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Mason McTavish Is Hockey's Well-Travelled Prospect

The ‘best player in junior hockey’ has been in high demand over the past two seasons, with Mason McTavish’s name appearing on the back of eight different sweaters. But very soon, it will be on only one: the Anaheim Ducks.
Mason McTavish

Just imagine being on the other side of the world, only to have your beard trimmer conk out on you. What’s a boy-man to do? Well, if you’re Mason McTavish, you take some of your signing bonus money and you replace it. Once you can find the time, of course. 

What with all the travel and the scoring and the jet lag, it just wasn’t a huge priority. “I have to go out and buy one,” said McTavish, rubbing his chin in the bowels of FirstOntario Centre in Hamilton after a three-assist performance on a Saturday afternoon, “because this is getting out of hand.”

You’ll have to excuse him if he’s a little frazzled. You would be too if you were on your eighth job in your third continent and fourth country in 10 months. Usually when a guy plays for that many teams so quickly, it’s enough to prompt a sea of red flags, but for McTavish, that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s the polar opposite, actually. McTavish has been a Duck, Gull, Pete and Bulldog, among other things, because it seems everybody wants him to play for them. Now that he’s found a home, at least for the rest of this season, with the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs, that beard trimmer is next to be ticked off the to-do list.

Judging by the way the third overall pick in 2021 and the Anaheim Ducks’ top prospect has been playing, there’s a good chance that new gadget will get work until mid-April, then if things go according to plan, not again until sometime around Canada Day, a couple of days after the Memorial Cup finishes. 

The Bulldogs were one of the CHL’s top teams when they gave up two players and six draft picks – including a conditional pick in 2025 that will be used on a kid who is currently playing on an under-13 team somewhere – to acquire McTavish as a rental from the Peterborough Petes in January. With McTavish in the lineup, they may very well be a juggernaut. “I think he’s the best player in junior hockey,” said Bulldogs president and GM Steve Staios, who pulled the trigger on the deal. “I go back to the (2019 OHL) draft. He was the top player on our board. I’ve always been fond of him as a player.”

There seems to be a bit of that love for McTavish going around. In reality, the pandemic, Olympics and McTavish’s play have conspired to see him wear eight different uniforms since last season. At a cost of about $500 to get each of those sweaters framed, McTavish probably can’t afford to be much more popular than he already is – and then there’s also the matter of finding wall space for all of them.

It all started last season when the pandemic wiped out the OHL campaign, so McTavish, who was born in Switzerland in 2003 when his father played there, joined Olten of the second-tier Swiss League, then left in late April to help guide Canada to an under-18 worlds gold medal. 

Then, things became a blur. The Ducks drafted him No. 3 overall, then gave him a nine-game audition, combined with a three-game tour with their AHL farm team in San Diego. The Ducks then returned McTavish to OHL Peterborough, a disappointment to which he responded by scoring a hat trick in his first game back in junior. The day McTavish was returned to Peterborough, Staios put in a call to Petes GM Mike Oke to express his interest in acquiring McTavish. 

Then it was on to Canada’s team for the truncated World Junior Championship, and by the time he was dealt to Hamilton at the OHL trade deadline, it was already decided that McTavish was going to become the youngest player on Canada’s Olympic team in Beijing. He played three games for Hamilton, then left for the Olympics, returning to Hamilton in late February. Upon his return, it took McTavish all of 35 seconds to score his first goal. In his first six games overall with the Bulldogs, he piled up 15 points.

“It sucks because that’s where I want to play, in the NHL.” McTavish said. “But I think it was the right move at the time. I’ve developed a lot more and got a lot more offensive touches in the ‘O’ zone and more opportunity to play on the power play on the flank. Those are the things that are going to get me to be a better player in the long run.”

The Ducks could have kept McTavish up all this season and played him on the wing, and it likely would have turned out all right. He would have practised with and played against the best players in the world, and he probably would have taken really good notes from Ryan Getzlaf. But like McTavish himself, the Ducks view him as a center when he’s ready to play in the best league in the world. What kind of player will he be? What impact will he have? Well, now, that’s a little more vexing, not because there is any doubt that he’ll be an impact player, but because he does so many things well that it’s difficult to pigeon-hole him to one template. For his part, McTavish admires the way J.T. Miller and Bo Horvat play the game, while a lot of observers see him as the heir apparent to Getzlaf or perhaps Anze Kopitar. We all know how they like their big two-way pivots in the Pacific Division.

“I like the person more than anything,” said Bulldogs coach Jay McKee. “He’s a great kid. He loves the game. He’s a really good teammate, and he’s really clicked with the guys here. On the ice, he’s an elite talent. His shot is a hard NHL shot. It’s not just an NHL shot, it’s a hard NHL shot. Vision, playmaking, he’s really the full package of a player. He’s got it all. He’s got compete, defensive responsibility. Everything is way above average. He’s a full-package player.”

At 6-foot-1 and 207 pounds, McTavish is a very large fire hydrant, albeit one with a superior ability to get around the ice. Nobody is expecting McTavish to be a hockey nomad next season, because, barring a complete disaster, he’ll be in Anaheim for good. After this season and the WJC this summer, there will be nothing left for him to accomplish at this level. And he’s so close to being ready. When hockey people talk about 19-year-old prospects, usually the first caveat they have is that the player has to get stronger. Nobody is saying Mason McTavish has to get stronger.

The Bulldogs went 10-1-0 when McTavish was away at the Olympics, prompting McKee to tell McTavish upon his return that he might be able to find a spot for him on the fourth line. McTavish immediately went on a tear, including one game where he assisted on the overtime-winner on a set play. After the Bulldogs won the draw, defenseman Nathan Staios (yes, Steve’s son) took it back deep into the Hamilton zone, while defenseman Colton Kammerer changed through the ‘D’ door, with McTavish sneaking out the other side of the bench. 

Staios made a pass to McTavish that sent him on a breakaway, which was saved before McTavish gathered up the puck, took it around the net and fought off a defender before feeding it to Staios, who scored. It was a 20-second clip of the strengths in McTavish’s game. And it was a clear indication that when the game is on the line, the Bulldogs know exactly on whose stick they want the puck.

“He was brought in for a reason,” McKee said, “to try to help us do something special. He’s a guy who just makes guys around him better. If you ask any of these kids, everyone is excited to play with him. He raises the tempo of the shift, he raises the tempo in practice, and he’s got a lot of positive energy.”

By the time the Ducks get McTavish next season, they’ll have an extremely mature, NHL-ready player. Playing with all those players and personalities and for eight different coaches over the past year has allowed McTavish to extract an awful lot of knowledge out of the people who have surrounded him. He’s played and excelled at just about every level of elite hockey, and he has made a mark everywhere he’s been. And that’s added to what was already a high level of maturity and worldly experience. “When I come to the rink, I’m pretty professional and like to dial it in,” McTavish said. “But away from the rink, I’m just like every other guy, I like to have fun. When I’m at the rink, I want to develop and get better. I just love to play hockey, and every time I’m out there, I just want to win and compete and do the best for myself and the team I’m playing for.”

And there are eight teams, eight coaches and dozens of teammates over the past year who would gladly attest to that. 



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