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Prospect Spotlight: McIsaac continues battling adversity on road to NHL

21-year-old defenseman eager for full summer of development after three shoulder injuries

by Josh Berenter @DetroitRedWings /

DETROIT -- When young prospects ascend through the hockey ranks on the way to the NHL, they often battle adversity throughout the journey, having to overcome setbacks and bumps in the road.

That statement couldn't be truer for 21-year-old Jared McIsaac, the Detroit Red Wings' 36th overall pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, who's suffered three separate shoulder injuries in less than two years.

After successful surgery on his right shoulder in June 2019 and enduring a five-month recovery process, McIsaac was loaned to HPK of Finland's Liiga for the 2020-21 season. But in the first shift of his professional debut in October, the defenseman suffered another debilitating injury and was forced to have similar surgery on his left shoulder, which again kept him off the ice for an additional six months.

The 6-foot-1, 196-pound McIsaac rallied again through exhausting rehab tireless work and made his American professional debut on April 20 with the Red Wings' AHL-affiliate Grand Rapids Griffins.

The defenseman played 10 games for the Griffins this past season and showed signs of the promise that made him a projected first-round pick in 2018, earning two assists in 10 AHL appearances. But on May 8, just four games before the end of the season, the injury bug bit McIsaac once again, as he sprained the AC joint in his shoulder and was sidelined for the final week of the AHL campaign.

"It's tough. Mentally draining, like here we go again. Same ordeal," McIsaac said to The Detroit News' Ted Kulfan in May. "Obviously, back to back, and then something like (the sprained AC joint), especially when my game was starting to come around. But the resources were put in front of me (to get better) and I did as much as I could to stay positive."

Before the latest injury, McIsaac said he was starting to gain confidence and get back in the swing of things, despite going almost an entire year without game action.

"I felt like my game was pretty solid for missing that amount of time, back to back years," McIsaac said. "I stepped in and played pretty well physically, as much as possible. The mental side of it, I made a couple of errors here and there and that comes with time and playing more games."

Griffins coach Ben Simon threw McIsaac into as many situations as he could during his 10-game stint in Grand Rapids and said he was impressed with how the young defenseman battled through adversity to overcome three separate injuries.

"(He's) a two-way guy who can contribute offensively," Simon said to Kulfan. "Things happen a little bit quicker at this level, so the more you're put in those situations, the better served you'll be in the future, and we tried to put him in those situations - power play, penalty kill.

"We did see glimpses of what he is and could be. He's got a bright future. He's just got to find a way to stay healthy."

Before the frustrating injury saga derailed his development, McIsaac put together an impressive resume that had many pundits projecting him as a potential impact player in the NHL at an early age.

Before McIsaac became the Wings' fourth selection in the 2018 Draft, the Truro, Nova Scotia native earned 47 points on nine goals and 38 assists in 65 games for his Halifax Mooseheads club in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

After being drafted by Detroit, McIsaac turned in an even more impressive campaign in 2018-19, earning more than a point per game for the first time in his career with 62 points in 53 contests for Halifax, being named to the 2019 QMJHL Second All-Star Team.

Simon emphasized that the biggest areas of improvement for McIsaac are skating, acceleration and strength, but said with McIsaac's mental fortitude, those things will come with increased development and experience.

"He showed great resolve in his commitment to get back and playing," the Griffins coach said. "It was a tough, long road, with just putting himself back in the situation and back healthy. Any time you've sat out that long, you start to get your feet underneath you and put in situations you haven't been in before, so it was a little bit of a growing curve for him."

And now, after more than two years since his first surgery, McIsaac is finally healthy again, finished with rehab and is champing at the bit to get back in the gym, back on the ice and continue working to make his NHL dreams come true.

"I haven't had a full summer the past two summers to actually work on my upper body," McIsaac said. "I've been rehabbing both summers, so it's a big summer for that. It's a big summer in general, preparing for next year."

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