If you ask the players and management in Sault Ste. Marie, they'll tell you that they never lost faith in their team's potential, regardless of what 'so called' OHL experts (again, like myself), were predicting. The reason for the team's success this season? "We have had guys step up and fill the roles that needed to be, which shows that from top to bottom the organization is focused on winning and progressing towards the future," says Hounds center Jared McCann.
|Photo courtesy of Aaron Bell/OHL Images|
McCann is undoubtedly the leader of this "young" group. The 4th overall selection in the 2012 Priority draft established himself as a terrific young player right off the bat last year. His 21 goals and 44 points put him 6th in rookie scoring and he was named to the OHL second all rookie team. This year, he's improved upon those numbers. McCann currently sits 2nd on the team in goals scored with 26 and his 9 powerplay goals have helped the Hounds to the 7th best PP percentage in the league. "I feel like it's both the increased responsibility and ice time," says McCann when asked about his maturity this season. "I want to play against the team's best and I do every single night. I have also focused on more of the details of the game and it has taken my game to the next level."
An increased focus on the minor details of the game is one of the many reasons that McCann has rocketed up draft charts this season. He's universally considered a top 20 draft pick at this current time, and even finds himself nearing top 10 consideration on a few lists. McKeen's hockey (led by David Burstyn and Sean LaFortune) describes McCann as "a natural goal scorer who has an uncanny touch with the puck on the half boards. His one timer and stick preparation are one of the best, not just in the OHL, but the entire draft class. Under the watchful eye of Coach Keefe, he has rounded out his game and become more responsible in all three zones; not just counted on in PP situations."
As June 27 nears (the date of the 2014 NHL Draft in Philadelphia), McCann is trying hard to keep the draft attention from distracting him. "Obviously it’s something that’s always in the back of your mind but I try to not let it get to me and the way I play the game. It's been my goal from day one to get drafted and that’s all I can ask for [at this point]."
But well before June will come March and April (last time I checked anyway). And those months bring the OHL playoffs. Last year the Hounds were eliminated in the first round by the Owen Sound Attack, in a hard fought six game series. This was definitely a disappointing result and Sault Ste. Marie will be hungry to reverse those fortunes this year. Ironically enough, if the playoffs started today, the Soo would once again match up against Owen Sound in the first round. The difference this year? A healthy Jared McCann.
Going into the 2013 playoffs, McCann was the Hounds hottest forward with 7 goals and 9 assists in the final 9 games of the regular season. But he was knocked out of the series (and subsequently the playoffs) after sustaining an upper body injury from a Cameron Brace check in the 2nd period of game 1. The Hounds offense never recovered and they lost that series.
This year, a healthy McCann (hopefully) will go a long way to making the Greyhounds a serious threat in the Western Conference playoffs. Just the same, a terrific playoff performance from McCann will go a long way to cement his status as a possible lottery selection in 2014. And since his idol is Blackhawks' captain, (and one of the most clutch players in the NHL), Jonathan Toews, I'd expect nothing less.
Brock Otten - Have to say, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the Hounds play this year. With all the losses you incurred going into the season (Sproul, Cousins, Broll, Miller, etc), I didn’t think you’d have such a stranglehold on the West Division. What’s been the biggest reason you guys have played so well this year?
Jared McCann - The reason we have done so well this season is because we have had guys step up and fill the roles that needed to be. It shows that from top to bottom the organization is focused on winning and progressing towards the future.
Otten - You obviously had a great rookie year, but you’ve taken that next step forward this year. Is that just increased ice time (or at least responsibility) or are there other contributing factors to your on ice improvements?
McCann - I feel like it's both the responsibility and ice time. I want to play against the teams best and I do every single night. Also I have focused on more of the details of the game and it has taken my game to the next level.
Otten - Let’s go back in time a bit. You played your minor midget year with Kingston’s Spencer Watson (as well as his twin Matt). Do you guys still keep in touch?
McCann - We try to as much as possible but we are both very busy, I look forward to playing him because he’s such a high end scorer and we push each other.
Otten - Obviously there’s a chance both of you could be drafted by the same NHL team this June, is that an exciting prospect?
McCann - It would be really awesome to play with Spencer again and especially at the next level. We have always had good chemistry together.
Otten - Going into your rookie season with the Hounds, was there a “welcome to the OHL,” moment for you? Did anything surprise you, or overwhelm you initially?
McCann - I felt like how I prepared myself in the summer really helped me during the start of the season. Scoring in my first game was probably that kind of moment.
Otten - This summer you had a chance to play at the Ivan Hlinka tournament, where you helped Canada to a gold medal. How awesome was that experience?
McCann - It was amazing playing with and against some of the best players in the world. We had a great team and all of us definitely made the most of the experience.
Otten - Was it at all humbling to know that you were considered one of the top players in your age group in the entire country?
McCann - Yes, to be even mentioned in those kind of talks is an honor and I’m excited for what lies ahead.
Otten - Just the same, you’ve been consistently considered a possible top 20 pick for the NHL Draft in June. Is that something you think about? Obviously you must have some draft aspirations, or goals.
McCann - Obviously it’s something that’s always in the back of your mind but I try to not let it get to me and the way I play the game. It's been my goal from day one to get drafted and that’s all I can ask for.
Otten - Hard to argue with your performance at the Top Prospect’s Game, when you score the game winner. What was that experience like and how do you think you played at the event?
McCann - It was a great opportunity to be able to play in that game and scoring the game winner was just a surreal feeling. I felt like I could have played better in the game but I did what I could and it was overall just a great experience.
Otten - If an NHL scout asked you, what do you feel are your best qualities as a player, what would you say?
McCann - They would say my shot and my skating.
Otten - Just the same, if the same scout asked you what you needed to work on, what your response be (besides the standard of getting stronger)?
McCann - I feel like I need to get quicker for the next level.
Otten - Is there a player in the NHL that you look at and say, that’s the guy I want to model my game like?
McCann - Jonathan Toews. He plays a 200ft game and has amazing offensive ability.
Otten - Growing up in the Thames Valley region, were you a big London Knights fan as a kid? They obviously had some terrific players when you were younger.
McCann - Yes I was. I didn’t get to see many games as a kid because I was busy with my hockey but I did follow the team and looked up to those guys who played there.
Otten - Favourite NHL team?
McCann - L.A Kings
Otten - Favourite OHL arena to play at?
McCann - Budweiser Gardens ( London)
Otten - Toughest OHL defender to beat one on one (and you can’t say one of your teammates!)
McCann - Scott Harington (former Knight)
Otten - Toughest goaltender to beat in the league? (again, you can’t say Murray or Halverson)
McCann - Jordon Binnington (former Attack)
Otten - Favourite thing to do outside of hockey?
McCann - Playing Ping Pong with my billet dad and watch the Bachelor with the boys every Monday.