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McRae is a chip off the old block

by Aaron Bell

Philip McRae is the son of former NHL player Basil McRae, who also played for the London Knights.
Philip McRae is taking up the family business.

The 17-year-old from St. Louis already has followed in his father’s skate tracks to the London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League and hopes to continue to follow his path into the NHL.

McRae is the son of former NHL player Basil McRae, who played for the Knights in the late 1970’s before going on to an NHL career that included 576 games with the Quebec Nordiques, Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings, Minnesota North Stars, Tampa Bay Lightning, St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks.

Philip said that growing up in a household with an NHL player was a huge boost to his own development.

“He used to coach me when I was a kid growing up and he really helped me along the way,” McRae said. “He just gave me tips and pointers and stuff to help me out. He (still) comes out to the odd practice to help out sometimes.”

The elder McRae is now a minority owner of the Knights and relocated his financial services business from St. Louis to London in the summer.

Philip is a dual citizen and became the youngest player to ever play in the U.S. Development Team program. He helped the U.S. win the silver medal at the World Under-17 challenge last year and suited up in the Under-18 championships in August.

After being picked in the first round of the 2006 OHL draft, McRae went on to score two goals and 10 points in 63 games as a rookie with the Knights last season. He already has 15 goals and 40 points in 57 games this season.

“My season’s been going pretty good,” McRae said. “We’ve been in a little bit of a slump lately, but we had a winning streak going there and we starting to play better hockey. I think because it’s my second year, I’m used to the speed and the style of play. I’m just starting to make more things happen.”

His solid second season has been recognized by NHL scouts. McRae was rated 38th among North American prospects in the mid-term rankings released by NHL Central Scouting in January. His dad was a fifth round pick of the Nordiques in 1980 and McRae hopes to be an early round pick this June.

McRae also has other NHL ties around him.

Knights’ owners Mark and Dale Hunter are also the team’s general manager and coach respectively and his assistant coach is Dave Gagner. They all enjoyed long NHL careers and have watched their own sons come through their major junior program.

Dale Hunter said that being a second-generation player can be a definite advantage.

“You just get to hear what the talk is about all the time,” said Hunter, who played in more than 1,400 games over 19 NHL seasons. “You get to be more of a hockey guy because you already know what’s expected – how much you have to work out, the practice that you have to do and what it takes to be an NHL player. It gives you an advantage that way.”

Hunter sees what the scouts like about McRae, a 6-foot-2, 192 pound center.

“He’s a skill guy,” Hunter said. “He has great hands and a big shot. He skates well, plays hard and overall he just plays a tough game. He’s had a few fights this year and plays the body and is just an all-around good player.”

McRae has 15 goals and 40 points in 57 games this season.

McRae is playing in an outstanding program that has recently developed NHL stars like Rick Nash, Corey Perry, Patrick Kane and Sam Gagner.

The pro experience that the Hunters and Gagner bring to the Knights give their players a great perspective on what it takes to be successful at the next level.

“You definitely try to tell them not to put too much pressure on themselves,” Hunter said. “We tell them that it’s not a race. It’s what happens at the end of the rainbow that matters. Definitely take their time and develop slowly and you’ll become a good player.”

Hunter is hesitant to put any added pressure on McRae by making comparisons to other NHL players, but he is confident McRae will follow the long list of Knights’ graduates into the NHL in the not-too-distant future.

“It’s hard to say exactly what he’s going to be,” said Hunter, who is in his seventh season behind the Knights’ bench. “He’s 17-years-old, so he’s still pretty young and he’s just finding his way right now. He’ll definitely be an offensive guy.”

McRae grew up around NHL dressing rooms and said that some of his coolest childhood memories were interacting with some of the players, especially when the family moved to St. Louis in 1992.

“I just remember being in the locker room with some of the big players,” McRae said. “I remember that they were just really nice guys and great to me. It was fun. I ran into Brett Hull a couple of years ago and I remember that he used to always be really nice to me. I remember Curtis Joseph in St. Louis – he was always really nice to me as well.”

McRae admits that he has a lot of work to do before he will get the chance to spend more time in an NHL dressing room. Like most young players, he has areas of his game that he is working hard on developing.

“I just need to keep getting bigger and stronger and keep working on my skating and quickness,” McRae said.

McRae said that watching Kane and Gagner go through the draft last year gave him some perspective on how to deal with the pressure in his draft year.

“I try not to think about it too much, but it’s always in the back of your head,” McRae said. “Hopefully I’ll have a good second half and playoffs and then get drafted as high as I can. I think if you don’t even worry about it and just try not to think about it you play better.”


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