Blue And White Beat: McKegg in tough to crack World Junior lineup
Erie Otters forward Greg McKegg prefers to focus his efforts on his present-day skill sets as a participant in the Toronto Maple Leafs rookie tournament, rather than ponder over whether he’ll make the grade for Canada’s entry at the 2012 World Junior tournament.
No one though could blame the St. Thomas, Ontario native if the aspiration sinks in his mind for more than a fraction of a second.
“You try to put that into the back of your head, but it’s tough.” said McKegg following his one-goal, two-assist effort in the Leafs rookies 5-1 win over their Pittsburgh Penguins counterparts on Sunday night.
Fresh off a 49-goal campaign for the Otters during which he collected 92 points in just 66 games, McKegg was one of only two Leafs draft picks invited to this summer’s Team Canada development camp, with defenceman Stuart Percy being the other.
The 19-year-old centre flashed his creativity on a highlight breakaway goal in the third period, performing a forehand to backhand deke before sliding the puck underneath helpless Penguins goaltender Maxime Lagace. Earlier in the game, McKegg’s cross-ice pass to Mitchell Heard resulted in a one-time shot for a 4-on-3 power-play goal that held up as the game-winner by Heard.
“You can see the skill sets that he has,” said Toronto Marlies assistant coach Jim Hughes of McKegg, the Leafs third-round draft choice in 2010. “He puts up big numbers in the OHL. If you give him a look, he’ll take full advantage of it.”
As with every Canadian entry at the IIHF Under-20 Tournament, the competition for one of the twelve forward positions will be fierce. Five forward are eligible to return from last year’s edition, looking to avenge their colossal collapse in Buffalo at the hands of Team Russia: Brett Connolly, Sean Couturier, Quinton Howden, Ryan Johansen and Jaden Schwartz.
Also in the mix are Memorial Cup rivals Devante Smith-Pelley of the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors and tournament MVP Jonathan Huberdeau of the champion Saint John Sea Dogs.
Finally, if first overall NHL draft pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins doesn’t crack the Edmonton Oilers lineup as his predecessor Taylor Hall did last year, he’ll certainly be leaving his Red Deer Rebels for two weeks to play in the junior tournament being held in nearby Edmonton and Calgary.
Depending on your perspective, this is either the third U-20 tournament being staged on Canadian soil in four years, or fourth consecutive one if you considered the border to extend just past the arena in Buffalo for a fortnight last winter.
With Canada anxiously frothing at the mouth to end a two-year gold medal drought, Canadian teenagers will be waiting by their phones with the anticipation of Ralphie opening a Red Ryder BB gun when coach Don Hay and his staff set the roster in December.
“(It’s what) every Canadian kid hopes for at Christmas time”, said McKegg. “It’d be a pleasure to get that call.”
Rob Del Mundo is the author of Blue And White Beat, and is a regular columnist at TMLfans.ca
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