Former Pens defenseman Jay McKee, currently the head coach of the Ontario Hockey League’s Kitchener Rangers, couldn’t be happier to see his blueliner Connor Hall get drafted in the third round (77th overall) by the organization this past weekend in Buffalo.
“I loved playing in Pittsburgh, I loved the people there,” McKee said. “It’s a great spot for him to go to.”
McKee spent the 2009-10 season, the last of his NHL career, in Pittsburgh with a few guys who are still playing – including, of course, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
“I’ll have to give Connor some tips on how to play Sid and Evgeni down low,” McKee laughed. “Every day we worked on the power play in practice and I was in the corner with Sid, so I’ve got a few of his tendencies I picked up on that I’ll probably tip off Connor with. That’ll be a little added bonus for him.”
All jokes aside, McKee couldn’t say enough about what eventually sharing the ice with the Pens captain will do for an 18-year-old kid like Hall.
“When you get out there against those guys as a young kid, you get to see how one of the best things about Sid is how hard he works on and off the ice,” McKee said. “He’s an exceptional player but nothing’s been given to him. He’s worked hard for everything he’s earned, and I think you can find no better role model for a guy like Connor Hall than to see how hard Sidney Crosby works on and off the ice.”
Two more of McKee’s former teammates, Bill Guerin and Sergei Gonchar, have since moved into front office roles with the organization.
“It’s nice when the kids you’re coaching go somewhere where you have connections and you keep good ties back and forth, whether it’s them checking in on him through me or vice versa when he’s at camp,” McKee said.
McKee couldn’t keep the smile out of his voice when talking about the type of defenseman Hall is, describing him as a ‘throwback player.’
“He’s one of those guys where it’s almost like you went back in time and pulled him out of the late 80s,” McKee said of the 6-foot-2, 190-pound defenseman. “He’s got a real edge to his game. He’s a guy that loves to play the body, has a real physical edge, he’s a great teammate and I think his offensive abilities are probably underrated.”
Hall will likely spend the most time working with Gonchar, who is the Pens defensemen development coach – and that offensive part of his game is something McKee hopes Gonchar can help him improve.
“The way I used him last year, especially towards the end of the season, was to shut down the opposition’s top line,” McKee explained. “He was thriving in that role and when you’re out against other team’s top lines you don’t want to be too high-risk with the puck. He’s real efficient at moving it.
“But as he gets older and develops more, I think there is pretty good offensive upside to him and that’s something Sergei can probably pull out of him.”
Heading into next season, McKee will be looking for Hall to build off his tremendous second half that came after he missed much of the first half with a broken jaw sustained in a fight and a suspension.
“He came the longest way of all the defensemen on our team in my eyes last year,” McKee said. “He missed a lot of time and in training camp last year he was a little bit off and once he got back and worked his tail off, he was one of our top D-men at the end of the season.
“So I expect him to come back and he’ll have a renewed sense of confidence after the way the season went for him last year. And after being drafted he’ll get some exposure in Pittsburgh where he can see what he’s up against and how hard guys work, and this is all good stuff for him in developing.”