In 2009, a lot of people underestimated the draft-eligible Ryan O’Reilly. He played on the Erie Otters, a low-profile team. But he went on to stick in the NHL as an 18-year-old for the Colorado Avalanche and make some pundits and scouts look a bit foolish.
A very similar thing seems to be happening again this year, this time with goal scorer Greg McKegg. He has 30 goals and 37 assists in 56 games, but he’s not well known and not considered a top prospect for the 2010 draft. He’s rated just 94th among North American Skaters by Central Scouting, and to add insult to injury, his name was spelled wrong on the list.
McKegg looks a bit slight on the ice, though he’s 6’0, 190 pounds. And he didn’t help himself to get on radar screens last season, with just 18 points in 64 games as a rookie for Erie.
But McKegg is slippery, can get up ice in a hurry and can put the puck in the net. He plays for a tough coach who stresses the little things, and McKegg passes muster. His +12 is an indicator of his defensive ability. Robbie Ftorek is happy to sing McKegg’s praises.
"Kegger came into camp and he was in great shape and then he hurt himself," Ftorek said in early February. "He’s still not skating as well as he did in training camp. I wish the scouts could have seen him in training camp because they would have been drooling. I’m sure he’s going to find that [speed] again, but it might take through the summer to get that back. But he’s playing very, very well. He’s confident, scoring major-league goals — a roof and a backhand-forehand tonight. He’s really playing well and his teammates are helping him along."
The Ontario native won’t be 18 until a week before the 2010 NHL draft, making him one of the younger members of his draft class.
Hockey’s Future spoke to the very humble McKegg at his home rink in Erie.
HF: You’re having quite a breakout year offensively. How would you explain it?
GM: The second year in the league you definitely have more confidence. You know what to expect. I’m playing with Zack Torquato and Mike Cazzola and they’re two great guys to play with. They communicate so well and I always know where they are. They always seem to find me. It’s been working out really well so far.
HF: You’ve been with them pretty much all year, right?
GM: The first 17 games we were mish-mashed. We’re all centermen. About the 18th game, we played together and have stayed together ever since and it’s worked out great. Hopefully we can keep it up.
HF: Had you played left wing before?
GM: Yeah, I’d flip-flopped around. I was mostly a centerman growing up, but wing’s not too hard to adjust to really. Wherever, it doesn’t really matter. The first guy back takes the down-low spot, so it’s not a big deal either way.
HF: Did you feel like it was important to have a good year because it’s your draft year?
GM: Yeah, for sure. I definitely didn’t have a great season last year, so it was important to get off to a good start here and I did kind of have a slow start. The first quarter I was a bit nervous and wasn’t producing like I thought I could. The last about 40 games have been awesome. I feel like I’ve found my groove and my linemates have helped me out a lot.
HF: Do you feel like people are finally giving you some credit too?
GM: Um, I think maybe people are noticing a bit more now because I’m doing more offensively. When the credit’s there it’s nice to see, but I try not to think about it too much and play my game.
HF: You got to go to the OHL All-Star Game recently.
GM: Yeah, that was an awesome experience to get to play with those top-notch guys. There’s a ton of skill there and I learned a lot. It was great just being around those guys.
HF: Did you feel better about yourself that you were able to fit in?
GM: Yeah, for sure. You kind of realize what it takes to be in that position. The skill level was unbelievable there and it was just great to be a part of.
HF: Do you still feel like you have something to prove — a little bit of an underdog?
GM: Oh yeah. Definitely. I think I’ve got a lot to prove. There’s a lot of season left and hopefully I can keep improving on my game and go far in the playoffs.
HF: What do you think is your best asset?
GM: I’d have to say my shot I think. They’ve been putting the puck on my stick this year and I’ve seemed to find the net. Tough question, but I think that’s what I’d say right now.
HF: On your line, who does what?
GM: I think Cazzola is probably the best in the defensive zone and he’s pretty smart, you always know where he’s going to be. He gets the puck to me and Torqs. Torqs is the set-up guy, he usually can find anyone out there. I like to stick around the high slot, hopefully they can find me.
HF: What’s been the hardest time in your hockey career?
GM: I think last year for sure. I had a slow start. For about 45 games there I was bouncing around, not getting much ice, just like three or four shifts a game. For a young guy coming into the league, you tend to put too much pressure on yourself and seet your standards too high. I definitely got set back a notch there, but I tried to come into this season a lot more confident.
HF: Have you ever had a major injury?
GM: Not yet, luckily. My biggest injury has probably been a separated shoulder in I think my minor bantam year. I had a knee injury this year, but other than that I’ve been pretty healthy.
HF: Was that just a strain?
GM: Yeah, I think it was an ACL strain. It kept me out two weeks (during preseason).
HF: Which defenseman do you think is the hardest to beat in this league?
GM: I would say Cam Fowler. He’s such a smart player and a big body. He can skate.
HF: Have you talked to any NHL teams yet this year?
GM: I’ve talked to a few, but they mostly talk to your agent, it’s not like the OHL draft when they’re always around, calling your house. You never know if they’re there or not. In minor hockey I could see them. You try not to think about it too much and play your game.
HF: Have they told you any things to work on?
GM: They tell my agent and he reports it back to me. I think the biggest thing I need to work on, from what they say, is playing away from the puck. It’s so important. It’s tough to do and tough to learn.
HF: Who’s your agent?
GM: John Thornton, Top Shelf Sports Management. He’s Joe’s brother. He’s from my hometown, so we kind of have that connection.
HF: Do you work with a skating coach in the summer?
GM: Yeah I have. I worked with Dwayne Blais and he’s awesome. He tried to tighten the base of my stride up because I was a little bowlegged. He’s a perfect example to watch because he’s a great skater, so powerful. I try to be a sponge and learn as much information as I can. I’ve known him since I was young, but last year was the first time working on the ice with him.
HF: Did you feel like you maintained that stride all year?
GM: I was skating well in camp and then I got that knee injury and I kind of ‘winded it out’ Robbie said. I need to work on getting it tighter. It’s not back to what I was doing, but I’m still working on it.
HF: Robbie said your speed isn’t quite back either.
GM: That and I’m crossing over when I’m stopping instead of just turning my foot. It’s coming along. It’s tough to get it back after an injury like that. This summer I’ll work on it again with the skating coach.