David Meckler playing his best hockey after move to OHL

By Jason Menard

Getting to Yale is tough enough on its own, so putting that education on ice in the hopes of getting a better hockey education shows the depth of David Meckler‘s commitment to becoming a key part of the Los Angeles Kings lineup for years to come.

Meckler made the decision to leave the Ivy League ranks after one season for the on-ice opportunities in London, Ontario. He’s now playing his first year for the London Knights in pursuit of his dream.

"I wanted to be a hockey player and not a student and this is a great hockey organization to play for. It’s 100 percent hockey and you don’t have to worry about anything else. You just can focus on getting better and improve my game and that’s what I’ve been able to do here," Meckler explained. "I’m very happy with my decision. I’ve had a great time here and I’m just loving every minute of it."

With 38 goals and 35 assist in 67 games this season, Meckler has risen to the top of his class, and he has the support of his family behind him.

"They want what’s best for me and they know that I love hockey," Meckler said. "They love watching me play too, so my dad’s not complaining watching me play this many more games. We’re all happy with it."

Putting his educational pursuits on ice doesn’t mean they can’t be thawed out in the future.

"I got a year of studies done and at Yale you just have to take these certain courses your first year, which I got done," he said. "Whenever hockey’s done – hopefully a long time from now – I’m looking forward to going back to school and finishing up my education."

Until then, Meckler’s hoping to school a few more opponents like he did in his first ever OHL playoff game, where he led the London Knights with four goals in a Game 1 victory.

"It’s very important [to start well in the playoffs]. It’s a whole new season. The coaches, the scouts – they all want to see what you can do when the game is on the line," he said. "Before it’s just the season, now it’s do or die. It teaches you how to come to the rink and play every single night. The regular season, you can’t come every single night but in the playoffs you have no choice – you have to."

Meckler didn’t just show up to play for the Knights in this year’s playoffs. He kicked in the door and shouted that he meant business with a four-goal performance in the opening game against the Owen Sound Attack. "I wasn’t expecting it, but I was unbelievably pleased. In a rink filled with 10,000 fans, it’s obviously pretty exciting.

"I was playing really well and I was really finding the puck. Also I was playing with great teammates both on the power play and on five-on-five and they were working really hard and set me up with some amazing passes. I was in the right position and I was able to finish."

The Knights’ general manager and interim coach Mark Hunter (head coach Dale Hunter missed the first three games of the playoffs due to a late-season suspension) said that performances like this – and hopefully many more to come – are one of the things they were hoping for when the brought Meckler into the Knights organization.

"We all thought that he was going to be a big part of our hockey club – we need him to be a big part of our hockey club with the injuries we have right now," Hunter said. "He showed that – he’s played a huge amount of ice time.

"I knew how hard he was going to play and I knew how hard he could shoot. He’s strong, which we needed for our hockey club."

Meckler was drafted by the Kings in the fifth round, 134th overall, in the 2006 NHL entry draft. It was in the hopes of accelerating his development and improving his chances of sticking with the pro club that Meckler decided to leave the Ivy League for the Forest City.

"[Yale] was a good experience, I learned a lot both on and off the ice. But I think this is so much better of an environment for me as a player in this league and to get to the next level this is where I need to be," he said. "I was pretty good in school and I thought Yale would be the perfect environment for me to play hockey and get a great education, but unfortunately the hockey wasn’t what I was looking for.

"After playing both, college is a little more run and gun, a little bit more physical, and you’ve got older and bigger guys. I think this is much more highly skilled. And after being in a couple of camps with L.A., I think that this style of hockey is identical to that except, obviously, for speed and skill level. I think it’s an easier transition going from the OHL to the next level, whether it’s AHL or NHL than it is coming from college because the style of play is much more similar."

One of the most attractive aspects of Meckler’s game is his conditioning. He is a physical specimen and prides himself on his conditioning. That, and a valued recommendation, helped convince Hunter to bring him to London as part of an influx of exciting talent to help offset the losses of Robbie Schremp (EDM), Dylan Hunter (BUF), and Dave Bolland (CHI).

"I saw him play in Chicago but it was basically Curtis Brackenbury who is the guru of strength and conditioning who got me on to the lead and brought him in and I’d seen him play and I knew what I was getting – heart and all. I knew he’d be in great condition because of Curtis Brackenbury," Hunter explained. "I think he’s adapted very well and I think he’s adapted to how many games we play, but I still think it comes down to his conditioning and how he worked during the summertime. He’s a high-end conditioned athlete."

That commitment to conditioning has Hunter comfortable that Meckler will continue to play a key role despite the disparity in the number of games played.

"I think he only played 25 games [last year]. Statistics-wise, I think he probably wanted more than that and he’s shown that this year with almost 40 goals and being a pivotal part of our team," Hunter said. "I’m not too worried about it because of what he’s done in the summertime to get to this time. I think he’ll be fine."

Meckler shrugs off any concern about the increase in games played (only 31 at Yale) pointing to his own past as indication that he can handle the workload. "I experienced before I went to college in the USHL, with the longer season," Meckler said. "I love it so much better – the college season was just too short for me. Here I get to play non-stop, which is great and we’re winning a lot of games, so it’s always something to look forward to."

In 2003-04 and 2004-05, Meckler played seasons of 56 and 60 games with the Waterloo Black Hawks of the USHL. After a rookie season with only nine goals and 17 points, Meckler displayed his offensive gifts in a breakthrough sophomore campaign wherein he scored 30 goals and added 15 assists in 60 games.

Conditioning has long been a part of Meckler’s life – so much so that a way to shake training up resulted in the Highland Park, IL native becoming an Illinois Silver Gloves boxing champ.

"When I was younger, 12 I believe, I’ve always been into training and being in the best shape I can and I wanted to try different training techniques and boxers seemed to be in amazing shape, so I did it mostly for that reason. A few fights came with it, but I did it mostly to get in better shape," he said. "I stopped a couple of years into it once hockey took over and I didn’t have much time for boxing. It was fun while I did it, but it’s not something that I’d get back into."

That singularity of purpose was key again later to why he moved to the OHL from the NCAA.

"It’s great hockey and there are some great teams and great players [in the Ivy League]. But the major difference is the amount of games played and the environment you’re playing in," Meckler said. "There you’ve got a lot going on and you’re playing two games a week. Here all you need to do is prepare for the three games over the weekend and it’s what I love."

Although not overly familiar with the OHL, Meckler nonetheless felt confident that he could enjoy success at this level.

"I was hoping to – I’m not going to lie, I was actually hoping to [make a smooth transition]. I just assumed there was going to be some trouble transitioning because it’s a different game, a different style of play, and a different atmosphere," he said. "Luckily it suits me very well and this is probably the best hockey I’ve played. I’m able to just enjoy myself, play hockey, and have no other worries. It’s just worked out for the best."

It’s worked out for both Meckler and the team. Coming into training camp, the 19-year-old forward made quick work of asserting himself both on and off the ice.

"He’s a vocal guy. When he first came to the team in training camp, he immediately took the role of leader and started helping the younger guys," Knights captain Rob Drummond said. "He had only been here for a week or so and he was already trying to set the tone. They looked up to him and I think that’s part of the reason why he got that assistant on his jersey."

That sentiment is shared by Meckler’s co-assistant captain and frequent linemate Adam Perry.

"It’s been great. He’s a first-year player, but he’s definitely got the leadership of a third or fourth-year vet. It comes from going to school there in Yale and he brings a lot to this team," Perry said. "You learn a lot from playing with older guys and I think he tries to bring that to the room and show the younger guys what to do. He’s very vocal and every time he steps on the ice he works hard. He’s a good all-around role model for the players."

That was another ancillary benefit of bringing Meckler to the club, Hunter explained. "He’s got good character. He’s a 19-year-old, so he’s a rookie, but he isn’t a rookie. He’s got good leadership drive."

Meckler’s in the midst of a playoff run this season with designs one the Memorial Cup. It’s safe to say the excitement of winning it all would be one of the few things that would compare with his being drafted by the Kings.

"I was lucky enough just to get drafted and it was even better getting selected by a great organization such as L.A. It was just an absolutely amazing day and I’ll never forget it," he said. "I was at home in Chicago with my family and we were just watching TV and checking the Internet from time to time when I got the call from my agent – it made the night."

While L.A. scouts are frequent attendees at Meckler’s games – partly because London is a must-stop for several scouts with Pat Kane and Sam Gagner on display – Meckler has taken a keen interest in the Kings organization.

"I focus on them a lot. Absolutely a lot. It’s important because that’s going to be my future so I want to keep an eye on it," he said, adding he knows what he needs to work on. "I want to get bigger and stronger off the ice, which I’m always working on. And I’d like to just improve everything in my game – work on my shot, my skating, puck control, basically every aspect of the game. I don’t think you can ever be comfortable where you’re at. I want to get better."

Due to a wrist injury suffered last season, Meckler expresses a sage perspective on his ability to perform – a perspective that’s reflective of his abundant maturity and intelligence.

"I actually played with a cast on in Yale. It was difficult and very frustrating. I like to shoot and it’s my game, so without it I’m a different player," he said. "I had to battle through and stay positive. It also helps you appreciate how when I’m healthy and feeling great, how lucky I am to do what I do without having to worry about pain."

It’s a good thing that wrist is at 100 percent, because Meckler’s shot is one to be feared. On power plays, Meckler likes to hang out at the face-off dot to the goalie’s right, stick cocked and ready to fire. And when he lets that shot go, woe is the player who gets in his way.

"He’s got a great shot. He can score from anywhere inside the blueline," Drummond explained. "He’s really strong on the puck and a really physical guy. He can throw his weight around but his strength is his shot – he’s a power forward for our team."

Complemented by Perry and Justin Taylor, a mid-season addition to the Knights who loves to pick up those rebounds that his thundering shot creates, Meckler’s shot opens up a lot of opportunities for the club.

"I love to pass the puck and he loves to shoot the puck, so every time he’s open I try to get it to him and normally it goes in for him," Perry added.

Some of that shot is genetics, some of it is skill. But much of it is attributable to Meckler’s diligent work ethic. "Off-ice training is key because you have to be strong to shoot the puck, but also just a lot of practice," he said. "From when I was younger to even now I just go on the ice and shoot – keep shooting and picking spots. And I just keep doing that."

With the Knights settling in for a long playoff run and NHL camps in the future, Meckler has plenty of hockey ahead of him. He’s willing to put the work in to succeed – which is good because his general manager thinks he has what it takes to be special at the next level.

"He needs to get a little bit faster, and gain a little bit more knowledge about what’s going on out there," Hunter said. "I think once he finds that, he’s the real deal."

Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future.  Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.