When the Kitchener Rangers selected Adam Mascherin second overall in the 2014 OHL draft, general manger Murray Hiebert told reporters, "he is just the kind of player we’re looking for."
Fast forward three seasons and Mascherin, now 18 and a Florida Panthers prospect, is more than living up to those strong words. He has 74 points in 43 games and is in a race with Erie’s Alex DeBrincat for the OHL scoring lead. And if he wasn’t before, Mascherin is now the face of the Rangers and emerging as one of the top offensive players in the league.
"Adam is our offensive motor," says head coach Jay McKee. "He’s a guy who just goes out and finds ways to put up points every night."
What makes Mascherin so successful is his shot, which McKee says is harder than most NHL players’. Growing up in the suburbs of Toronto, Mascherin would work on his shot every day after school and it’s paid off. In 170 career games, he has 75 goals in the OHL.
But when asked about his shot, Mascherin says he’s been working on becoming a more complete offensive player. And the stats back that up, too.
So far this season, Mascherin has registered at least one point in all but eight of Kitchener’s 46 games. On top of that, he’s already matched his 46 assists from last season, with 22 games to go.
"I think whether you’re scoring goals or getting assists, as long as you’re contributing to the team," Mascherin says. "Obviously my role is to contribute offensively and I’m pretty happy to do that."
Last year, the Rangers added forward Jeremy Bracco from Boston College of the NCAA. Bracco and Mascherin were paired in the same billet home and became friends. Mascherin says spending a lot of time together resulted in great chemistry on the ice, and the points followed. The pair were second and third in team scoring last season and are leading the team this year.
The two players gave Kitchener a couple of offensive weapons to move around the lineup and then combine on the power play. McKee says he tried them on the same line together to start the season, but found they were even more effective apart, allowing the Rangers two waves of offence and making the players around them better.
"When I split them up both their points for even strength minutes went up," McKee says "So it was a good move for them and a good move for the team I think."
However, at the OHL trade deadline earlier this month, the Rangers traded Bracco to the Windsor Spitfires for right winger Cole Carter, defenceman Andrew Burns and three second-round picks. Mascherin says he figured the 19-year-old Bracco would be moved. With Windsor hosting the Memorial Cup and London and Erie both adding star players, Mascherin says it was a matter of time before Bracco was traded.
"It was a little sad," Mascherin says. "I’m best friends with the guy and I’m happy he’s getting a chance to play in the Memorial Cup."
Bracco got the call to tell him he’d been traded while the two friends were at dinner, so Mascherin helped him pack before saying goodbye.
But they would see each other again soon, with Bracco making his Spitfires debut against the Rangers and the teams meeting again five days after that. The Rangers and Spitfires each won a game in a shootout and Mascherin says it was strange to see his friend on the other side of the ice.
"In the first game we lined up against each other, I think I gave him a little push in the back of the skate with my stick," Mascherin says. "We were getting a little nippy with each other but it was fun."
With Bracco and some other veteran players traded at the deadline, Mascherin is being asked to take on a bigger leadership role. The Rangers only have two forwards 19 years of age or older and Mascherin is embracing the opportunity to take younger players under his wing.
"He’s the type of guy who will relax everyone, make a joke if we’re not playing the greatest," team captain Frank Hora says.
"Adam’s got a great sense of humour and he can definitely keep a room loose," McKee says. "He’s a likeable kid … I think he’s learning every day how to be a leader."
The Florida Panthers took Mascherin with the 38th pick in last June’s draft. With their depth of young forwards, there’s a good chance he’ll be back in the OHL next season, which means hockey fans could see him with Team Canada at the world juniors. It will also give Mascherin a chance to work on his play away from the puck, something the Panthers specifically asked him to do this season.
Whenever he gets a shot with the Panthers, the wait will be worth it for Mascherin. He’s wanted to play in the NHL his whole life and he knows that he’s putting himself in a great place to make that dream come true one day.
For now, he’s focused on the Kitchener Rangers and all the pressures that come with being one of the top scorers in the OHL.
"I think if you’re not feeling pressure why do you play the sport?" Mascherin says. "If you’re improving from the season you had before then I think you’re on the right direction to success."