Mark McNeill Ready For Opportunity With Chicago Blackhawks
The 2011 NHL Entry Draft for the Chicago Blackhawks, five years later, has been highlighted by second-round pick Brandon Saad and fifth-round pick Andrew Shaw and the success both players have had with the organization, with each being part of two Stanley Cups.
But for the first-round pick by the Blackhawks in that 2011 draft class, Mark McNeill, it hasn’t been the fast-track to success that Shaw and Saad had. While McNeill made his NHL debut this past season in a January game against the Carolina Hurricanes, the rest of his professional career has been played with the Rockford IceHogs and has been very successful.
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Since joining the Blackhawks organization in January 2012, McNeill has skated in 215 AHL games with the IceHogs, scoring 129 points (66 goals, 63 assists), both placing him in the top-10 all-time for the Rockford organization. McNeill has posted back-to-back seasons of 20-plus goals in 2014-15 and 2015-16, and has finished in the top-five in team scoring in each of his three full seasons with Rockford.
You can check out McNeill’s exit interview from the IceHogs this season here:
With the Blackhawks being in a salary-cap crunch and the opportunity for a bottom-six center to take hold of the third- or fourth-line spot, depending on where Chicago’s decides to play
, McNeill could very well see his time in the NHL increase in 2016-17.
Size And Scoring The Basis For McNeill’s Success
Since McNeill made his professional debut, his size and two-way effectiveness has been his ticket to the NHL. As stated, McNeill has a scoring touch that has been proven at the AHL and WHL levels, with McNeill playing for the Prince Albert Raiders from 2009-2013 in the latter league. In his time with Prince Albert, McNeill tallied 243 points (97 goals, 146 assists) in 276 games.
McNeill regularly uses his size to his advantage in both zones to create chances. He is a great fit at both center and on the wing, but he plays primarily center, which bodes well for him with the type of game he plays. The IceHogs have used him on both ends of the special teams spectrum in penalty-kill and powerplay situations, and he most likely would fit into that same type of role at the NHL level.
The opportunity for McNeill to crack the Blackhawks roster this season exists now more than ever. Chicago is going to rely on developing its in-house talent and make an investment in the future. Or at least that is the message from general manager Stan Bowman. McNeill first needs to be re-signed this summer, as he becomes a restricted free agent, but all signs point to him getting a deal done.
The best outlook for McNeill is to get a shot at the third-line center position that is going to be up for grabs in training camp. Players like Dennis Rasmussen, Tanner Kero and Teuvo Teravainen are going to get looks at that spot in the lineup, seeing that all three played in the position last season.
If McNeill can make enough of an impression in camp, he could see his spot with the Blackhawks last all of the 2016-17 season. If not, he more than likely will lead the IceHogs in scoring again next season.