Beyond Tomorrow: MacInnis impressing with hard work

By Brian Fogarty

Ryan MacInnis - Team USA

Photo: U.S. NTDP forward and 2014 NHL Draft prospect Ryan MacInnis has made great strides in his game since the beginning of the 2012-13 season (courtesy of Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

The first thing that most people notice about Ryan MacInnis is his size. Even just having turned 17 years old a couple of weeks ago, MacInnis already stands 6’3” and weighs 174 pounds. His size is imposing, even on a U.S. National Team Development Program team that is peppered with big bodies.

The next thing that most people notice is the name on the back of his sweater. If the name looks familiar to hockey fans, it is because Ryan’s father is the Hockey Hall of Fame defenseman Al MacInnis, whose booming slapshot earned him renown and respect around the league, and whose 23-year NHL career was full of accolades, including a Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman, a Conn Smythe Trophy (playoff MVP), four NHL All-Star Game appearances and a Stanley Cup. The hockey community has a fascination for bloodlines and family legacy, so when the son of a hockey great hits the scene, people take notice.

MacInnis played his youth hockey in St. Louis where he was quickly noticed by the scouting community as a burgeoning talent. However, because he had already committed to the U.S. National Team Development Program prior to the OHL Priority Draft, MacInnis dropped to the third round before the Kitchener Rangers snapped him up. Rangers coach Steve Spott claimed that they had MacInnis ranked in the top five overall on their pre-draft ranking. ISS preliminary rankings from last October had MacInnis ranked 16th overall for 2014 draft-eligible players, and he has shown through his play and development since then that he deserves first-round consideration in the NHL Draft.

MacInnis plays forward for the U.S. NTDP Under-17 squad. When asked why he chose the U.S. NTDP over the Kitchener Rangers, he explained, “I wanted to keep my options open for college or the OHL.” He said that he plans on playing for the U.S. NTDP Under-18 team next year, but where he goes next is still undecided and both junior hockey or college are on equal footing as of now.

One thing is clear, however. The team at the end of that path will get their hands on a talented forward with a bright future.

“Vision,” was the one-word response from MacInnis when asked about what he viewed as his key attribute as a player. “I know where the other players are on the ice, and I can use my size and quickness to make time for myself to get them the puck.” MacInnis uses his long reach and his agility to help create time and space on the ice, and he has solid puck possession skills. “I like to think my patience is another strength,” he continued. “Some guys like to dive in there, but if you’re patient with [the puck] you’ll get more opportunities to make a play.”

Whether he is setting up in the slot or working out from the corners into scoring position, MacInnis finds ways to get the puck to the net. For a player of his size, he has a smoothness with the puck on his stick, and is positionally sound in the offensive zone. MacInnis is also responsible in his own end, and plays a two-way game that includes hard work and a willingness to backcheck deep into his own zone and get physical in the corners when necessary.

His simple, steady style of play was on full display during the recent World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. In six games for the bronze medalist USA team, MacInnis posted three goals and two assists, including two game-winning goals.

“It’s actually a little easier playing against guys your own age,” admitted MacInnis. “It can be harder playing against the older guys [in the USHL]. They are older, stronger and they know more. It can be really hard to play against them, but that helps when we play against our own age group.”

“His hockey sense and the way he thinks the game is really, really elite,” said USNTDP U-17 Head Coach Danton Cole. “He is initiating contact and winning the puck battles and his work in the weight room is working well for him.” MacInnis started the season weighing under 165 pounds, but has been working hard  to add muscle and strength during the season. “I want to get up to about 190 pounds for next year, or at least 185,” he said.

“I wish you could watch a game from the beginning of the year, and then watch one of our games from last weekend. The difference and the learning curve are remarkable,” Coach Cole commented. “Different players are coachable in different ways. It’s how they take what is given to them and apply it in the game. Ryan is really easy to coach. He has a hunger to be better. He always wants more.”

Mechanically, MacInnis is a good skater, though at this time he still needs work on his top-end speed. He is an upright skater with good technique, and as he continues to develop and add strength to his lower body, his speed should improve.

“His top end is a little deceptive, but you can see his speed in puck chases,” stated Coach Cole. “He will continue to get better and better.”

When asked about his father’s influence in his game, Ryan replied simply.

“He just told me told work hard and some day it will pay off. And to shoot every day.”

Looking Back

Josh Ho-Sang is currently fifth on the Windsor Spitfires in scoring, and seventh overall among OHL rookies, with 41 points in 58 games.

Meanwhile, Jordan Thomson continues to develop and try to find ways to contribute to the Kamloops playoff run. In seventeen games since the New Year, Thomson has one goal and five assists for the third-place Blazers.

Both players participated in the U-17 Challenge, Ho-Sang for the Ontario team, and Thomson for Canada West. Ho-Sang scored three goals with two assists, while Thomson had three assists in his five games.

Looking Beyond Tomorrow

In Sweden, another NHL progeny is making his name in the Sodertalje system. 16-year-old William Nylander played just one game this season at the Under-18 level before he was moved up to the Under-20 team. There he scored 15 goals and 28 assists in 27 games and led the team in scoring despite being the youngest forward on the roster. His play earned him an early-January promotion to the men’s team in the second division Allsvensken, where Nylander has scored six points (four goals and two assists) in eight games. On the day Nylander was promoted, Sodertalje also acquired his father, former NHL forward Michael Nylander.

Roland McKeown is a 6’1”, 186-pound defenseman playing for Kingston in the OHL. Through 54 games, he has scored seven goals and assisted on 21 others. He also was named alternate captain for Team Ontario at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.

Next Time in Beyond Tomorrow

Next month’s Beyond Tomorrow will feature Leon Draisaitl, the German-born forward playing for the Prince Albert Raiders in the WHL, and a potential Top-10 pick for the 2014 NHL Draft.

Follow Brian Fogarty on Twitter via @Brian_Fogarty