November 18th, 2013
TORONTO– The time is right for prospect Greg McKegg to show the Toronto Maple Leafs organization what he can be.
McKegg has been used in a top-six role all season with the AHL’s Marlies, and was off to a slow start in terms of production despite being expected to score more in his sophomore season. But with Trevor Smith and Jerred Smithson summoned to the Leafs he’s been the Marlies number-one guy up the middle and Saturday he broke out with two goals and two assists in a 4-1 win against the Charlotte Checkers.
“There’s an opportunity, you got Leaf management in the building and Greg McKegg took advantage of it,” said Marlies head coach Steve Spott. “He’s done everything we’ve asked as a first-line and second-line centre and he’s doing now what I saw him do in junior.”
“It was nice to have that for sure,” McKegg said about his first-career four-point game. “I was a little snake bitten before that.”
Last season as a rookie the 21-year-old only registered eight goals and 23 points in 61 games, despite coming out of junior as a solidified scorer. But his drop in numbers had as much to do with being limited by the NHL lockout as it did with turning pro.
This season Spott has already made it clear that Toronto’s 62nd pick from 2010 is being groomed as a top-six centre and he’s currently on pace for a 25-goal campaign. While all the shuffling with the Leafs recently could have gave way to McKegg getting his first game in the NHL, he’s not just ready for that jump.
“He’s always been known as an offensive player but he’s becoming a complete, two-hundred foot player,” said Spott. “He’s got a bright future.”
Not every sophomore is finding themselves in the good book with Spott.
Unlike McKegg, Brad Ross has struggled to start his second season and Sunday against the Texas Stars he found himself as a healthy scratch.
The 21-year-old winger has failed to record a single point in 12 games this season and is battling to do the little things that brought him success as a goal scorer in junior, such as going to the net to cash in on rebounds or screen the goaltender.
“I think like all young players he’s a scorer and he’s struggled to score,” said Spott. “We talked about how this is a tough business and the way to work through it is to work harder, go to the net, get pucks to the net. And he’s frustrated, but we need him to be good.”
Ross, who was selected 19 spots ahead of McKegg in 2010, was given ample opportunity at the beginning of the season to show his value to the club by being placed into the top-six and on the power play. But by Saturday he was dropped to the fourth line against Charlotte while Jerry D’Amigo, Josh Leivo and David Broll played ahead of him. Then, the acquisitions of Troy Bodie and Brad Staubitz forced him out of the lineup on Sunday against Texas.
“Ultimately at this level he has to figure it out,” said Spott. “We’ve given him every opportunity but he has to figure it out. We need to create offence and he’s a player we’re relying on to try and provide more.”
Toronto will host the Checkers on Tuesday. With Spott having options with his lineup, it is unclear if Ross will play.