The Second City Hockey staff will be profiling players who could be available at the No. 11 spot in the 2021 NHL Draft, where the Blackhawks will make their first-round selection. The draft starts Friday, June 23.
Looking ahead, the Blackhawks need to find a potential replacement for Jonathan Toews as top-line center. While the hope is that Kirby Dach takes over eventually, it’s always good to have a backup plan, and a skilled, defensively responsible center like Mason McTavish could fit that bill. At the very least, adding another center is a good idea considering how few they’ve developed and then kept over the years or McTavish could be a power forward shooting winger who excels at both ends of the ice — another quality the Blackhawks could use more of too.
Age: 18 (Jan. 30, 2003)
Hometown: Zürich, Switzerland
Weight: 207 pounds
Team: EHC Olten (Switzerland)
NHL Central Scouting (NHL): No. 2 North American skater
Elite Prospects: No. 5
Scott Wheeler (The Athletic): No. 10
Corey Pronman (The Athletic): No. 9
Cam Robinson (Dobber Prospects): No. 11
Craig Button (TSN): No. 10
McTavish is arguably the biggest riser in the 2021 NHL draft. He always had first-round potential — his 42 points (29 G, 13 A) in 57 OHL games as a 16-17 year-old was near the top of the league among draft-1 season players — but he also greatly benefitted from the OHL shutdown as he thrived playing against adult men in the Swiss league. He produced 11 points (9 G, 2 A) in 13 SHL regular season games and 7 points (2 G, 5 A) in 4 playoff games. Although McTavish was moved to left wing due to his Swiss team being deep at center, he still drove play and was responsible defensively in a way that is very center-esque.
McTavish then went on to have a dominating performance with Team Canada at the Under-18 World Hockey Championship with 11 points (5 G, 6 A) in 7 games, playing predominantly second-line center. McTavish was already moving up many draft boards but, after that performance, McTavish garnered consideration as a top-10 pick and even ended up ranked as the second best skater by NHL Central Scouting. The tournament highlighted that McTavish is a multi-talented player with high hockey sense, as EliteProspect contributor David St. Louis’ film breakdown of McTavish’s impressive WJC performance against Sweden illustrates.
McTavish not only has an NHL-quality shot, but he’s got a ton of tricks when it comes to his shooting. He does seem most at home in the slot where his quick wrister is quite deadly or down-low near the goalie where his quick reflexes result in a lot of scoring off rebounds. Combined with an ability to get to dangerous areas, McTavish is also a high-volume shooter — the phrase most common in his scouting reports seems to “he loves to shoot” — which only adds to his effectiveness as a goal scorer.
While McTavish is typically more of a shooter, he has shown he’s a successful passer — although perhaps not as creative as more dynamic playmakers. At the WJC, he was paired with other shooters, so he acted as the trigger-man on the line, and ultimately finished with one of the highest primarily assists rates in the tournament. He’ll never be a playmaker ala Patrick Kane, but he uses his high hockey IQ to make straight-line passes work successfully more often than not. His puck handling in general is also good, which he uses more to get to open ice for passing rather than in the playmaking itself.
The physicality that McTavish brings to the table is also enticing because he applies his vision to this behavior as well. Often described as “gritty,” he’s not afraid to mix it up anywhere on the ice and will throw a big hit. But he does it in a way that is meaningful to his team (such as regaining possession). McTavish knows how to use his size to his advantage, whether that’s driving to the net, battling along the boards, or protecting the puck from opposing players. He is considered advanced for his age in the latter skill, and he translates that into being strong on the cycle and having the ability to maintain possession for long periods of time.
Maybe most importantly, McTavish is one of the most well-rounded players in the 2021 draft thanks to his defensive prowess. He combines his hockey sense and physicality in the defensive zone, knowing when to apply pressure to dislodge pucks from other players and muscle his way scrums to come away with possession for his team. His solid positioning means he’s able to close down passing lanes effectively and his long reach is often used to deflect or retrieve pucks smartly. He applies all those techniques both at 5-on-5 and on the penalty kill.
There are mixed reviews about McTavish’s skating, primarily because he’s not the fastest. But he’s still strong and hard to stop/defend against when in motion. Steve Kournianos from The Draft Analysis aptly described his skating as smart rather than quick: “he wins footraces mostly because of his anticipation and economical routes rather than an explosive first step.” And while McTavish may never be a burner, he knows his abilities well enough that, combined with his high IQ, it’s not been a limitation to him so far.
Overall, McTavish is a two-way player with top-six upside as either a center or winger, but the former seems to fit his skillset more. He isn’t the flashiest player but he’s does so many little things right that his floor may be higher than others taken around him in the draft. For even more perspective on McTavish, check out the deep dives from sibling sites All About the Jersey and Hockey Wilderness.
As mentioned in the Sillinger draft profile, the Blackhawks have many center options in-system but few locks for a top-six role in a long-term capacity and almost none with power-forward attributes. A strong, two-way scorer with decent playmaking ability, McTavish is closer to the Toews mold than anyone other than Matthew Beniers in this draft. He’s also already close to 210 pounds at the age of 18. While obviously size isn’t the most important thing for a player, if you can get a skilled player who also happens to be big? Yes, please. A one-two punch of big, skilled two-way Dach and McTavish in whatever order down the middle for years sounds like a dream.
If McTavish ends up being a winger instead of center, that’s alright too — the Blackhawks could do with adding skilled, defensively responsible power-forwards at wing. They don’t have many wingers with both top-six skill and who use their size in a meaningful way in-system. Of those with some size, Dominik Kubalik (6-foot-2, 179 pounds) is an elite shooter but not a prototypical power forward in weight or style; Michal Teplý (6-foot-4, 190 pounds) had his development stall slightly due to injuries this past season; while MacKenzie Entwistle (6-foot-4, 185 pounds), Mike Hardman (6-foot-2, 205 pounds) and Cam Morrison (6-foot-3, 209 pounds) all project as lower-line options if they make the NHL at all. McTavish could be a Brandon Saad with better hands type of player if he moved to wing.