By: Justin Dunk
As the saying goes patience is a virtue. And it couldn’t have rung more true than for Garrett McFadden in his first Ontario Hockey League season.
McFadden was selected 12th overall by the Storm in the 2013 OHL Draft. He was a highly skilled defenceman with an offensive flair from Kincardine. Although due to Guelph’s veteran-laden roster, McFadden dressed in just 42 games during his rookie campaign in the OHL.
Last year was unique because through no fault of his own, McFadden ended up as the team’s seventh defencemen and saw very limited ice time as a result. That said it provided time for him to learn from a talented bunch of teammates.
“You’re not playing as much so your confidence is down and it’s no fun sitting out when you want to play,” McFadden said. “But being able to sit back and watch a lot of hockey and practice with guys – our practices are pretty intense – who know what they’re doing you’re learning a lot and it’s all game speed, so it helps.”
“In some instances a first round pick can come in and play a lot right off the get-go,” Guelph Storm general manager, Mike Kelly said. “Other times they’re forced to wait before they get that prime time. It’s about how they handle it that’s important, and Garrett certainly handled it very professionally and maturely.”
Matt Finn went through a similar scenario during his first season in Guelph. Finn didn’t play regularly during the early part of his underage year. And he shared with McFadden that sometimes a slower progression is more valuable in the long run. Finn made sure McFadden didn’t lose his confidence, reminding him he was a heck of a player and that it wasn’t his fault that he wasn’t in the lineup. Instead it was a circumstance he couldn’t control.
“While it was probably frustrating for him I think it certainly has been beneficial to him and will be a big part of the success he has in the next three years,” Kelly said.
Ice time won’t be a concern for McFadden at all this season. Kelly said right from the opening game of 2014-15 he was considered among the Storm’s top four defencemen and will see plenty of action in different situations.
“He was a first rounder for a reason because he is a special talent,” Kelly said. “Now given the opportunity to take a regular shift, I think everybody is starting to see that special talent that we saw when we drafted him.”
McFadden’s skills on the ice have drawn comparisons to some elite National Hockey League defencemen, top among them Storm alum Drew Doughty.
“He skates a lot like Drew, handles the puck a lot like Drew. Drew happens to have two inches on him and obviously he’s an NHL All-Star, but at 17 years of age I see real similarities between McFadden and Doughty,” Kelly said.
“Drew plays an offensive style and I think I bring an element of offence into the game too,” McFadden said. “It’s always nice to hear when you get compared to guys like that because he’s a pretty amazing player.”
Kelly isn’t worried about lofty observations having an affect on McFadden’s evolution as a player.
“Garrett’s a real humble kid and he takes things with a grain of salt. He’s a fairly self-motivated player, so I don’t think he needs a lot of external stimulation. He sets his own bar very high. And quite frankly I don’t think it impacts Garrett one iota,” Kelly said.
As McFadden goes through the rigors of playing top tier minutes for the first time in his OHL career, he has been given some leeway from the coaching staff that should aid his development. Kelly believes the team can’t harness McFadden because he possesses so much play-making potential from the back end.
“Getting better means sometimes you have to expand your game and try different things. Particularly a player of McFadden’s ilk that is such a great skater and can jump into the rush – we’ve got to ask him to do a little bit more,” Kelly explained. “And I think he has the confidence to know that he can do it and that if he rushes up the ice that he can back. Likewise if he makes a mistake – they’re going to happen – it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to end up on the bench or not dressing.”
It’s clear the Storm know what type of potential McFadden has and they want him to go out and reach it, or better yet exceed their expectations.