The captain of the Western Hockey League’s Kootenay Ice has certainly had an eventful couple of weeks. In the month of May, defenseman Brayden McNabb
has achieved what many junior hockey players aspire to do: he led his team to the Western Hockey League Championship, played in the Memorial Cup and signed his first professional contract.
“It’s been a whirlwind, that’s for sure,” said McNabb, the Buffalo Sabres’ third round choice (66th overall) in the 2009 NHL Draft who signed an entry-level contract with the club on May 18. “Not all of it has sunk in quite yet, but it’s been an amazing time and I’ve got a lot of friends and family back home who are very proud of me, and it’s been a tremendous time.”
McNabb was at his best this season, his fourth in the WHL, posting career-highs in goals (21), assists (51), points (72) and plus/minus rating (+25) despite appearing in just 59 games for Kootenay. His 72 points ranked third among all WHL defensemen and fifth overall on his team.
His offensive contributions carried into the WHL playoffs as he registered 27 points (3 goals, 24 assists) in 19 playoff games, tying him for second in postseason points and helping to lead his team to the WHL Championship. As captain, he was the first player to touch the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
“It was a pretty amazing experience,” he said. “You always see every year a team win it and you just never think you’ll have a chance, but we had a team here this year to do it and we did it. It was a long grind; the playoffs are a whole new season and a tough schedule, but I’m just really proud of everyone in the dressing room.”
McNabb’s 27-point postseason included seven assists in the five-game championship series against Portland and a 12-game point streak. He notched at least one point in 15 of 19 playoff contests.
The 6-foot-4, 215-pound blue-liner has shown consistent improvement throughout his four-year career with Kootenay, increasing his point totals each season while refining his all-around game.
“I think a lot of it has to do with off-ice (training) and confidence,” McNabb said regarding his progression as a player. “I think the Kootenay organization has tremendous confidence in me and has given me the chance to play in all sorts of roles."
A physical defenseman who takes care of his own end and contributes offensively, McNabb said he tries to model his game after Marc Staal of the New York Rangers.
|Brayden McNabb captained the Kootenay Ice to the 2011 WHL Championship (Photo: Bryan Heim) |
“(Brayden) is the captain of that team, he’s a big body, he’s got a real physical dimension to him and leadership,” said Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier when describing McNabb as a player.
As evidence of his physical play, McNabb collected 95 penalty minutes in the regular season and averaged over 100 penalty minutes per season throughout his WHL career. He made headlines recently when he was issued a one-game suspension during the Memorial Cup for a hit he delivered to Owen Sound’s Joey Hishon.
“That’s a hit I always like to make but he’s a smaller guy – he’s 5’10” and I’m 6’4” – and when he tried to get out of the way or protect himself and went down, he ran right into my elbow, so obviously it didn’t look good but I’m not that type of player and I hope the best for his recovery,” McNabb explained.
Prior to the season, McNabb was named the 15th captain in Kootenay franchise history, joining a group that once included current NHL players such as Mike Green, Mike Comrie and Jarret Stoll.
“It’s a pretty big honor. There have been a lot of great captains to go through this organization, and to be the captain when we won the Chynoweth Cup is a tremendous honor,” McNabb said.
Since being drafted by Buffalo in June of 2009, McNabb has kept tabs on the team he hopes to one day play for. In addition to meeting several of his fellow Sabres prospects at summer development camps held by the team in Buffalo, McNabb, who attended the same high school as Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers
and played against him in the WHL, makes sure to follow the team throughout the season. He watches the games on television when he can, but if he can’t, he keeps track of the results and checks to see who scored the goals.
As he awaits his opportunity to one day join Myers and the rest of the Sabres, McNabb plans to continue working on various aspects of his game, particularly his foot speed. As Regier sees it, McNabb has already made a statement with his play.
“I think the way Brayden has progressed since he’s been drafted, he’s playing to make the National Hockey League.”