Catching The Torch: Allan McShane’s 2019-20 objective is the top of the OHL leaderboard

The centreman has the tools to put together a big year.

It’s Allan McShane’s time. Starting his fourth year in the OHL, he has to score at a pace that matches his talent. The Oshawa Generals, the organization he has been a part of for the past three seasons, will rely on him to be the engine of their offence every night; the team will only go as far their core of 19-year-old players will lead them. If he shows himself capable of rising to the next level in his offensive game, a contract with the Montreal Canadiens awaits him at the end of the season.

McShane’s five points in three pre-season games should be encouraging to his evaluators, though nothing of real value can be derived from this performance. The real mark to consider for the prospect is from the end of the 2018-19 season. Scoring nearly 1.5 points per game, he rocketed up the scoring ranks after a subpar start to the year. Ultimately, the centreman only put up four more points than the previous season, but he broke the 30-goal plateau and managed his total in five fewer games.

The prospect showed himself to be the same engaged, dual-threat player against the Kingston Frontenacs on Friday. His best trait — the one that distinguishes him from his peers — is his ability to find outlets for the puck in a fraction of a second. It manifests itself in his passing game, but also in the way he manages to find ways to keep possession under pressure.

In the breakout clip below, just as Ian Martin of the Frontenacs envisioned getting a shot from the top of the circle to tie the game with a precise shot after stealing the pass, McShane bounced the puck over the opponent’s blade. One-handed to extend his reach, and using the curve of his blade, the centreman managed to transform a likely turnover into a two-on-two chance the other way.

This play didn’t change the course of the game by any means. It was simply a reminder of the on-the-fly creativity and problem-solving abilities of the Oshawa forward.

In another first-period offensive sequence, the Frontenacs’ goalie set himself up against the post, walling any possible short-side entry for the puck off McShane’s stick. It proved no use against the forward. Square to the net, McShane pushed his top hand away from his body, transforming what would surely have been a blocked shot into an open-net scoring chance for his teammate on the far post.

In that clip, he also beat two defenders closing on him by flipping the puck in between them, up to the hands of a teammate standing at the goal line. This first play started the give-and-go that led to the cross-crease pass.

Later that game, a defender cheated toward McShane in a two-on-one trying to cut off the pass as it was fired. The prospect countered by lobbing the pass early above the opponent’s stick, giving his teammate a shot against a still repositioning goalie.

McShane started the sequence by skating up the ice against an overaggressive forecheck, beating two opposing skaters. He then expertly deflected a pass coming into his skate up to his forehand, while accelerating toward the offensive zone. The sudden change in speed left a third defender behind, creating the two-on-one.

The game finally rewarded McShane for his efforts in the third period. He skated up to retrieve a dumped puck that landed in the corner of the offensive zone. He checked for support behind him a couple of times, and seeing Ty Tullion skate to the net with inside positioning on his man, McShane knew he could hit him if he played his cards right.

He didn’t have time to over-handle. He couldn’t pick the puck up with his back turned to the play; his passing window would close. So, he pivoted as he reached the puck and slammed it toward his teammate, who got his stick on it for the fourth goal of the game.

The biggest hurdle in McShane’s development as a forward is clearly not his ability to read and react. This game was another testament to his above-average ability to do so. He connects with teammates in ways that many of his Junior peers either can’t see or can’t execute.

Skating remains the limiter. Not as much at the OHL level (which is why we can expect a dominante season from the prospect) but it will put barriers on his game when he reaches the professional ranks if he doesn’t improve.

McShane hunches over slightly. He lands on his inside edges when he brings his feet back under him, and his body moves up and down as he goes from crossovers to strides, and there’s noise in both of those techniques. It means he often can’t reach full extension on his pushes and has limited power.

There haven’t been noticeable changes in his form through the years. He could gain some speed through added strength, but as long as his technique isn’t corrected, he will work harder to get up to speed and maintain it than players with more efficient strides; skaters he will need to catch at higher levels.

Players can work around such flaws. We have seen it time and time again, and McShane is smart enough to be another case. A crucial point of evaluation for him this season is how he uses the momentum he is able to generate. Hockey is all about creating speed differences, and timing is half the game.

This was the first edition of Catching The Torch for the 2019-20 season. Follow the series for in-depth coverage on the Canadiens’ North American prospects all year long.

CHL Weekly

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