There is some serious competition when it comes to the most fascinating name (yes, “name” not necessarily player) of the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. I have already written profiles on Jagger Firkus and Jimmy Snuggerud, while we’ve also written about Ivan Miroshnichenko and Luca Del Bel Belluz. Later on we will also get to know talented youngsters who will make commentators either salivate or sweat depending on their own language proficiency, like Drummondville’s Maveric Lamoureux and Djurgården’s Jonathan Lekkerimäki,
My own personal favourite may be this one though. Playing and excelling side-by-side with Snuggerud for the U.S. National Team Development Program, we have a midwestern rhinestone named Rutger McGroarty.
Birthplace: Lincoln, Nebraska
Date of birth: March 30, 2004
Position: Centre/Right Wing
Weight: 205 lbs.
Team: USNTDP Juniors
Born in the metropolis that is Lincoln, Nebraska (hilariously depicted in the 2008 movie Yes Man), McGroarty elected to go for hockey and not go the traditional football route that this cornhusker birth city may be most famous for. If, or more accurately when, he gets drafted, he will become just the second ever player born in the state to gets drafted by an NHL team, following in the footsteps of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Jake Guentzel. So far, the three Nebraskans to make it to the NHL (the other two being undrafted) have all hailed from Omaha. One reason why nobody born in Lincoln has reached the big league could be the fact that the city only had one(!) hockey rink.
So what makes a kid from the Steak Capital of the World want to be a hockey player? Well, it could have something, or rather quite a lot, to do with his connections to both Lincoln and Nebraska being incidental. With a father who’s given his life to a career in hockey, first as a player and later as a coach and in front office positions around the minor leagues, you’re bound to move around a lot and settle in wherever you can find that next contract. After finishing his career with the WCHL’s Phoenix Mustangs, father Jim ultimately landed a job as an assistant coach with the River City/Omaha Lancers in 2003. Half a year later, his first and only son was born.
Daddy McGroarty went on to have a successful career as a coach and scout in the minor leagues, before settling into his current role as the general manager for the Lancers’ rival from Muskegon, Michigan. Speaking of the Great Lakes State; in 2014 Rutger was asked by the Detroit Honeybaked’s AAA team to join their youth system. The McGroarty family and the Honeybaked organization worked it out so that Jim could join his son in Detroit as the team’s coach while the women of the family, Rutger’s sister Molly and mother Cindy, stayed back in Nebraska.
It seems like quite the leap to make as a 10-year-old, but it has seemingly worked out well for both father and son. The ties to Michigan will continue going forward as well, with the prospect having committed to Ann Arbor and the Wolverines’ program for the 2022-23-season and, possibly, beyond.
Even if it’s still early in young Rutger’s career, chances are not exactly slim that he will go on to have a more impressive playing career than his dad ever had. As a 15-year-old, Rutger hammered in 82 goals and 160 total points while playing AAA for Oakland Jr. Grizzlies. After that season, he’s been a mainstay in the USNTDP for the last two years, where his development has continued onward and upward.
Throughout his tenure with the USNTDP, he has been praised for his effort and his leadership qualities, both on and off the ice. During the recent World Under-18 Championship, he wore the C for Team USA while continuing to demonstrate his prowess for goal-scoring, this time while the world was watching. Eight goals in just six games will not hurt his draft status this summer.
Though his scoring qualities have been evident for years, he is by no means a slouch in the passing department either, as his 52 assists last year will tell you. Overall, McGroarty is quite the polished prospect, except for one important aspect of his game.
Elite Prospects: #40
Bob McKenzie (TSN): #26
NHL Central Scouting: #22 (North American Skaters)
Corey Pronman (The Athletic) #21
Scott Wheeler (The Athletic): #15
He seems to has the size, seems to have the mentality, and possesses an interesting offensive toolkit. So why do most scouting outlets not have him ranked further up their draft boards? Well, there are questions surrounding his skating and how that will translate to the next level. His skating technique has been described as awkward and his overall lack of quickness is really what’s hindering him from being talked about as a player with certain top-six-potential.
He has been able to rely on his physical edge and smartness thus far, but sooner or later his skating technique will need to evolve if he wants to keep having the upper hand on opposing defencemen at the next level. The NHL has evolved since 2005 and the Milan Lucic-types no longer dominate a league which to a large extent favours pace over power.
In the end it comes down to what kind of front office a team has. If a GM wants to build a team which relies heavily on top-level tools, it may be too much of a gamble to take a player like McGroarty in the first round with the hopes of developing his skating into something beyond that of a future third-liner. Another GM may think that skating is something that can be taught and improved upon with the proper coaching and that Rutger’s intangibles outweigh his one major flaw.
Keeping this in mind while remembering that it’s enough to only have one team falling in love with you, I would not be surprised to see McGroarty’s name being called earlier than expected come draft night.