Scoring 14 goals and 34 points in 27 games is tough as a defenseman. It’s even tougher in the ultra-competitive Independent School League.
Patrick McNally jumped 44 spots between the mid-term and final Central Scouting rankings this spring.
Milton Academy’s leading scorer gets more impressive all the time. Ranked 40th in Central Scouting’s final list, the Glen Head, N.Y. native is Harvard-bound after one more year of prep hockey – a year in which he would gladly eschew all personal achievements in favor of a New England Prep Elite Eight title.
Whether he likes it or not, the awards may follow. This year’s New England Prep School Defenseman of the Year and U.S. Hockey Report Prep Defenseman of the Year could probably suit up for most D-I teams here and now. For McNally and Milton head coach Paul Cannata, next year is all about fine-tuning and getting the most out of one more season.
"He’s a strong skater on the back end, good puck skills and vision, poise almost to a fault with the puck," said Cannata. "He’s got a high level of puck comfort. He loves going on offense, loves to create offense, loves to play on his toes. He plays with energy, he’s a good kid, a good student."
Another product of Long Island’s esteemed P.A.L. youth program, which has produced pros like Chris Higgins, Eric Nystrom and Mike Komisarek, McNally seems to have the pedigree necessary for a successful career in the sport. The son of a University of Colombia football player, McNally also won a national crown with the Boston Jr. Bruins U18 midgets, and was coached by a hockey skills guru for the better part of a decade.
"I used to skate every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday morning with this coach, Alexei Nikiforov [who works with Komisarek and many within the Islanders’ organization] from when I was 8 through when I was 16. I just kept getting better. He always emphasized skating and puck-handling ability," McNally said.
Following some sound advice and a good word from then-Yale assistant coach C.J. Marottolo (now the head coach at Sacred Heart), Cannata and McNally were united in Milton, Mass., and McNally’s stock began to soar.
It was hard for scouts not to notice the attention-grabbing blue-liner. After all, he wasn’t the team’s top offensive producer by accident.
"He’s a leader through his play. He loves to have the puck, and he has the puck a lot," described Cannata. "He certainly loves to play with the puck. If he doesn’t have the puck, he wants to get the puck, and … it’s certainly a strength of his. He’s certainly good with the puck and he’s going to be around the puck, even as a defenseman.
"Somehow, he’s going to be involved in moving the puck up-ice and in all three zones, that puck’s going to go through Pat. He also plays with a sense of, ‘if I don’t have the puck, how can I get the puck back?’, more so than your typical stay-at-home, Steady Eddie defenseman. Pat wants the puck."
"I love the power play. My favorite situation’s a five-on-three," confirmed the playmaking puckster.
Like any teenage prospect, the potential for size and strength can be difficult to peg. But given his genetics, current build and work ethic, the issue of bulk shouldn’t be a big one for McNally.
"He’s obviously a long body. He’s a pretty skinny kid at the moment, so I think people will perceive that there’s a physical upside that way," said Cannata. "His father is a good-sized guy, a former football player. Patrick’s young, and even on the young side of his age group in terms of overall physical development, so there’s certainly an upside. He’s certainly going to grow and fill out a bit."
From the player’s perspective, he’s been "steadily gaining weight all season," he said, and has a target weight of 195 by the end of the summer.
One thing the prospect won’t need to work on is his skating, as he considers his "skating ability and my ability to move the puck, more than anything," to be his strongest suits.
The defenseman looks to a solid yet underrated pro for inspiration, and it doesn’t hurt that he plays on McNally’s favorite team.
"I love watching Mark Streit. I’m a big Islanders fan, and I like the way he plays," he said of the Swiss Olympian. "When I was younger, I loved Kenny Jonsson. He was the captain of the Islanders when I was young, and he played defense, so I looked up to him."
"Tom Poti comes to mind," said Cannata, when asked who McNally might compare to down the road. "Somebody else who comes to mind — though the height isn’t quite the same — is Brian Rafalski, who’s a guy that was probably one of the first of this new breed of post-NHL-lockout defensemen. Those types of guys, he’s a poor-man’s version of right now."
Cannata isn’t impressed simply with his star’s on-ice abilities; he’s an asset in civvies, too.
"He’s a super kid. I guess I would describe him as affable. He’s a cheery kid, he’s a friendly kid, he’s a positive kid; he’s not that defenseman that functions with a snarl, and he doesn’t live that way either," praised the coach. "He’s a good student, he’s a real positive, energetic young man. He’s a good lacrosse player. He’s athletic, he’s academic, he’s a good kid socially. There’s no question that that all adds to his package or intrigue as well."
McNally knows that he still has to focus harder on his defensive responsibilities, along with continuing to learn the more nuanced aspects of the game, like vision and "picking his spots," as Cannata put it.
But mostly, he’s simply excited about hockey.
"I’m really excited to play for Coach [Ted] Donato, Coach [Patrick] Foley and Coach [Bobby] Jay: that’s why I chose Harvard, because I really felt comfortable with the coaching staff. I liked each of them a lot, and I’m getting real excited to play for them."