Mason Shaw hasn’t taken the easy road on his comeback from a nasty knee injury. But the 20-year-old center is forging ahead in his first year as a pro, even if his numbers with the AHL’s Iowa Wild don’t always show it.
Shaw blossomed as a 5-foot-8, 180-pound bundle of offense over three seasons in the WHL with the Medicine Hat Tigers. In 2016-17, he topped out at 27 goals and 94 points in 71 games, then was drafted in the fourth round (97th overall) by Minnesota.
He was ready to impress in a Wild jersey at the annual Traverse City Prospects Tournament in September 2017, but in the second game he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee when he wiped out on a routine play in a corner. “I kind of just got in an awkward play and had a heavier guy fall on me,” Shaw said.
Shaw underwent surgery, then rehabbed under the Wild’s training staff. A scary setback, yes, but Shaw addressed it directly – just like minding cattle on his family’s farm near Wainwright, Alta. His 2017-18 season was effectively lost, although Shaw returned in time to appear in one game for Iowa, on April 10, 2018.
The Wild got to know Shaw and his work habits better during his rehab than they might have had he played another WHL season. Minnesota offered him a three-year, entry-level NHL contract, which he signed on April 27, 2018, at a White Spot restaurant in Edmonton.
Rather than play it safe and spend 2018-19 as a 20-year-old in junior, Shaw has been making his comeback in the AHL. “I’m just glad to be playing hockey again and kind of putting last year in the past,” he said. “My knee is holding up well now, and I’m learning a lot.”
Even so, Shaw has been more visible in some games than others as he adjusts to the speed and consistency of the pro game. “It’s kind of a tough one because I didn’t play any hockey last year, but it’s quite a bit different,” Shaw said. “The biggest challenge for me is guys (in the AHL) are ready to go every single day. Sometimes you play three (games) in three (days) or you’ve had a long bus trip and you’ve got to play and you’ve just got to find a way to get ready to compete.
“Some nights in a junior league you can get away with things, but at this level you can’t. You’ve got to be ready to go, and if you’re not you’re going to get left in the dust.”
Shaw is addressing other details as well. “As a smaller guy, I’ve got to keep getting quicker,” he said. “I’m always going to have to get away from big, heavy defensemen, so that’s something I have to continue to work on.”
Brad Bombardir, Minnesota’s director of player development, likes what he has seen as Shaw strengthens his knee, gets his timing back and “improves his area awareness in small-area pressure situations.”
There’s no timetable for Shaw’s arrival in the NHL. He’s just “moving forward.”
“Each individual kind of creates their own destiny, and right now I’m just trying to work hard,” Shaw said. “I try not to look too far forward, but obviously I want to be up top with the big club.”
Bombardir, whose own pro career as a defenseman was ended by a knee injury, believes Shaw has the right attributes: “His ability to think the game quickly, play at a high pace, hunt down pucks, create turnovers and create quick offense off of turnovers should all lead to him having a positive impact as an eventual NHL player.”