And with the last pick in the 2002 NHL Draft, the Tampa Bay Lightning select right winger Declan McDonnell out of the OHL Kitchener Rangers with the 2017th overall pick. The Draft was a long (long) day, but I guarantee my day of covering the draft wasn’t as long as McDonnell’s day waiting to be drafted. He had to wait more than 10 hours of Draft Day broadcast before he got to hear his name on TV, announcing he was joining the reigning Stanley Cup Champions.
A little about McDonnell, he’s an American born in Lake View, New York, came up through the Buffalo Jr. Sabres organization, he then spent a season in the USHL before deciding to jump to the OHL for his 2019-20 draft eligible season. As a rookie, he put up 21 goals and 42 points on 147 shots in 63 games, he’s a 5’10” winger with a low centre of gravity and an unrelenting tenacity and work-ethic that you can see being used to his advantage on games. He works hard, he has talent, he makes his team’s life easier when he’s on the ice. Basically, he has a chance to turn into a perfect complimentary forward with the Lightning. What more can you want out of the last pick in the draft?
What are people saying?
OHL Writers have a really insightful article on their website on McDonnell. I won’t spoil the whole thing, but this 18-year-old’s ability to pressure opponents and use the puck once he gets it fits right in with the Bolts ethos. There are obviously things to improve on but adjustments are always made as players move from the OHL to the AHL and hopefully to the NHL. His work ethic elsewhere on the ice indicates that putting in the time to improve his game won’t be a problem for him.
“One of McDonnell’s most interesting traits is his tenacity. He is seemingly almost always after the puck whether on the forecheck, attacking the opposition, or coming back on the backcheck. His ability to steal pucks and create turnovers is uncanny.
McDonnell has shown some playmaking skills and appears to have the vision. He is strong in puck possession but could work on slowing down the play to give his teammates the time to get into scoring position.” — OHL Writers
Kitchener Today’s headline for McDonnell is that he is “criminally underrated,” which indicates how a lack of overall scoring has hurt his stock and taken eyes to other players on the team. Whether the points are his or not, he’s helping and he’s making his team better.
“He’s a guy no one talks about. He should be getting more interest from NHL teams,” said McKenzie after McDonnell’s first hat-trick on Friday. “People should be talking about him more. He’s third overall in rookie scoring.”
McKenzie wasn’t done.
“Work ethic and compete every practice, every work out and every shift. He’s on time for school every day. He goes to class every day. He’s low-maintenance. I can’t say enough good things about him.” — Kitchener Today
Buffalo News got to speak with McDonnell after he was drafted. He spoke about his nerves and the sacrifices his family has made to get him drafted.
“When I get to the Lightning, I’ll bring my competitiveness, and being relentless,” McDonnell said. “I want to play a better all-around game.” — Buffalo News
The Lighting scouts in the OHL were apparently big fans of McDonnell, obviously one of them raised their hand for the kid when it came to deciding the last pick in the Draft.
Had a feeling Declan McDonnell would be last when I didn't see him go earlier. TB scouts were high on him all season.— Josh Brown (@BrownRecord) October 7, 2020
Dylan Galloway provided a scouting report from FC Hockey. He points out McDonnell’s speed, especially in transitions.
The last overall pick is Declan McDonnell of the Kitchener Rangers here's my write-up on him from a game vs. Sarnia on Jan 24th, 2020 pic.twitter.com/7sJdtFLDHa— dylan galloway (@dylangalloway_) October 7, 2020
Before reading anything further, I highly recommend watching all the videos by Caitlin Berry of McDonnell. She provides a really good image of McDonnell, particularly with her analysis in each tweet.
Okay, now that you’ve done that, McDonnell has a really nice shot to him that he can get off quickly for rebound chances or setups from around the net. There isn’t a lot of obvious individual skill coming to the fore with McDonnell, but that’s kind of the point. He knows where to go, he gets there, and he can move the puck efficiently.
He wasn’t a top-line player in junior and he probably won’t ever be someone who drives offense to a top-six level, but he can absolutely do everything else on the ice to augment those players. He’ll fight for possession in the neutral zone and along the boards, and he’ll make himself open for passing plays in and around the net. That inherently gives him some finishing ability other players who don’t go to those areas won’t have.
His game kind of reminds me of a good zone offense in basketball. He’s open for pick and rolls, he can move into spaces while the puck is moving in different directions, and he can execute a play that helps more talented players get points. He’s a facilitator.
And talking about doing things when they need to be done, look at the last clip Caitlin has and you’ll see how he cuts down the angle for a point shot, blocks it, wins the battle to the boards and clears the puck for a chance the other way. He lowered the chances for a goal against and gave his team a chance for offense in one play.
Where McDonnell lacks is that his game isn’t completely refined it’s keeping him away from top scoring lines. In his second OHL year, I hope we can see him show some patience when he moves the puck, I don’t know this for sure, but I wonder if he dumps the puck in too much. It would be good to not see him pigeonholed in a forechecking, grinding role early in the OHL, junior hockey is a place for showing upside.
Declan McDonnell's second goal of the game (and third point) is a beauty— Caitlin Berry (@caitlinsports) January 18, 2020
Keeps a bouncing puck in at the blueline, beats Schlueting 1-on-1 and backhands it into the net! #OHL #RTown pic.twitter.com/3exAAM3tfJ