Mason McTavish would rather be in the NHL right now -- well, an NHL reality that actually includes playing games.
The Anaheim Ducks, currently tied with Vegas Golden Knights for the Pacific Division lead, have been a pleasant surprise. So was McTavish, who played nine games to open the season before eventually landing back in the OHL. He had a hat-trick in his first game back with Peterborough, putting the rest of the league on notice.
McTavish deserved to start the season in the big leagues, but further development serves him well. And that's why he'll spend the holiday season helping Canada chase gold instead of sitting on a Southern California beach with the rest of his teammates.
Instead, he'll be in chilly downtown Edmonton, a city notorious for having pretty harsh winters. But the allure of a World Junior Championship gold is too much, and Canada will need McTavish to not only be one of Canada's best players but one of the best in the tournament, period.
“It sucked having to come back, but being here is obviously a dream come true, so it’s kind of a win-win situation for me,” McTavish said on Saturday. “It’s always been a dream of mine to play in the world junior tournament. Since I was a young kid, I would turn it on after Christmas and always watch Team Canada play, so it’s pretty special that I get the chance to play in it now.”
McTavish had some solid moments in his short NHL stint, including a goal and an assist in his NHL debut against Winnipeg. That experience playing against men should go a long way. Jake Neighbours and Cole Perfetti have also seen NHL time this year, with Neighbours recording two points in a nine-game run with the St. Louis Blues.
That type of pro experience is valuable for someone like McTavish, who many didn't expect to get a taste of the NHL so quickly after playing a partial year in Switzerland.
“I learned a lot from Ryan Getzlaf and the way he plays and he carries himself," McTavish said. "I’m taking a lot of that and trying to implement it into my everyday life.”
Playing against men and living the pro lifestyle is something Canada's coaching staff doesn't take for granted. It brings a presence to the team that can't be replicated in junior hockey, and it's something that helps a player play at a higher level when getting sent back down. In McTavish's case, he needed playing time, and the team was thriving with the group they had. There just weren't many opportunities to give McTavish the ice time he needed.
But he gained one valuable trait that goes a long way in a young player.
“I’m definitely a lot more confident playing nine games in the NHL and then coming and playing here,” McTavish said. “In Anaheim, not just (Ducks coach) Dallas (Eakins), but the management helped me a lot. They wanted me to come back to junior and play more down the middle.”
Scouts loved McTavish leading up to the NHL draft. One scout compared him to Nazem Kadri because he's got that aggressive streak to his game, but can devastate a team with his shot and his play-driving. There was no consensus No. 3 pick for the 2021 draft behind Owen Power and Matty Beniers, but McTavish, at this point in his development, is trending towards being a successful pick by Anaheim -- a group that already has a promising future with the likes of Trevor Zegras, Jamie Drysdale and Troy Terry, among others.
If all goes to plan, McTavish is an early favorite to challenge for the MVP title as an 18-year-old. He has skated with Kent Johnson and Mavrik Bourque on Canada's "second line" and the team's first power-play unit, recording a pair of goals against Russia in the preliminary round.
Canada hopes that hot play continues when things truly matter.