Power forwards are a rare breed in today’s game, but Mason McTavish has that unique blend of size, speed, skill and snarl that should make him a highly coveted commodity at the 2021 NHL Draft.
“He has the size and physical maturity to where he plays like a man,” said Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting, of the six-foot-one, 207-pound pivot.
“He's that power centre. Everyone needs a power centre — they love a power centre.”
And while games were hard to come by in the past year, he seized every opportunity he got.
“He played very well last year, he played very well this year when he played over in Switzerland, and then he again played very well at the U18s,” said Marr.
“...He has been very impressive.”
He's played so well, in fact, that Central Scouting has McTavish slotted in at No. 2 among North American skaters on its final 2021 NHL Draft rankings, above fellow centre Matthew Beniers, scoring winger Dylan Guenther, as well as defencemen Luke Hughes and Brandt Clarke, all of whom have been typically taken ahead of him in mock drafts, including that of Sportsnet’s Sam Cosentino.
So what’s all the fuss about? Here’s a closer look at why McTavish may be among the first forwards off the board on July 23:
Team: Peterborough Petes (OHL)
Age: 18 (born Jan. 30, 2003)
From: Zurich, Switzerland
Weight: 207 pounds
‘Brawn and skill’
McTavish gave scouts a taste of his goal-scoring talents in his first OHL season, lighting the lamp 29 times in 57 games with the Peterborough Petes, second only to phenom Shane Wright among rookies.
But with the 2020-21 campaign postponed, and eventually cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, McTavish never got a chance to improve on those totals in the OHL.
Instead, he was loaned to EHC Olten in Switzerland — where he was born during his father’s 14-year pro hockey career overseas (his family returned to Canada in 2011, settling in Carp, Ont., and he has dual citizenship).
There he proved that despite a nearly year-long layoff from game action, he hadn’t lost his scoring touch, putting up nine goals and two assists in 13 contests.
Then in the spring, McTavish got in another seven games at the IIHF U18 World Championships in Texas, helping Canada earn gold at the tournament and finishing fifth in scoring with five goals and six assists.
Marr said McTavish is one of the best scorers in the 2021 NHL Draft and has a chance to put up goals with consistency due to his combination of “brawn and skill.”
“He stands out (with) the power component, the physical component where (he's) on the puck and to the net, he can win puck battles, he can protect the puck, get it to the net and he's always able to generate chances,” he said.
“He likes to compare himself to Anders Lee from the Islanders … and I can see why he would relate this game to his,” Marr added of the New York captain, who makes his living in the blue paint.
‘A top-end centre’
McTavish is no one-trick pony, however, and can dial up the skill when he needs to find the back of the net.
He can create separation from defenders with his acceleration and stickhandling, and he’s always looking to pounce, attacking with speed and dictating the play.
“The way he reads the play, he's composed and he plays at a fast pace where you have to have that quick read-react game when he gets pressured and he reacts smartly on plays,” said Marr.
“So it's just a strong net-front game, strong board game (and) high-end skill game that he can play with speed and smarts — this is a top-end centre.”
McTavish is 'wired a little different’
That said, what makes his game unique is his power game and the competitive fire that fuels it.
That edge was on full display last off-season as he trained with skills coach Pat Malloy of the Peak Centre Academy alongside NHL stars like Erik Karlsson and Claude Giroux.
In one of the sessions, things got heated between McTavish and Giroux, as detailed in this feature by The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler.
“It was funny to watch because Claude eats that stuff up and it was pretty neat to see that Mason wouldn’t back off. I don’t care who you are, a guy like that’s pushing on you and a lot of kids are laying down, and Mason’s just wired a little different like that,” Malloy recalled, per Wheeler.
“There were some of those NHL skates where we’d have upwards of $50 million worth of NHL salary on the ice, and he’s shooting the puck harder than half of those guys and leaning on those guys, and at the time he’s 17 years old.”
It’s this intensity that elicits comparisons to another famously fiery power forward — Mark Stone.
“He has that power game that can make a difference on plays ... but then he's got the skills and the smarts and speed to finish on plays,” said Marr, noting the similarities to the Vegas Golden Knights star.
“He's going to be a difficult player to stop.”