ISS PLAYER PROFILE
When it comes to opinions on Wes O’Neill, there seems to be very little middle ground – some scouts admire and praise him for his attributes while others denounce him and feel that he is overrated. Not often does a player cause polarising opinions the way O’Neill has heading into the NHL Entry Draft.
Hailing from Essex, Ontario, O’Neill was a freshman defenseman at Notre Dame in 2003-04 after a single season with Green Bay of the USHL. As part of a mostly veteran defensive corps, O’Neill and the Fighting Irish captured their first-ever birth in the year-ending NCAA National Tournament. Along the way the towering rearguard collected eight assists and a pair of goals and finished the regular season off with a decent +7 rating in 34 games.
On the positive side of the ledger, O’Neill is a physically large, mobile defenseman who can control the rush and likes to jump into the offence whenever it’s necessary. He is noted for being an exceptionally gifted passer, which in addition to his above average shot from the point combine to make him an ideal player for use as a quarterback on the power play. Mature and confident in his puck control skills and decision-making, there is still a great amount of potential untapped in the 18 year old.
As with all players, there is a downside to O’Neill’s abilities, with the main criticism being directed at his defensive play, especially one on one. Although well balanced and possessing a terrific wingspan, O’Neill did not play anywhere near as rugged in 2003-04 as one would expect a 6’4”, 225-pound rearguard would. ISS scout Chris Mooring had this to say; “At times, he doesn’t assert himself physically enough and that’s why he gets beat. All the kids at this stage in their development have aspects of there game to work on improving, and this is one area that, O’Neill needs to work on”.
The U-18 tournament in Belarus was an experience that even O’Neill himself considers to have been educational in many ways. “I definitely found out what the big ice is all about and how good the Europeans are,” O’Neil confessed.
One scout in attendance commented that of all the players on the Canadian squad, he was most disappointed in O’Neill’s tournament play. “ For the record, the whole team struggled, and that was evident by their disappointing 4th place finish. O’Neill in particular, struggled with the speed on the bigger ice surface. “He’s a great big kid who can skate, has decent puck moving abilities but needs to be more physical”. For all his troubles O’Neill still managed to post the 3rd best plus/minus on the team with a +4.
Unfortunately for O’Neill, his entire season was hampered by an injury suffered very early in the college season. Playing against Michigan State in early November, O’Neill was drilled from behind and the big defender sustained a separated shoulder that would see him play out the rest of the schedule in a brace. “Everyday I was getting treatment on it so I didn’t miss any playing time,” recalled O’Neill. “The coach said it was up to me if I needed to sit out or anything but I toughed it out because I thought the team needed me in the line up.”
The wounded joint was unfortunately on his left side, O’Neill’s lower hand, which made both hitting and shooting especially difficult to execute effectively. “When I was trying to take a slap shot I couldn’t raise my arm back as much as I wanted to,” O’Neill explained. “Hitting was the tough part because the coach needed me to play thirty minutes a game so I couldn’t be running around trying to hit guys all the time because it hurt me more than it hurt them. I had to figure out how to still be physical but not to look for the big hit, rather just rub guys out and try to take the puck from them.”
The biggest knock against Wes this year clearly has been the lack of physical play but when one considers the fact that O’Neill was really unable to contribute in that regard for almost the entire season, it becomes extremely intriguing to envision how he will play next year. With the graduation of three seniors from the Notre Dame blueline, much more responsibility will fall squarely on the shoulders of O’Neill, a challenge that he’s already looking forward to.
“The coach and I have already discussed it a lot and he says he’s looking forward to me being the number one guy and putting up big numbers next year,” smiled O’Neill. You can be sure that a healthy Wes O’Neill will want to address his critics next season.