, with lots of sellouts. There's added pressure in playing there because the fans have seen good teams before. They just won the Memorial Cup a couple of years ago. It just helps us with our motivation."

Philip McRae knew Sam Gagner long before he ever got to London, and the two players remain close.

"We knew each other from when we were young and our dads played together," McRae said. "We were good friends off the ice in London and Sam, being older, would give me tips. He called me this year after watching one of my games on the Internet and told me to keep at it and things are going to work out for me."

But did Gagner have any advice for McRae about playing in the NHL?

"He told me how fast it is and how good everyone is," McRae said. "He said he was having the time of his life and that his dream finally came true. I'm really happy for him."

As the 56th-ranked North American skater, McRae likely will go somewhere in the third round. That could top his dad's selection as the 87th overall pick in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft. McRae would like to be picked as early as possible, but beating out his dad doesn't seem to be much of an incentive.

"No matter where I go in the draft, my parents are proud of me," Philip said. "My dad always gives me good advice and helps me as much as he can. They're proud I've made it this far."

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