Defending Big D begins our annual series of looking at top draft prospects that could possibly have their name called by the Dallas Stars at the 2011 Entry Draft. Today a player that is skyrocketing up the draft charts...
Team: Prince Albert Raiders - WHL
Born: February 22, 1993
Weight: 210 pounds
International Scouting Services: 15th Overall
NHL Central Scouting: 14th (N. American Skaters)
TSN's Craig Button: 30th Overall
Why the Stars would take him:
McNeill scored 32 goals this past season for Prince Albert in 70 games, totalling 81 points on the season. He's considered one of the best all-around forwards in the draft, as he's just as good defensively as he is on offense. He's a playmaking center whose ability to pass is better than his shot -- which is pretty good overall and is improving as he gets older. He's already got the size to play at the NHL level (6-2, 210), although it's expected that he still has some room to mature as a center before taking the next step.
More importantly, McNeill is a right-handed center who has shown the ability to be able to make plays at multiple levels, record five points in six games in the postseason in 2011 and six assists for Team Canada at the 2011 Under-18 World Championships. He's coming on strong, especially as his numbers improved significantly this past season and McNeill is rocketing up the draft charts.
What stands out the most about McNeill is the overwhelming consensus that he has yet to reach his potential as a center and has the ability to become a truly special player as he gets older. His explosion offensively -- especially for a player considered to be a grinder -- from a rookie to a 17-year old in the WHL is absolutely incredible and he has shown the ability to lead a team at a very young age.
McNeill has been successful because of an incredible work ethic and the desire and ability to do whatever is absolutely necessary to get the job done. He's a very physical forward who is showing the ability to be a playmaker at the center position and whose versatility is his best asset. He can play and will play in any situation during a game and will be successful in doing so.
Why they would pass:
There's some thought that he might just be a one-year wonder, going from nine goals and 24 points in his rookie season to 81 points this past year. His skill level is not exactly "top level" and he's considered more of a gritty, competing-type forward than a guy who's going to absolutely dominate as a top-six forward in the NHL, although that thought has been refuted a bit as he's improved this past season. That being said, there are many scouts who feel he is far from reaching his potential on offense and some are comparing him to R.J. Umberger...or even a Rick Nash-lite in some ways.
Realistically, he's comparable to Brooks Laich.
What they're saying:
Big horse has been impressive for Canada in the tourney so far. Anyone who thinks he doesn't have upside hasn't been paying close attention to what McNeill brings to the table (82 points for Prince Albert this season) and he's making a legitimate run to a potential top-10 selection in June. McNeill drew primary assist on the Locke goal, taking Murphy's point pass and getting it hard to the net where Locke was able to convert the rebound. But, what impressed us was McNeill's defense and discipline. He moved the puck smartly, backchecked diligently and didn't force things that weren't there. On offense, he protects the puck well and sees the ice like a true playmaker.
"He's one of those kids that has the ability to do so many different things, he's got so much upside to him. ... He's a powerful skater and has great hockey sense. He's got very good basic skills and he's got the ability to be a real tough person to play against. He's got the mental capabilities to understand the game as well . . . I really believe he has all the attributes. He's got certain gifts that other players just don't have. That really bodes well for playing in the NHL."