One of the hottest topics in Hockeytown right now is whether or not captain Dylan Larkin can be a suitable top line center moving forward. The fact of the matter is that he is the Red Wings’ top center, at least for now, because Detroit lacks centers that could push him out of that spot. While they certainly have some intriguing center prospects (namely, Joe Veleno) there’s no doubt that they could use another center prospect in the system that has top six or even top line potential.
Enter Mason McTavish.
One of the biggest risers in this year’s draft class, McTavish has cemented himself as one of the top forward prospects in the 2021 draft class after being named the second-best North American skater in the draft by NHL Central Scouting. That would understandably lead you to believe that this player won’t be available for Detroit to select with the sixth pick in the draft, but in a draft as unpredictable as this one is going to be, I wouldn’t count out the possibility that he’s there for the taking once it’s the Red Wings’ turn to pick. If they do have that opportunity, they should seriously consider taking this prospect.
Red Wings Love Their Two-Way Players
Whether you like the approach or not, the Red Wings have made a concerted effort to draft and develop players with a strong game in both ends of the ice. While this can sometimes prove to be a frustrating approach when handling offense-first players like Dennis Cholowski and Andreas Athanasiou, McTavish would fit right in with the organization’s two-way approach to development. As eager as he is to crash the net and look for rebound opportunities, he is just as eager to get back and pressure his man in the defensive zone. In some ways, his aggressive two-way game mirrors that of St. Louis Blues captain Ryan O’Reilly.
It’s not just his style of play that should remind you of the 2019 winner of the Selke Trophy (awarded to the league’s best defensive forward). McTavish is already a big boy, standing at 6-foot-2 and weighing in at 207 pounds. That he already has NHL size should vault him towards the top of a lot of team’s lists. Matthew Zator, head of scouting here at THW, remarked on the centerman’s size:
The first thing you notice about Mason McTavish is his size. He already has an NHL-ready frame at 6-foot-2, 202 pounds and unlike some big forwards, skating is one of his strengths. He also has tremendous hockey IQ and doesn’t hesitate to drive the net.– Matthew Zator
To the point about his hockey IQ, the thing I noticed the most when watching him play was that his instincts on the ice were top-notch. He can read plays in both ends of the ice, and that allows him to position himself to either receive a pass or make a clutch shot block. Some players have all the skill in the world, but they lack the hockey sense to put it all together. That is not the case with McTavish, and while he’s not somebody I would consider ultra-skilled, he has enough tools in his toolkit that makes him dangerous in both ends of the ice, and the best part is that he knows how to use them.
In my time observing this player, a thought kept creeping into the back of my mind: “this is great, but will it all transfer to the NHL?” I think this is a fair reservation to have about most draft prospects, especially in a draft where nobody seems 100 percent sure about any one prospect. While I think McTavish is one of the more projectable players in this draft class, I have some small concerns about his ultimate upside. Think along the lines of what people were saying about Moritz Seider in his draft season: “very good prospect, but doesn’t have that top-tier potential you’d like to see.” Of course, we all know how those concerns about Seider panned out.
To be fair, McTavish further laid claim to the title of one of the best prospects in this class with his play for Team Canada in the 2021 IIHF World U18 Championship. As team captain, he helped lead the Canadians to the gold medal while finishing behind only Shane Wright and Connor Bedard (the projected top picks in 2022 and 2023, respectively) in terms of scoring.
“In that tournament, McTavish displayed his entire toolkit,” Zator said. “From his speed, hands, and quick release to his ability to drive transition and play effectively in the dirty areas, he was one of Canada’s most dominant players.”
Standing out on a powerhouse team like Canada is no easy feat, and McTavish deserves credit for doing so. My concerns about his ultimate potential stem from stretches of not standing out while playing in Switzerland this season, as well as the fact that he played alongside a potential generational talent in Bedard while playing for Canada. In other words, I really wish this player had the opportunity to play some games in the OHL this season, as that probably would have offered the clarity that I’m looking for here.
To put a period on this topic, I don’t doubt that McTavish will be an NHL player; my concerns are solely about whether or not he can become a true top six or top line guy. If the Red Wings are taking him with the sixth pick, you better hope he can become that Ryan O’Reilly-type of player.
Putting my concerns aside, it is worth repeating that this player already has an NHL build, and he plays a style that is highly transferrable to the big leagues. However, just like anybody else I’m going to profile, I don’t think this player is ready to jump into the NHL right away. After a chaotic 2020-21 season, some stability in the OHL for a season (fingers crossed) would do wonders for his development, and should cast a spotlight on just how close to the NHL he really is.
Depending on how his 2021-22 season with the Peterborough Petes goes, he could be one of those kids that signs an entry-level contract and then makes a brief cameo in the NHL and/or AHL at the end of the season. His strong hockey IQ gives me hope that he could challenge for a roster spot in the NHL in the Fall of 2022, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he ultimately needed another year of development before taking that step.
Fit with the Red Wings
Like I mentioned at the top, the Red Wings have a real need for impact centermen in their prospect pool, especially in the event that Veleno graduates and joins Detroit on a full-time basis next season. Adding McTavish would not only give them the best center prospect they’ve had since Larkin, but it would come in the form of a player that really fits into how they develop their players. A Larkin-McTavish one-two punch down the middle would free the Red Wings up to add explosive, offense-first wingers on their sides because both centers are strong in their own end.
“With the Red Wings’ need for a top-line center, he could be the perfect choice to pair with the dynamic Lucas Raymond one day,” Zator said, highlighting another perk of adding McTavish. Raymond’s skill game with mesh well with McTavish’s; throw a shooter like Filip Zadina on the other wing and you’ve got the makings of a really solid top line.
If the Red Wings are addressing specific needs in the 2021 draft, there may not be a more pressing one than the need for another top six-caliber centerman. McTavish would bring size, physicality, skill and strong hockey IQ, which are all things that Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman undoubtedly desires in his prospects. As always, it will come down to whether or not he and his scouting team think that he is the best player available when it’s time to make their pick.
Best Player Available
“Our philosophy…will be to pick the best prospect on the board. I don’t think we’re in a position with the sixth pick to say ‘oh, we definitely need this position,’” Yzerman said when asked about any potential targets he has in the draft. With McTavish’s recent rise up the draft boards, he could easily fit the description of “best player available” should he still be waiting at sixth overall. If that is ultimately what happens, Red Wings fans should be excited; while I have my concerns, there is no doubt in my mind that this is a great prospect, and one worth taking a chance on. Any team would like to add a big-bodied, two-way force to their prospect pool, and Detroit could very well have the opportunity to do just that.
“A stalky forward who can play both center and wing with a massive shot and an affinity to use it. He is one of the better pure goal-scorers in his draft class.” – Tony Ferrari, Dobber Prospects
“Violence and aggression are just two of several commonplaces in your typical McTavish shift. He’s a throwback who doesn’t seem concerned with what opponents think of him or what an opposing star player’s reputation is, all while showcasing his own impressive skills in the process. There’s simply no quit in his game.” – Steve Kournianos, The Draft Analyst
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