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On the Wings of Tomorrow

McIsaac's strong second half helps Mooseheads advance, Lindstrom wins championship and more in the May prospect report

by Bob Duff @asktheduffer / Special to

Jared McIsaac speaks often and with firm conviction about doing things the right way. It's important to him, and a point he emphasizes frequently and firmly in conversation.

Take the 2019 Memorial Cup. As the host team for the Canadian Hockey League's championship event, McIsaac and the Halifax Mooseheads are assured entry into the tournament.

"I never had the opportunity before of being in a national championship and being there because we're hosting," McIsaac said, admitting that he finds the sensation of a guarantee to be somewhat unsettling.

After all, he's a guy who's all about earning his way. And he and the Mooseheads are determined that's how they will get to the Memorial Cup.

By earning the right to be there. By winning the QMJHL title.

Currently, McIsaac, selected 36th overall by the Detroit Red Wings in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, and the Mooseheads are facing off with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in the QMJHL final.

Regardless of who wins the series, both teams will play in the Memorial Cup tournament, slated for May 17-26 at Halifax's Scotiabank Centre.

Curiously, the last Red Wings prospect to win a Memorial Cup was forward Martin Frk in 2013 with the Mooseheads.

The last Memorial Cup host team to also win its league title was the Kitchener Rangers in 2007-08. No host team has won its league championship and the Memorial Cup since the 2004-05 London Knights.

McIsaac intends to share that distinction with the Knights.

"I think we're so focused on wanting to win our league and go through the front door," McIsaac said. "The Memorial Cup, it's going to be there when playoffs are done.

"We can worry about it then."

When McIsaac arrived in Detroit following the draft, the player the Wings witnessed in action through the summer development camp, fall prospects tournament and into main NHL training camp was a responsible defender, a strong skater and someone who used his 6-foot-1, 191-pound frame to bring a physical edge to his game.

"I saw a really good hockey player," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "He just seems to have confidence and sees and understands the game. He just seemed to be kind of a guy who made plays and was a bit of a ballplayer. I think he looks like a guy who's going to be a future NHL defenseman.

"He seems to not have any glaring weaknesses, he's pretty good at everything, but keep getting better."

In terms of that latter point, the way McIsaac's numbers have added up this season, it would appear the mission is being accomplished.

Adding offense to his repertoire was one of the assignments that the Wings encouraged McIsaac to pursue when he returned to Halifax, and 2019 has proven to be a real coming-out party for his skillset.

When he left in December to play for Canada at the world junior championship, the digits next to McIsaac's name added up to seven goals and 15 assists. He was a steady producer, with points in 18 of 22 games, including a six-game point streak, but just four multi-point games, all of them two-point outings.

Coming back from international play in January, something clicked for McIsaac. Perhaps it was nothing more than the simple confidence boost from playing against the best players in the world within his peer group.

Whatever the reason, McIsaac's offensive numbers soared into the stratosphere.

He collected 3-12-15 numbers in January, and bettered them with 4-15-19 totals in February. During the second half of the season, McIsaac fashioned 10 multi-point games. This outburst included a pair of four-point games, a trio of three-point performances and a two-goal effort against the Shawinigan Cataractes.

"Obviously confidence is a big factor," McIsaac acknowledged. "Just the way I've progressed this year, I've taken really big steps in my game offensively.

"Those steps that I've taken have allowed me to play with the puck a bit more."

It's not that McIsaac didn't have this level of skill already in him. It was simply a matter of him wanting to take care of business in his own end, ensuring that he wasn't shirking his defensive responsibilities.

There's that doing-things-the-right-way mantra kicking in again.

"I never lacked the offensive ability per se," McIsaac said. "I was just worried about defending first. This year, I think I'm still worried about that, defending first, making sure everything is cleaned up in my end, my half of the ice. Then it's about joining the rush and making plays offensively.

"Our power play this year has been really good. That obviously helps the points as a defenseman."

He has collected 2-8-10 totals in playoff action, 1-6-7 of which having been counted while the Mooseheads enjoy the man-advantage.

McIsaac nods in appreciation toward the time and effort that Shawn Horcoff and Dan Cleary, the Red Wings player development personnel, have devoted to his development.

"As far as the offensive side of the game goes, as well as defensively, they're helping me out," McIsaac said. "Every couple of weeks they're talking to me. They've been down quite a bit to watch and critique my game."

While admitting to being a fan of the work of Drew Doughty, the Norris Trophy-winning defenseman of the Los Angeles Kings, McIsaac sees more parallels to his game with Ryan McDonagh of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"I think I play a little bit more like Ryan McDonagh, more of a defense-first guy and join the rush after that," McIsaac explained. "My skating allows me to defend other teams' top lines and also puts me in good spots to jump in the play offensively.

"I think my physicality defensively as well, being able to make a good first pass out of the zone and control the play and play with the puck.

"Everything follows into my skating. When I move my feet, that's when I'm at my best."

As much as his offense has gained him additional notice this season, McIsaac will always view his play when defending the play as his bread and butter.

"I want to make sure that's the biggest part of my game and I know moving forward that it's going to have to be a big part of my game to make that jump to the NHL," McIsaac said. "I'll keep working on all the little details in my game to keep making steady improvements.

"I'll just keep focusing on defending first and playing the right way. When I do that, I think everything just comes together."

AND THEN THERE WAS ONE: McIsaac is the last Wings prospect left with a chance to win the Memorial Cup.

His Mooseheads were responsible for dispatching Joe Veleno (30th, 2018) and the Drummondville Voltigeurs to the sidelines in the QMJHL Eastern Conference final.

Both players were teammates on the Canadian world junior team and look forward to the day when they can say the same thing in Detroit.

"Hopefully that's the case a couple of years down the road," McIsaac said. "Hopefully that ends up happening."

Veleno closed out his QMJHL playoff run with 8-9-17 numbers from 16 games.

Elsewhere, all the other Red Wings prospects also saw their junior campaigns come to an end.

Defensemen Alec Regula (67th, 2018) and Reilly Webb (164th, 2017) and center Brady Gilmour (193rd, 2017) were all victimized by the Guelph Storm, the OHL team that sent Tyler Bertuzzi to the Red Wings.

Regula's London club came off a first-round sweep of the Windsor Spitfires and quickly raced to a 3-0 lead over the Storm. But Guelph rallied to eliminate the Knights in seven games, becoming the fifth team in OHL history to rally from a 3-0 disadvantage in a best-of-seven series.

Regula finished the playoffs with 2-4-6 totals in 11 games.

The Storm also donned their comeback skates in the Eastern Conference final against Gilmour, Webb and the Saginaw Spirit. Saginaw was up 3-1 in that set but again Guelph emerged victorious in seven games.

Gilmour finished with a team-leading 15 assists in 17 games and was second on the Spirit in playoff scoring, collecting 18 points.

Webb dished out four assists in 17 games.

KIVENMAKI FINISHES ON HIGH NOTE: Center Otto Kivenmaki (191st, 2018) enjoyed a strong late-season push with Assat Pori in the SM-Liiga, Finland's top league. He recorded 13 points in his final 13 games of the season.

For the season, Kivenmaki registered 2-14-16 totals in 34 games. He had just three assists in the first three months of the season.

He collected the first goal of his SM-Liiga career on March 2 in a game against Lukko. Kivenmaki followed that up with another goal in the next game against Tappara on March 6.

Kivenmaki enjoyed a five-game assist streak Feb. 2-22, including a three-assist performance against the Lahti Pelicans.

HE'S A CHAMP: Defenseman Gustav Lindstrom (38th, 2017) won a Swedish Hockey League championship with the HC Frolunda Indians.

Frolunda, third-place finishers during the regular season, toppled fourth-place Djurgarden, 4-2, in the best-of-seven final.

Lindstrom, 20, appeared in six of 16 playoff games.

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