--PRINCE ALBERT-- After three days of being bombarded with questions and one day of fitness testing, highly touted NHL prospect Mark McNeill returned home from the NHL Scouting Combine no worse for wear.
‚ÄúIt was a tremendous experience,‚ÄĚ the Raiders power forward said. ‚ÄúI am very honoured to be selected.‚ÄĚ
Many prospective future professionals from around the country and world attended the NHL Scouting Combine in Toronto. The four days McNeill spent there was a great measuring stick, enabling him to see how he ‚Äústacked up‚ÄĚ to other top prospects.
‚ÄúI thought I did pretty good overall,‚ÄĚ the native of Edmonton said.
McNeill, 18, is mature beyond his years and said he has no problem staying grounded.
‚ÄúNo, I don‚Äôt think it‚Äôs difficult at all,‚ÄĚ said McNeill, who finished last year‚Äôs WHL campaign with 81 points in 70 games. ‚ÄúI still have a pretty normal life.‚ÄĚ
He said, like any teenager, he goes to school and hangs out with friends. But unlike other 18 year olds, McNeill is already under the media spotlight. It is predicted the two-way forward will be selected in the first round of the upcoming NHL Entry Draft.
Raiders‚Äô head coach and general manager, Bruno Campese is not sure where McNeill will go in the draft, but is confident it will be in the first round.
‚ÄúHe could be going anywhere, it‚Äôs tough to say. All you need is a team to really like you and you go extremely high,‚ÄĚ Campese said.
‚ÄúI‚Äôd be happy to get the opportunity to play for any team,‚ÄĚ said the six-foot-two, 210-pound forward. ‚ÄúI set goals for myself to achieve and playing in the NHL is something I want to do with my life.‚ÄĚ
McNeill trains incessantly in the off-season, saying the brief time away from the rink is just as important for continued success.
‚ÄúThe summer after I turned 16 years old I thought I put a lot of weight on. The gym was a big part of that,‚ÄĚ McNeill said. ‚ÄúIt helped me contribute to the Raiders the best I could.‚ÄĚ
He is very much a power forward and fittingly looks up to Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler, of whom he plays similar styles. His responsible defensive nature will appeal to many potential suitors.
The physically charged forward loves to mix it up in the corners, never shying away from battling in the trenches. While discipline is essential, McNeill said he never backs down from skirmishes.
NHL teams met with the prospects in 20-minute intervals during the interview process, with some having to face up to 15 interviews daily.
If predictions pan out, McNeill will have plenty of media scrums to attend and questions to answer.
‚ÄúI take things step by step and hopefully I will get there some day,‚ÄĚ said last season‚Äôs second-leading scorer for the Raiders.
McNeill played an influential role for Team Canada at the 2011 World Under-18 Championships and said he is thoroughly looking forward to the NHL Entry Draft on June 24 and 25 in Minnesota, a day many Edmonton and Prince Albert residents will have circled on their calendars.
Follow Gary Pearson on Twiiter: @newagejourno