During the NHL Draft a couple of weeks ago, most had a pretty good idea of what Chicago would be looking at as far as their selections. Already with outstanding organizational depth along the blue line, forward was going to be a position of interest, with the Blackhawks looking at center prospects, more specifically.
With the 18th overall selection, there were a wealth of options in a draft that was deep for centers. With that 18th pick, the Hawks went on to select 18-year-old Mark McNeill, who is currently with the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders.
Some of the first statements we have heard from McNeill have given every indication that he intends on playing in the NHL sooner rather than later. In fact, McNeill has set his sites on seeing time in the NHL this season.
Only one prospect made it out of the Blackhawks’ annual prospect camp last year and through training camp to find himself on the big league roster to start the season. That was Nick Leddy, who only got better as the season went on last year. He started the season in Chicago, spent some time in Rockford, then came back up for the last few months of the season.
However, the Blackhawks are running their prospect camp a little differently this year, and no players that played a full season with the Rockford Icehogs last year are going to be at that prospect camp. Only players that were drafted this year or in the years prior that have yet to see significant time in the AHL or NHL are attending.
But that hasn’t stopped McNeill from setting his sites on the ultimate goal of suiting up for the Blackhawks this season. Every indication from prospect camp in the first couple days have been that he’s the most fluid skater out there, and has been the most impressive youngster overall that has taken the ice.
At 18-years-old, McNeill is physically sound, standing at 6’1″ and 211 pounds. He’s been lauded for his strong two-way ability, playing just as hard on the defensive end as he does on the offensive side, not unlike current captain Jonathan Toews.
Where McNeill has been the most impressive is his physical presence. He’s not the tallest guy out there, but has the physicality to hang with anyone, and is willing to drop the gloves if the situation calls for it. He’s also been noted as a faceoff wizard, something that the Blackhawks are certainly going to be looking for before long. One NHL comparison for McNeill has been to that of Manny Malhotra. Not a bad comparison, despite the team that Malhotra plays for (Vancouver).
Now, it’s probably unlikely that McNeill is going to be donning a Blackhawks sweater to start the season like Leddy last year. He’s also already said that if he doesn’t end up making the NHL roster, he will go back to the WHL to start the season. But don’t be surprised to see this kid up with the ranks of the Blackhawks before long. He’s got the size, the skill, and, perhaps most importantly, he has the right attitude to reach the NHL level sooner, rather than later.