August 14 2012 07:42AM
The Canucks used their first pick in the 2010 NHL Draft (115th overall) on American defenseman Patrick McNally. The selection was a bit of a curious one, as McNally still had a year of prep school to play before even joining the college ranks (he had committed to the Harvard Crimson for the fall of 2011). It's accurate to say that McNally was selected as a longer term "project."
McNally’s freshman season for Harvard was a rousing success. He established himself as one of the best offensive defensemen in the country, and was a big part of a dominant Crimson power play. McNally’s defensive game is still a work-in-progress, but he is learning to make better decisions with and without the puck.
Like when he destroyed Massachusetts prep hockey in his senior year, the Canucks couldn’t have expected any more from McNally during his first season playing Division I hockey. He was a finalist for ECAC (Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference) Rookie of the Year. From the ECAC website:
Harvard freshman, Patrick McNally is another finalist for the league’s top rookie award. McNally tied for fifth among rookie scorers in ECAC Hockey play netting 0.68 points per game (4g-11a-15pts). He was ECAC Hockey’s highest-scoring freshman defenseman in league games. The Glen Head, N.Y. native tied for fourth in the ECAC Hockey scoring among all defensemen. In overall contests McNally is the nation’s second-leading scorer among freshman defensemen with 0.76 points per game (5-17-22). McNally helped Harvard hold 15 of its final 16 league opponents to three goals or fewer and limit eight of the final 13 to two goals or fewer and rank fourth in ECAC Hockey in scoring defense. He was also a key player on league’s top power-play, which ranks second nationally and led the nation for most of the regular-season.
McNally’s NHL Central Scouting report from over two years ago still reads very true today:
Pat is an offensive defenseman whose strength is in rushing the puck and putting constant pressure on the defense. He is a very good skater with mobility, speed and quickness. His skating skills and quick hands allow him to escape trouble and move the puck quickly out of danger. In the defensive zone he has very good lateral mobility and closes quickly on the puck carrier, forcing him into quick decisions or mistakes. He is an excellent passer whose passes are accurate and proper for the situation. Doesn't play a physical game, but relies on quick stick and smarts to gain puck possession.
Angus: How does McNally compare against more well-known college defensemen like Justin Schultz (Wisconson) and Brian Dumoulin (Boston College)?
Luedeke: He just finished his freshman year so he's not in that class yet, but if you project his development he'll be among the elite offensive defensemen at the least. I would like to see more of a commitment to defense from him though.
Here's Meloni's take on the same question:
Meloni: Patrick is certainly on his way to becoming one of the better two-way defenseman in college hockey. As a freshman, he played behind some pretty experienced, high-end collegiate defenseman and you could see him really blossom throughout the year. His offensive skills are unquestioned, and they were noticeable right away. His vision, puck skills and passing are already among the top 15 or 20 defenseman in the country, and he skates extremely well.
Dumoulin and Schultz were two very different defensemen, and arguing which was No. 1 or No. 2 was impossible, but I think McNally can be among the best defenseman in the nation in time. His ability with the puck and skating are already there.
Is he ready to turn pro after this season (provided he wants to)?
Luedeke: I don't think that is necessarily the wise choice, but that's up to Vancouver. If they feel his game is mature enough and want him in the system then it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks. He was pretty undisciplined in prep as a guy who attacked defenses a lot with great effect, but wasn't all that defensively responsible. He's coming along at Harvard, but still has work to do.
Would be benefit from playing the full four years at Harvard?
Meloni: The full four years would help any player, but I think Patrick would benefit especially. Part of the development he needs to see is growing and then learning to use his size. He doesn't play a very physical game, but, right now, he's not really capable of playing one. As he advances to minor pro and eventually to the NHL, the need for a defenseman to be a physical is a must.
How do you see him developing down the road? How has he improved since coming to Harvard?
Luedeke: He could be a top-3 defenseman and power play ace with his offensive ability, but he's going to have to simplify the play in his own end and not take so many risks.
Meloni: The Mark Streit comparisons he always made of himself really do seem to fit well. The offensive side of his game is such that he'll be able to produce points from the blue line regardless of the level he's playing at. It's not often a freshman defenseman picks up 22 assists in a college season, about half of which came on the power play.
Are there any weaknesses he needs to continue to improve on?
Luedeke: Decision making is the biggest area right now – making the right reads and knowing when to activate and when to stay home. Also, he has physical maturing to do.
Meloni: The things Patrick needs to improve on are pretty clear. He's a big kid, and he needs to put on more weight. I'm guessing this has been a focus of his throughout the summer, and I'm sure he'll add to his 6-foot-2, 190 pound frame. In his own zone, his positioning and puck movement are already strong, and he's hardly a weak kid. But he needs to learn to his body better. As he adds he gets stronger, I see him rounding his game out well.
Harvard boasted one of the nation’s best power play units. How much of the success was due to McNally?
Meloni: Harvard's power play surprised a lot of people with how consistently productive it was, and Patrick was a huge part of that. As natural as he usually looks with the puck, he looks even more composed and fluid when running the power play.
Whether it's a break-out pass or settling things down at the point, he just seems like he's always in charge. There are a lot of very talented scorers and players with big shots at Harvard, but McNally made their power play go last season.
McNally scores a nice goal at the 13 second mark, sneaking in from the point:
Meloni’s answers were similar to Luedeke’s – McNally is a supremely talented offensive defenseman who has some areas he needs to improve on.
Meloni: I'm really excited to watch Patrick's development over the next four years. The strengths in his game were visible no matter the competition level he faced; he had strong games, offensively, against North Dakota and the Hockey East schools Harvard played. But he struggled a bit in his own zone, leading to some pretty glaring mistakes. As the year progressed, his game continued to improve and by the beginning of his junior year, he could be a clear all-American candidate.
The Canucks have several young prospect defensemen who we don't hear much about due to where they play (Ontario, the United States, and overseas). McNally's skill set is pretty unique and one that is highly sought after in today's game where the puck moving defenseman is king. The ability to insert a defenseman into the lineup on a rookie contract makes the player that much more valuable.
From what we've gathered, McNally is on course to make the NHL one day, but that day is unlikely to be soon. The Canucks would be best served to exercise great patience with McNally and based on Gillis' comments about selecting NCAA bound players at the draft, that's their plan.
Expect to hear and read more about McNally as he continues developing into one of the best defensemen in the NCAA.