|Ask someone to name the best power forwards in the NHL right now, and names on the list likely would include Rick Nash, Ryan Getzlaf and Mike Richards.
Prince Albert Raiders center Mark McNeill might be added to that list in the coming years. Ranked 22nd by NHL Central Scouting in its mid-term rating of North American skaters, McNeill has been wowing scouts across North America with his impressive ability to make plays and power his way to the net. The 6-foot-1, 204-pound center leads his team with 30 assists and is second with 50 points in 45 games.
"He's one of those kids that has the ability to do so many different things," Raiders coach/GM Bruno Campese told NHL.com. "He's got so much upside to him. ... He's a powerful skater and has great hockey sense. He's got very good basic skills and he's got the ability to be a real tough person to play against. He's got the mental capabilities to understand the game as well."
"One thing I like about him is that he's a right-handed center, which is good to have," said NHL Central Scouting's B.J. MacDonald. "He's really composed and has a real pro-style game. He has a nice touch, can dish, and has nice, soft passes. His on-ice awareness is very good and he's paid attention to detail at both ends of the rink. He has good defensive-zone coverage as well as being offensive at the other end."
McNeill originally developed a love for hockey because of his father, Bernie, and the experience he had in the game.
"He played in the WHL for the Edmonton Oil Kings," McNeill said of his father, "then went to go play pro in Australia. He's the one that got me into the game and I'm really thankful of him for that."
After being placed on a line with Igor Revenko and Brandon Herrod this season, the threesome has combined for 48 goals and 121 points. That success has the team looking at a playoff spot for the first time since the 2006-07 season.
"We have a couple younger guys this year, but that's not going to hold us back," said McNeill on the team's prospect for success. "We're a hard-working team that comes to play every day. We're still working and getting better, but we're pushing for a playoff spot."
Another aspect of McNeill's game that scouts like is his ability to play physically and his willingness to drop the gloves. His 38 penalty minutes already are more than the 27 he had in 68 games last season.
"Fighting is definitely part of the game," said McNeill. "When it comes down to it and you need a momentum swing or you need to step up for your teammate, I'm definitely ready to go."
Though feisty on the ice, Campese describes McNeill as a calm, level-headed guy who always acts with the utmost professionalism. In fact, it's his maturity and willingness to learn that makes McNeill so likable.
"He is very coachable," Campese said. "We've had lots of one-on-one discussions this year. He's getting lots of attention from certain people, whether it's media or scouts. We've had lots of conversations about maintaining focus. He's extremely appreciative of any kind of coaching. He's a smart individual who really gets it.
"I can see him being a first-round pick. I really believe he has all the attributes. He's got certain gifts that other players just don't have. That really bodes well for playing in the NHL."
"All around I think he's got a real solid game," said MacDonald. "I think his offensive game will improve the older he gets and the more confident he gets. I think he'll be a better offensive player than he's showing right now."
If being a better offensive player will increase his current point-per-game scoring rate, the rest of the WHL (and even the NHL) should be nervous for upcoming seasons. But simply waiting a few years isn't going to make him successful, and McNeill knows it.
"I like to be good in front of the net, on the power play and the penalty kill," he said. "I want to become strong on draws and just develop my all around game.
"It's going to take a lot of hard work and determination."
Author: Alan Bass | NHL.com Correspondent