There have been no easy paths for Michael McNiven. The 18-year-old netminder's OHL rookie career got off to a tremendous start last year, but he struggled mightily in the second half. While he slipped off the draft radar just as quickly he emerged on it, Montreal invited him to camp and eventually signed him to a standard three-year entry-level deal.
Since putting pen to paper, McNiven has done nothing but impress. While his record of 10-10-4-2 is far from impressive, and he sits just ninth in both GAA and SV%, he has done so with the second-fewest amount of goals for in the league. Additionally, his numbers have taken a beating through a stretch of six games which saw McNiven start against the London Knights and Erie Otters twice, and the Kitchener Rangers once (The three top teams in the OHL).
While McNiven lost all of the starts, he was thoroughly impressive in half of the games. He made numerous show-stopping saves in all five games, showcasing his tremendously improved glove hand.
Last year, McNiven's raw athleticism and unique style shone, but so far the story has been the dramatic improvement in his ability with the catcher. Despite possessing a unique glove hand style, McNiven often seems almost unbeatable there. His flair for the dramatics really shows here, as he flashes the leather at every opportunity available, and does so quite effectively.
Of course, McNiven's excellent down-low game is continually superb. The goaltender's lateral movement is explosive, yet controlled. McNiven owns an upright position during lateral movement, increasing his effectiveness from post to post. He rarely gets caught frozen and aggressively angles shooters. The natural aggressiveness that makes McNiven effective is compliment by his stocky frame. Despite being just 6'1", he occupies a large amount of the net.
Just last night, McNiven made an incredible save demonstrating his explosive lateral movement and tremendous glove:
Rebound control is always an issue for goaltenders, and McNiven is no different. He kicks pucks out erratically and without purpose, often times increasing his workload. While this has improved over the season, there remains lots of work to be done.
Blocker side and puckhandling remain two additional areas where McNiven needs serious improvement. McNiven is an avid puckhandler, but has a tendency to move the puck slowly, or not even touch it at all. Getting beat short side has been an unfortunate trend for McNiven, too.
For all of his flaws, there's no doubt that McNiven is a solid goaltending prospect. His unrivalled athleticism and improving technical game have vaulted him to the upper echelon of OHL netminders. Even when McNiven has a bad game, he still is highly entertaining to watch. In every game, it's seems almost a guarantee that he will make an incredible stop, typically with the glove.
Mark MacMillan's two-way ability quietly impressing
It's no surprise that 2010 fourth round pick Mark MacMillan has had a slow start this season. It took until October 23rd for MacMillan to see his first action of the season, as he was recovering from season-ending surgery.
Although the first three ECHL games were unimpressive, since then MacMillan has gradually returned to form. Since late December, the hard-nosed two-way play that endeared MacMillan to University of North Dakota fans has been alive and well. Although he has just five points on the season, he's beginning to generate more scoring chances.
The speedy forward has brought energy to a depleted IceCaps, typically playing on the third line. He has earned the trust of Sylvain Lefebvre, often seeing penalty kill action. At five-on-five, MacMillan has played excelled in his own zone, and has been beginning to create more offensively. Although his slick playmaking hasn't resulted in points yet, the cut-wide-and-drive-the-net move that earned MacMillan plenty of NCAA goals was on display against Albany (Dec. 15):
By no means is MacMillan a dynamic player, but it's the little details that make MacMillan an intriguing prospect. While speed and skill were what initially made him an NHL draft pick, it has been the shift to a skilled two-way forward that has made MacMillan a regular with the IceCaps.
As MacMillan's confidence increases, hopefully his production will as well.