Making the jump from a successful career in junior hockey to a rookie in the pro ranks is kind of like moving from junior high to high school. Where once the world was your oyster, now you’re just trying to avoid getting a wedgie in the hallway.
It took a bit of time for Blackhawks prospect MacKenzie Entwistle to get his bearings with the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs, and the aforementioned transition was made even wider after ending his junior career as an Ontario Hockey League champion.
Slowly but surely, however, the versatile forward is finding his way just fine as a professional hockey player, and it’s beginning to show on the scoresheet.
“Obviously it’s a big jump from juniors; you’re playing with bigger and stronger guys and everyone is really good at this level,” he recently told Travis Hall of AHL On The Beat. “Once you kind of get used to the game and realize you don’t have three or four seconds with the puck and that you’re down to one or half a second — I’m starting to realize that and implement that in my game. I’m feeling a little stronger and more confident and comfortable out there.”
Entwistle scored his first AHL goal on Oct. 30 thanks to a tenacious forecheck and deft theft of the puck that helped him succeed in the OHL.
Sneak Thief ️♂️ (take two) pic.twitter.com/5LQ7QREGlI— Rockford IceHogs (@goicehogs) October 31, 2019
Entwistle recorded his second goal of the season a few days later, and at the midway point of November, he’s sitting on 5 points through 11 games.
Veteran forward Kris Versteeg has appeared in six of those games for Rockford this season, and knows a thing or two about what it takes to succeed at the NHL level. Entwistle is certainly looking to a guy like Versteeg for guidance along the way, and in a short sample size, the 2-time Stanley Cup champion likes what he sees in the young man’s game.
“He’s a great player,” Versteeg told Travis Hall. “He’s smart, he’s lanky, he competes and he’s a player that, if he can figure out a couple things, could play in the NHL. So, I think he’s a guy that’s definitely on the rise, and he wants to be really good, which is exciting.”
Entwistle will never be the most skilled guy in the ice at the pro levels, but his size and smarts set him apart, as does his leadership. It’s those intangibles that have made a positive impression on IceHogs head coach and former NHLer Derek King.
“Off the ice, he’s got that leadership quality and he’s a character kid,” King said. “In the future, I think he’s a guy that will wear a letter whether it’s in the AHL or NHL. He’s a great kid who’s always motivated to get better. On the ice, he’s got great hands and his hockey sense is off the charts. We’ve been real happy with him because he does everything right. He doesn’t complain about things and he’s a pleasure to coach.”
Those are the kinds of players that good teams are built around - they know their role, fill it well, and make positive waves in the locker room.
“He’s got everything you want if you’re an NHL team looking at a player,” King added. “He’ll probably tell you he has to work on his skating a little bit like most big guys, but he just has to hone everything. He’ll play at the NHL at some point.”
Entwistle is indeed ever humble about his game and career progression, and true to form, he knows he has some work to do before the dream of putting on a Blackhawks jersey ever comes true.
“I know I’ve got some work to do,” Entwistle admitted. “Every guy here wants to make the NHL and everyone is good enough to do that, it’s just a matter of what they want and what they need. For me, there’s no rush. I have to develop a little more and make my game more complete and be a little more comfortable playing at this pro level. But, I think over time that will come. It may not be tomorrow or the next day, but over time that’s my main goal.”
Keep his name in mind, Blackhawks fans. He could very well be a key depth piece to the next wave of success in Chicago. For now, he’s making the most of his AHL experience.
More quotes from King and Entwistle:
King on Entwistle (11/12)
He’s been solid. He’s still got a ways to go. He’s a big kid, he’s still a kid. Keyword there, he’s a kid. He still has to grow into his body, but I think he’s starting to figure the league out and he’s getting stronger. His skating is getting a lot better. He’s a lot stronger on the puck. We’ll just continue to develop him and build him up like in the gym and put him in situations that he can succeed in.
On versatility and playing up and down the lineup
It’s obviously good when a coach can move you back from wing to center and play up and down the lineup. I like that. For me, it’s something I take pride in for King to have that trust in me to sort of flip flop is good.
His play on special teams
I’ve played a little bit of both, and playing that net front on the power play is something I did in junior so I’m comfortable with that position. Honestly, wherever he puts me I’m going to try to do my best to help the team win whether it’s taking pride on the penalty kill or taking pride in embracing that opportunity on the power play.
I’ve actually been working with Brian Campbell, and he’s really been helping me with watching some video. I think the biggest thing coming from junior when you have 3-4 seconds with the puck, here you only have a second so plays are made a lot quicker. For me, I think it’s getting my first three steps and skating a little bit. Being a bigger guy I’m able to get the puck, make a couple strides and make a play rather than just getting the puck and firing it away. I’ve been looking at video and looking at things like that (to improve on).
On adjusting to back-to-backs in the AHL
Nutrition is obviously a big, big factor now in any professional sport. I already have a routine with what I eat for 2 and 2s and 3 and 3s. The biggest thing for me is the sleep and hydrating. Whether I have to go to bed at 8 o’clock rather than midnight and if that’s going to benefit me in the end.
Life outside of the rink as 20-year-old and out on his own for the first time
It’s been a little different (said with a chuckle). I live with Brandon Hagel and we’re both coming from junior. Being with a billet family and having all your meals cooked for you, bills paid for you and all your laundry done it’s definitely a little different. We’re starting to get the hang of it... I think. It’s been fun, it’s been a fun little ride.
Who’s the cook?
He’s the cook. We kind of half and half it. I’m a big barbecuer though, I like barbecuing.
Hanging out with other guys off the ice
We’re (Hagel and I) always over at the Sikura’s house and Moutrey lives there as well. Versteeg and John Quenneville, too (we hangout with). We got a whole bunch of guys that all hangout together. It’s been good. We’ve got a good bunch of guys here. When you’re having fun with the guys off the ice it makes it fun to come to the rink every day. When you’re having fun off the ice it can definitely translate on the ice as well.