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MacKenzie Entwistle in harmony with new junior team

The 2017 third-rounder is already finding success with Guelph.

Chicago Blackhawks v Detroit Red Wings Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

MacKenzie Entwistle is fitting in just fine with his new junior team, thank you very much.

Farewell, Hamilton

In case you missed it, the Ontario Hockey League’s Hamilton Bulldogs traded their captain to the Guelph Storm for a handful of future draft selections back on Jan. 5. Entwistle, of course, was a 2017 third-round pick of the Coyotes (nicely selected 69th overall), and became Blackhawks property a year later thanks to the offloading of Marian Hossa’s contract.

The OHL trade went down upon Entwistle’s return from a stint with Team Canada at the 2019 World Junior Hockey Championship, where he scored three goals in five games in a disappointing sixth-place finish for the host nation. Entwistle’s selection to Canada’s U20 team was boosted by helping Hamilton win an OHL championship last season, and the 15 goals and 12 assists recorded through 29 games to begin 2018-19, among other intangibles.

“MacKenzie is everything you could ask for in a Bulldog,” said Hamilton owner Michael Andlauer. “For me he represented the true meaning of a captain. He is a great leader, who always handled himself with respect and humility while playing the game the right way with a tenacity and intensity that ended up earning him a well deserved spot on Team Canada in this year’s World Juniors.”

Welcome to the Royal City

Now in Guelph, Entwistle appears set to be part of another strong contender for the league championship, as his acquisition was but one of several significant moves by Storm general manager and coach George Burnett prior to the junior league’s trade deadline.

During the course of one week, the Storm pulled off a series of major trades that saw some big names make the move to Guelph:

Along with Entiwstle, this fab five joins a junior club that boasts another six NHL draftees even after jettisoning highly-talented defenseman Ryan Merkley — a San Jose Sharks first-round pick — back in December.

“We are very excited to acquire a player of MacKenzie’s calibre,” Burnett said at the time of the trade. “He is a proven champion and an outstanding two-way player that can carry a heavy workload in all situations. As a former captain in our league, he will provide leadership and experience to our group.”

Through eight games with the Storm, Entwistle is averaging better than a point per game, scoring three goals and adding seven assists to go along with 25 shots. That uptick in performance is due in part to the kind of game Burnett coveted in the 19-year-old, but he’s also certainly benefited from an upgrade in offensive talent around him.

Entwistle has regularly been lining up on Suzuki’s wing, with Guelph captain Isaac Ratcliffe — a 2017 second-round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers (35th overall) — plying his trade on the far side. Suzuki and Ratcliffe are childhood friends who still skate and train together in the offseason, and Entwistle is joining in the fun as the third amigo on what’s quite possibly the best line in junior hockey.

Storm forecast

As things stand, Guelph sits fourth in the OHL’s Western Conference, meaning they are on track to host the opening round of the playoffs, but would play the powerhouse London Knights in the second round, provided both advance.

The decision to trade Merkley and retool the roster largely came down a much-needed culture change, as the young defenseman was ultimately deemed a guy this team could not win around.

The Storm loaded up with a view to winning this season, with several of the NHL picks on the roster not projected to return to junior hockey in 2019-20. For this team to achieve that goal, Entwistle will have to play a big role, playing the kind of game Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman thinks so highly of.

“He’s not just one of these young guys who tries to score all the time,” Chicago GM Stan Bowman told the Chicago Tribune last summer. “He had a pretty good (2017-18) offensively, but you talk to coaches and they appreciate the way he cares about being on the penalty kill, taking important faceoffs, blocking shots, really supporting his team and not always trying to get the breakaway and score the goal.

“Sometimes, it’s hard to convince young players to take pride in that aspect of the game, and he seems to have that naturally. I think he’s going to be a player coaches really enjoy having on the team.”

So far, so good as far as Burnett must be concerned.

Up next for Guelph:

Friday, Jan. 25 vs. Owen Sound Attack
Saturday, Jan. 26 at Erie Otters