September 03 2014 08:30AM
Greg McKegg's path to the NHL has been a bit up and down to say the least.
That bumpy road has made it difficult to peg where his potential lies and how soon he can reach it (if that). The voting by the Leafs Nation staff made that pretty clear. Three of the nine writers put him firmly inside the top 10, two right at 10, while four had him outside. He may have improved one spot from his pre-season ranking last year, but dropped one from the mid-season ranking.
McKegg's journey begins with the 2007-2008 OHL Priority Selection where the Erie Otters chose him second overall. The following year he made his rookie debut with a modest 18 points. In his draft year he made a gigantic leap scoring 85 points in 67 games, but still, some scouts questioned whether his point totals were McKegg's own ability or a product of who he was playing with (which is funny in hindsight considering where Zach Torquato and Mike Cazzola are playing now). McKegg slipped to the third round where the Leafs gladly scooped him up at 62nd overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
When he was drafted, I'll admit, I had no idea who he was because I'd never seen him play. But I saw he had lots of points and an awesome name. To me that was enough convincing. I thought there was no way he wouldn't be an NHLer someday based on those factors alone.
In his draft-plus-one year, he proved some of those doubters wrong by improving on his previous point totals and scoring almost 50 goals tying sure-fire first overall pick Nail Yakupov. It was the third highest goal total in the OHL that year. It seemed the skill was all his and not a product of those around him. It sure looked like the Leafs had picked a mid-round gem. Superstar scout person, Corey Pronman of ESPN had the six-foot, 185 pound McKegg as the Leaf's fourth best prospect at the end of that year:
The Good: McKegg has a solid offensive skill set without a dynamic element but as one NHL scout sees it, "he'll never be the main factor on the ice, but he'll be a heck of a complement." He's an above-average passer who reads the play well and consistently makes the right decisions. McKegg has solid puck-handling abilities and can certainly make things happen in that area, but his main puck asset is his protection abilities. He's a pain in the rear to get the puck from and is very effective when it comes to the cycle game at even strength. McKegg has a good work ethic and will consistently attack the high percentage areas. He has an above-average shot that can score from beyond the blue paint, but makes more of a living from within a few feet of the net.
The Bad: McKegg's skating is fringe to below-average, as his stride isn't that refined and lacks the acceleration and overall fluidity to really threaten. He still needs to add a fair amount of strength to be able to play his style of game effectively at the pro level.
But he a hit a bump during his next two seasons. His point totals dropped in his last year of junior (he did spend most of the year on a terrible Erie team) and weren't all too impressive in his rookie campaign for the Marlies (albeit his first pro season in a limited role).
It looks like McKegg has found his way again after the 2013-2014 season though. He doubled his point totals from his first pro year to the tune of 47 points in 65 games, an NHL equivalent of 26 points. That's back near the mark he posted in the OHL, this time in a much tougher league against much tougher competition. While NHLe isn't perfect, it's indicative that McKegg has acclimated himself to the faster pace of the AHL after a bump in the road during his first pro season.
If he has another great year with the Marlies, McKegg can likely prove to be a cheap and serviceable NHLer at the bottom of the Leafs line-up in 2015-2016. And with his offensive instincts, there's room for him to move up the line-up to provide scoring punch as his potential probably tops out as an effective middle six player.
What may stop McKegg is ongoing questions about his skating, strength and consistency, areas he made strides in last season. While still not an above average skater, McKegg has been much more consistent between games, as well as stronger on the puck. To his credit, McKegg adapted well to playing with different linemates after being bounced around the lineup due to injuries with the big club.
McKegg's strengths have always been on the offensive side of the game. McKegg has a lot of tools that make him an offensive catalyst aforementioned by Pronman: vision, hands, playmaking, puck skills.
While most scouts agree he can play with the puck, some have been concerned with his ability to play without the puck. It's something McKegg stressed to himself this season: if he wanted to play in the NHL, he had to become a 200-foot-player.
"To play there, you have to be trusted in all three zones and to be able to be trusted on the ice. That's what I tried to work on this year," McKegg said in a scrum during locker clean-out day at the end of last season (credit to Jeff Veillette for the quotes).
Former Marlies Head Coach Steve Spott helped a lot in that regard, emphasizing on helping McKegg's play in his own zone. With improvement, Spott trusted McKegg more throughout the year, increasing his role.
"Anytime you can get added ice time and a bigger role on the team it's a huge experience and I've been lucky enough to have that early," McKegg said.
It's not likely McKegg gets a shot this year with the Leafs because they have an abundance of NHL forwards signed. But look for McKegg to take an even bigger step with the Marlies this season. And with most of those guys at the bottom of Toronto's roster on one year contracts, it wouldn't surprise me to see Greg McKegg get a long look at the 2015-2016 training camp, even if he has a leg for an arm and an arm for a leg.
Photo courtesy of Christian Bonin / TSGPhoto.com