Blackhawks draft pick Mark McNeill aims to stay with big boys
BY ADAM L. JAHNS firstname.lastname@example.org July 8, 2011 9:28PM
Mark McNeill, who could have a chance to make the Hawks as a second-line center, practices Friday at Johnny’s IceHouse West. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times
Updated: July 9, 2011 2:07AM
Two days of drills have gone well for center Mark McNeill at his first Blackhawks prospect camp. He already has shown the hands, competitiveness and speed that made him the 18th overall pick in this year’s draft.
McNeill, though, is eager to show more in his first scrimmage in a Hawks uniform today at Johnny’s IceHouse West.
‘‘It’s been awhile since I’ve been in a game,’’ said McNeill, a self-described two-way power forward who had 32 goals, 81 points and 53 penalty minutes in 70 games last season with the Western Hockey League’s Prince Albert Raiders. ‘‘I’m looking forward to it. I think everything is going to come back to me pretty quick. I’ll have fun out there, throwing the body around and stuff like that.’’
The Hawks, who lack depth in the middle, are very high on McNeill, viewing him as a potential second-line center. At 6-1 and 211 pounds, he has what the Hawks consider an NHL-ready body.
But because he’s only 18, he can’t join the Rockford IceHogs, the Hawks’ American Hockey League affiliate. So it’s either the NHL or back to Prince Albert.
‘‘I’m just out there working my hardest and trying to make it,’’ said McNeill, who was one of the last prospects to leave the ice after drills Friday. ‘‘I’m a pretty driven, pretty motivated person. I’ve set goals for myself. And I’ll strive to achieve those goals.’’
He said he hasn’t felt additional pressure to make the team as a result of being a first-round pick. Everyone, he said, has a clean slate in camp.
‘‘First impressions are huge,’’ he said. ‘‘A lot of the staff hasn’t seen some guys play before. The first skate [Thursday] was a big eye-opener with the whole staff watching us. We have to be ready to go every day. You can’t take days off in camp.’’
‘‘I want to keep improving in all areas of my game, keep pushing the bar higher. Some areas I want to work on [are] a couple little things, my first three steps and that explosiveness right out of the gate. It’s really going to help me down the road.’’
IceHogs head coach Bill Peters, who had re-signed with the Hawks in June after leading the IceHogs to a 122-97-7-14 record the last three seasons, has accepted an assistant coaching position with the Detroit Red Wings.
‘‘Bill has been a great teacher and a valuable resource in the development of our many prospects in Rockford the last three seasons,’’ Hawks general manager Stan Bowman said.
Some of those players include defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson and winger Ben Smith.
‘‘Personally, I thought he was a great coach. He was a players’ coach,’’ said blue-line prospect Dylan Olsen, who played 42 games for Rockford last season. ‘‘He was a good motivator, and it’s sad to see him go. But it’s good for him. I’m happy he gets to coach in the NHL.’’
Peters and Red Wings coach Mike Babcock previously worked together with the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL. Peters initially was a scout for Spokane before joining Babcock’s staff in the 1999-2000 season, Babcock’s last with the Chiefs.
Arbitration hearings for winger Viktor Stalberg and defenseman Chris Campoli will be July 20 and Aug. 3, respectively, unless they sign with the Hawks in the meantime.