2011 Draft Class: Mark McNeill
Prince Albert Raiders centre ranks 14th among North American Skaters by CSS
The Edmonton, AB native recently concluded his sophomore season with the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders. In 70 regular season games, McNeill collected an impressive 32 goals and 81 points. During his rookie campaign in 2009-10, the dynamic centre produced nine goals and 24 points.
"I had a really big year and took a big step up from last season," McNeill said.
"I'm a two-way, power forward that's good at both ends of the rink. I’m sound defensively and I’m good on draws as well. I can play PK, PP, and put the puck in the net as well. I like to think that I’m an all-around player."
He’s shown that, too. Considering he led the Raiders with 49 assists in 2010-11, his 32 goals were second only to teammate Jonathan Parker who recorded 45.
All things considered, McNeill’s balanced attack is an encouraging element.
"I can put the puck in the net just as well as I can set guys up," he said. "I don’t want to limit my role by saying that I’m more of a goal-scorer or more of a playmaker. I think I’m equally as good at doing both."
Although McNeill’s incredible outburst was impressive, so too was his ability to develop a well-rounded, two-way game. In doing so, he has established a niche that few can match.
"I had a really strong off-season," McNeill said of his 57-point gain. "I put on a lot of strength, a lot of weight, and I grew a little bit, too. But I couldn't have done it without my teammates and my coaches, giving me the opportunity to play in key situations; a lot more even-strength, PK, PP, and last-minute situations in the game."
Developing strength, in addition to his naturally large 6’2", 210-pound frame, has helped to improve his growth as a powerful, controlling pivot with budding offensive skill. It’s something he knows will translate well to the NHL game someday soon.
"I think my big body and being able to move well out there is a good combination; that’s going to be key for the next level. They're all men out there and they're big boys, so I think it will be something that will help me in the NHL for sure. Size and strength is so important at that level."
Coaches’ feedback has been incredibly valuable to the young centre, as he believes it has been "imperative" to his improvement over the past two seasons, but an outside mentor has helped shape his style for quite some time.
"I really look up to Ryan Getzlaf," McNeill said. "With the way he plays and presents himself on the ice, he’s been a huge role model for me. Ultimately, he’s the player I want to be when I’m older. He can hit, score, mix it up and be a really complete player."
Like most players in this position, McNeill understands that more work is required to achieve excellence. Another dedicated off-season training regimen will assist in his effort to upgrade an already lethal arsenal.
"I want to keep improving in all areas of my game so I can be that complete player when I'm older," McNeill explained. "Some areas that I really want to key on is that explosiveness; that first step that's so important at the NHL level. I want to get that NHL release that will help me score goals at the next level, too."
Following a tremendously successful regular season, McNeill concluded 2010-11 with a valuable taste of post-season action, which should help him prepare for the up-tempo NHL game.
"It's certainly a lot different than the regular season, for sure," he said of the team’s six second-season matches. "The pace and intensity is high. There’s more hitting and things like that, too. It was good for us to get that experience under our belt. We obviously want to improve on that for next season."
Having the experience of an extended season heading into the summer months, McNeill has now begun to focus on mastering his near NHL-ready attributes. Specifically, working to develop the necessary traits that were brought to the forefront during his WHL playoff experience.
"Just keep working on that explosiveness," McNeill said. "That's really going to help me towards next season. Working on my footwork, too. You can never practice that enough. That's something I'm going to be working on a lot over the off-season."
In between summer-time preparation will be the most important event of his young career. While the distinction of being selected by anyone will be the greatest honour, McNeill is aware that the City of Champions could potentially announce his name at the Xcel Energy Center podium in seven short weeks.
"You don’t really know where you’re going to go, so I try not to think about it too much. If that was the case and I did end up going to Edmonton, that would be a dream come true. It would be a really special opportunity."
Author: Ryan Dittrick | edmontonoilers.com