|Edmonton's Mark McNeill posted 81 points with Prince Albert this past year. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images) |
The center ice position is one of great focus heading into this year's NHL Entry Draft in Minnesota. With names like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
, Sean Couturier, and Jonathan Huberdeau up for grabs, there'll be a lot of scouting time spent on debating the merits of skill down the middle in this draft class.
One name that isn't ranked quite at the upper echelon of the pool, but still very likely to be a first round pick, is Edmonton product Mark McNeill. A big centerman, formerly of the South Side Athletic Club, McNeill posted 81 points in 70 games during his WHL season in Prince Albert this past year.
"It was a big year for me," says McNeill. "My coaches gave me a lot of responsibility 5-on-5, last minute of the game, power play, penalty kill and I wore an 'A' this year. I played a big role on my team."
His role (top assist-getter and second in points) helped lead the Raiders back to the WHL playoffs after a three year absence. Always an extremely difficult league for players to excel in because of the quality of competition, McNeill did well in his draft year to make some noise. NHL Central Scouting listed him 22nd amongst North American Skaters in their mid-term rankings and he had moved up to 14th by the end of the season.
"It's pretty similar to pro with the game schedule and all the traveling," McNeill says of the WHL. "With that and the schoolwork, it's a lot to take in all at once."
And this summer, there will be more to take in. McNeill will be a coveted commodity because of his size and the fact that he's a rare right-handed shot playing center ice. He's an excellent skater with good playmaking ability and very reliable in his defensive zone coverage.
"I'm a power forward," explains McNeill when asked to describe himself as a player. "I'm very versatile and can play on either wing or down the middle. I play a good two-way game and am very strong defensively."
"I'm going to work as hard as I can in the gym this summer and try to improve as much as I can. I've set the goal for myself that when I go to training camp in the fall I'm going to learn as much as I can and I'm going there to make that team."
Coming up in a couple of weeks, McNeill will have his first chance to show off what his work in the gym has accomplished so far. The annual Scouting Combine will be held in Toronto and McNeill will be put through the rigors of fitness testing and psychological testing by any of the 30 teams who are interested. After that, he heads to Minnesota with his family to take in the draft at Xcel Energy Center on June 24th.
"You don't know where you're going to end up," he smiles. "Anything can happen on draft day, and I'm just excited to see how it turns out."FAREWELL TO DOUG WEIGHT
|Doug Weight scored 577 points as an Oiler. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images) |
A lot has been written already about the retirement of one of the greatest Oilers in the last 20 years, but allow me to toss my hat in the ring for a moment. I was at four of the five Stanley Cup victories, but too young to remember any of them, so my first strong emotional feelings towards the Oilers were built in the mid-90's. I can remember going to handful of games from '93-'95, but the vivid memories were built around the playoff series victories in 1997 and 1998 over Dallas and Colorado, respectively.
Those teams had some excellent players: Ryan Smyth
, Curtis Joseph, Jason Arnott, Bill Guerin ... and Doug Weight. Weight scored 577 points as an Oiler, including 104 in 1995-96, remaining the last Oiler to reach the century mark in point totals in a single season. Over two decades in the league, Weight's finest individual years were in Edmonton. Ironically, he won his only Stanley Cup against Edmonton as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006.
Aside from the box scores (1238 GP, 278 G, 755A) Weight will be fondly remembered for his work in the community and dealings with the fans and media. I never had the pleasure of being around Doug when he was an Oiler, but in recent years, he always obliged invitations to do my radio show and spent a couple of recording sessions with us to help fill in some blanks for this year's "Rod's Classics" series. He was, without question, one of the greatest Oilers of the last 2 decades and a player whose presence the NHL will surely miss.
My favorite Weight moment? Easily the outside, inside deke goal against Calgary. Sick dance, as the kids would say. Sick dance.