Friday, May 18, 2018

Physical Defenseman Will MacKinnon Commits to UNH

Will MacKinnon
2018 UNH Commit
"He plays a mature, deliberate game..a strong, powerful skater..a heads up defender who can handle the puck under duress..smooth hands and offensive instincts." Neutral Zone
"Will’s done a great job, he’s a real hard working young man, a physical defenseman." Danton Cole, Former Head Coach, US National Team Development Program U17, Current Head Coach, Michigan State University
The Mike Souza era of UNH men's hockey officially began with his introduction as head coach on March 14th. His impact as the team's recruiting coordinator over the last three years will be increasingly apparent in the 2018-19 season. 13 players on next season's 27-member roster committed to UNH since Souza and associate head coach Glenn Stewart became the recruiting team. Earlier this week, two new players - defenseman Will MacKinnon and forward Filip Engarås - announced their commitment to matriculate this coming fall (Look for a feature article on Engarås in the coming weeks).

It's no secret that UNH needs to improve its play in the defensive zone. During the last regular season, the Wildcats surrendered the fourth highest goals per game (2.89) and third most shots on goal per game (31.91) among the eleven Hockey East teams. The addition of Will MacKinnon to the blueline, along with fellow freshman defenseman Ryan Verrier and goalie Ty Taylor, should help solidify UNH's defensive play.

The Neutral Zone scouting service has designated MacKinnon as a 4-Star prospect on their 5-Star rating scale. Verrier and Taylor also have a 4-Star rating. They will join three other defensemen, also recruited by Souza and Stewart, who rate at least that high on the Neutral Zone scale: junior Anthony Wyse (4-Star), and sophomores Benton Maass (4-Star) and Max Gildon (4.75-Star).

Will MacKinnon (DOB: 4/13/2000) will be the youngest member of the 2018-19 UNH squad. He turned 18 last month on the day before the final game of the regular season in the United States Hockey League. The 5'11", 202 lbs. left-shot defenseman served as the Alternate Captain for the Des Moines Buccaneers. As the youngest defenseman on the team, MacKinnon started on left defense in the second game of the season and went on to start in nearly half the Bucs' games. He also played on their first penalty kill unit in many games.

MacKinnon scored 2 goals and 8 assists in 57 games with Des Moines. Last July, scouts from Neutral Zone evaluated McKinnon at the USA Hockey Select 17 Player Development Camp and noted his offensive strengths:
"His best attribute is his shot; he has great power and an instant release which makes him a scoring threat even from the blue line. He’s strong on his skates and on his stick and did a nice job keeping pucks in the offensive zone and seemed to have developed great sense for when to pinch and when to retreat. He played a puck possession game here and carried the puck up ice regularly to lead or compliment the rush and showed smooth hands and offensive instincts."
The first three clips in this highlight video shows MacKinnon's quick-release, powerful wrist shot. Two of them resulted in goals for him and another was tipped in:

In the 2016-17 season, MacKinnon was a member of the US National Team Development Program Under-17 team. In 56 games, he scored a goal and 3 assists. 34 of those games were with Team USA in USHL competition. As the season wound down, head coach Danton Cole said:
“Will’s done a great job, he’s a real hard working young man, a physical defenseman. But not just limited to that. He makes some good passes and gets pucks on the net, so he’s a pretty well-rounded player."
The Neutral Zone scouts added these observations of MacKinnon at the Selects 17 Camp last July:
"You can tell he’s taken full advantage of the program's strength and conditioning (at the NTDP) as he won nearly every puck battle...What we really liked was that he played hard; he didn’t act like he was above everyone else because of his NTDP resume. He blocked shots on the penalty kill, he went into the corners and dug out pucks and battled all week long."
MacKinnon's tenacious, physical play in the defensive zone is also shown in the middle clips of the video highlights. Although the Bucanneers had the second worst goals for/goals against (145/199) statistic in the 17-team USHL, MacKinnon posted a respectable +/- rating of -9. That marked a substantial improvement over the -20 rating he registered in 34 USHL games in 2016-17.

The USHL, like the NHL, penalizes fighting but it is allowed. In the 2017-18 season, MacKinnon accumulated 127 penalty minutes, the 9th highest among all USHL players. Six of his penalties were 10-minute misconduct infractions. The final clip in the video highlights shows his fight with the Waterloo Black Hawks' Solag Bakich in the final game of the season. It lead to a 5-minute fighting major plus a 10-minute misconduct penalty. In fairness, MacKinnon initiated the fight after Bakich leveled the Bucs' leading scorer Nicholas Werbik with a blind-side hit. Needless to say, MacKinnon will be expected to modulate penalty minutes in the NCAA without losing his physical edge.


I had an opportunity to interview Will MacKinnon, via email, about his hockey career and commitment to UNH:

Mike Lowry ("C-H-C"): Two years ago, you verbally committed to Denver University and their head coach Jim Montgomery. Last November, you signed a National Letter of Intent to enroll at Denver and play for Montgomery. What factors entered into your decision to reopen your college search?

Will MacKinnon: I verbally committed two years ago for the fall of 2018. I was asked to sign the NLI in the fall of 2017 to come in for the 2018 season. Late in the season, Coach Montgomery asked me to return to the USHL for another season which, after discussion with him, I was prepared to do. However, when Coach Montgomery departed for the NHL I no longer felt bound to that decision.

Mike Lowry: When you renewed the recruiting process, what college programs did you consider? Which schools did you visit and which ones made an offer to you?

Will MacKinnon: I went through an extensive recruiting process two years ago so I had a pretty good sense of the type of schools and programs that would be a good fit for me this time around. We (my advisors, my dad, and I) spoke to a couple different schools but UNH quickly emerged as the top choice. They had an immediate roster need as well the resources to fill it and I am thrilled with the quality of UNH as a school and institution. I fit well with strong cultures and I liked everything Coach Souza had to say in regards to what he wants the UNH Men’s Hockey Program to stand for.

Lowry: What are the main reasons you chose the University of New Hampshire?

MacKinnon: The main reasons I chose UNH are because it is a great school, has a strong hockey tradition, and is in an excellent hockey conference. I want to be playing against tough competition and Hockey East is a great conference to do that.

Lowry: I've read that your Dad - Dan MacKinnon, Senior Director of Player Personnel, New Jersey Devils - got you started in hockey when you were 3 years old, coached you in youth hockey, and has provided valued guidance throughout your hockey career. What was the best advice he gave you about choosing where to go to college and play hockey?

MacKinnon: The best advice I got from him in regards to choosing where to play college hockey has to be that the identity of the hockey program and the school should fit well with me as a player and person.

Lowry: At this stage in your hockey development, what are the strengths of your game? What areas are you trying to improve?

MacKinnon: I am a high compete/physical player with good hockey sense and a 200 ft. approach to the game. I’d like to think I am mobile, can distribute the puck and feel my shot is an asset from the point.

Lowry: You played one season with the US National Team Development Program's Under-17 team and last season with the Des Moines Buccaneers in the USHL. What factors entered into your decision to play full-time in the USHL and how did you benefit from playing with Des Moines?

MacKinnon: The NTDP is a great program that has done great things for American players. Development can at times be a situational and/or individual thing so while I took everything out my first year there that I could, I believed as a 17 year old slated to play D1 college hockey the next year, I needed to get more game reps at the USHL level and everything that comes with that.

Lowry: This is the first year that you are eligible for the NHL Entry Draft. Do you have a preference between being drafted or remaining a free agent throughout your college career?

MacKinnon: It would be great to be drafted because NHL teams in this era have so many resources to help their prospects develop. However, if it does not happen, my goals remain the same: to contribute to UNH anyway I can and continue to improve as a player to eventually play pro hockey.

Lowry: What are your academic strengths and interests? Have you thought about what you might major in when you enroll at UNH?

MacKinnon: I am interested in history and business and I am pretty good at retaining information I read and learn. I would like to major in business.


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