Generally, when a player produces at a point-per-game pace through his first season and a half in the Ontario Hockey League, he's pretty highly regarded.
When that player is John McFarland
, however, more is expected.
The Sudbury Wolves center had 52 points in 58 games as a rookie in the league last season, and so far in 2009-10, he's got 16 goals and 39 points in 45 games.
Not bad numbers, but they don't match the hype that surrounded his arrival in the OHL.
His petition to be granted "exceptional player" status to enter the league a year early was rejected, so McFarland had 96 goals and 165 points in 49 games in 2007-08 with the Toronto Junior Canadiens, and was the first pick of the 2008 OHL draft by the Sudbury Wolves. He was the centerpiece of the Wolves' rebuilding effort, but as a 16-year-old he was the most talented player on his team and the target of every opposition game plan. And since he didn't dominate like some people expected, some deemed him a disappointment.
"Most people would have expected me to put up a little better numbers than I have and I still expect that out of myself," McFarland told NHL.com. "At the same time I'm just trying to grow as a player, not just worry about the numbers. I think there's some things that could have gone smoother, but that's part of being a player, things aren't always going to go great."
Scouts, though, have seen some pretty good things. The 6-foot, 200-pound center was one of the final cuts from Canada's national junior team, he was invited to the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game and he's No. 10 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of North American skaters for the 2010 Entry Draft.
"John is a good hockey player," Chris Edwards, Central Scouting's OHL scout, told NHL.com. "He is tough and aggressive and he will fight. He skates very well."
He's also rounding out his game, according to Sudbury coach Mike Foligno.
"He's now starting to be the player we thought he could be, a complete player," Foligno told NHL.com. "John was a very offensive player didn't commit to the defensive side of the game, but he never had to because the teams he was on could just outscore opponents. But in our league you have to be strong in both ends of the ice and be committed in both ends of the ice. He's starting to play that game now, he's starting to be accountable defensively. His work at both ends of the rink is better. There are parts of the game that are much improved and he's been one of our most productive players."
He's been producing despite being the target of every opposing team since arriving in the league.
"I think that's something as a player that you always want against you, you always want to be the go-to guy on your own team and the guy other teams are going to want to go after," McFarland said. "I think it might have been harder to have to face that earlier in my career rather than in other cases it would have happened later, but at the same time it's made me a better hockey player and I've learned a lot from it and continued to grow and learn from it."
He also learned from a pair of international experiences. He captained Canada's entry at this summer's Memorial of Ivan Hlinka
Tournament to the gold medal and was the event's third leading scorer with 7 points in four games. He also was invited to Canada's final evaluation camp for the World Junior Championship in December.
"You learn things about yourself as a player, whether you can (play your game) in front of the best players from Russia or Sweden," McFarland said. "You learn a lot about yourself as a player. I tried not to change my game too much no matter who we were playing."
"I think it's really helped him realize that when he plays his game and he plays with elite players, he can perform at a higher level," Foligno said. "That's the key. We might not have the best players in the league on our team but we have some hard-working kids and kids who will make decent plays. But when John plays with more skilled players or players better at doing certain things, I think it brings out an even better game in John. He challenges himself to be better than the people he's on the ice with."
That challenge to be better than anyone else he's playing against has carried to all facets of his game.
"What we're trying to do with John is help develop a player that when he gets drafted, the team that drafts him will have a player ready to step in and play," Foligno said. "We don't want John going to the NHL with any weaknesses."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org.