When the Sudbury Wolves selected John McFarland
with the first overall pick in the 2008 OHL Draft, team owner Mark Burgess told the media, "I hope one day we can retire [McFarland’s] number 18."
From the get-go of his junior hockey career, lofty and overzealous expectations smothered McFarland. But the 16-year-old proved mature and skilled beyond his years, racking up 21 goals and 52 points in an outstanding rookie season.
However, the honeymoon didn’t last for long.
McFarland’s numbers grew stagnant during his sophomore season, and the Sudbury fan base, starving for a Memorial Cup, turned impatient with the kid they hoped would bring them a championship.
Soon there after, rumors of a potential trade began swirling at warp speed. And just two and a half seasons into his Wolves career, the kid once heralded as Sudbury's savior was now a local pariah.
Midway through the 2010-11 season, Sudbury traded McFarland to the Saginaw Spirit in exchange for three players and a draft pick.
“It was definitely hard,” said McFarland, who the Florida Panthers selected with the 33rd overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. “It was tough to leave Sudbury after two and half years. I really did enjoy my time there, but it was a great change for me and I couldn’t be happier.”
When McFarland says it was a great change, he isn’t lying. The 6-foot, 192-pound center completely revived his game after the trade, tallying 19 goals and 33 points in 37 games for Saginaw.
“Things just started to click,” he said. “I got healthy and I started to put the numbers up that I was expected to earlier in my career… It worked out for both of us.”
And as McFarland’s game is reborn, so is his NHL outlook.
Following his breakthrough season in Saginaw, Panthers general manager Dale Tallon rewarded McFarland with an entry-level contract and a chance to play for Florida in the upcoming season.
But before McFarland can don a Cats sweater, he knows he must hone his skills and polish his game. Hoping to inch closer to his NHL dream, McFarland took to the ice at Florida’s Development Camp in early July.
“I’m working on every area possible, both mentally and physically to prepare myself,” he said. “To make the NHL nowadays, you have to be an all-around player.”
McFarland skated alongside fellow 2010 Draftees Nick Bjugstad
, Quinton Howden
, Erik Gudbranson
and Alex Petrovic
throughout the week, giving fans a glimpse of the team’s future nucleus.
Even though McFarland is part of that future core, he does not plan on waiting any longer to play in the NHL. After enduring such a tumultuous junior career to date, his eyes are now set on the big leagues.
“It’d be a dream come true to play for this team next year,” he said. “It’s your goal and it’s something you want to strive for.”
Whether or not McFarland actually makes Florida’s roster won’t dictate his success over the upcoming season. He has proven immune to criticism and doubt, and with a fresh start in Saginaw, the sky is once again the limit for McFarland.