Deep Dive: A look into Mason McTavish’s game
EHC Olten, a team in the second-highest Swiss professional league, found themselves in a rare situation this season.
Amid a global pandemic the Ontario Hockey League delayed their season, leaving players looking for their own places to play while they await a final decision on their home league.
Brennan Othmann of the Flint Firebirds and Mason McTavish of the Peterborough Petes, two of the OHL’s youngest stars, had roots in Switzerland so the country naturally seemed like a fit. EHC Olten was able to secure both players, and the two former combatants found themselves as teammates playing professional hockey in Europe during the most important year of their young careers.
Getting to know McTavish
McTavish was born in Zurich on January 30, 2003, while his father Dale was playing professional hockey in the Swiss National League. He went fifth overall in the 2019 OHL Priority Selection after amassing 79 points (47 goals, 32 assists) with the U18 Pembroke Lumber Kings in 2018-19.
As one of the highest-ranked draft eligible players in this class from the OHL, missing a year of development was not an option and with a connection to Swiss hockey McTavish was able to secure his loan with Olten and began playing with them on February 2, 2021.
The adjustment to playing in Switzerland
For any player going from junior hockey to professional hockey there would be an adjustment period, but for a player in McTavish’s situation there really wasn’t a blueprint to follow. An OHL rookie who scored 29 goals expecting to emerge as a league superstar in his draft year now found himself in the middle of a pandemic in a foreign country playing for a team he had no history with. So, given the circumstances, it was not surprising that McTavish took some time before finding his footing in Switzerland.
At the beginning, McTavish struggled to produce, failing to register a point in his first two games and failing to score a goal until his sixth appearance. But once McTavish got comfortable, he quickly began to show that he can be a dynamic player for his team. After only recording two points in his first six games, he finished the regular season by reaching the scoresheet in six of his last seven games.
By the end of his stint in Switzerland McTavish played 17 total games (13 season and four playoffs) and totalled 11 goals and seven assists.
The Tools vs the toolbox
As is with all deep dives, we will dive into the individual skills that McTavish possesses, and then examine how is he able to put all those skills together making him into the player that you see every time he steps on the ice.
With any sport, athletes can possess a lot of individual skills but if they struggle to put all that skill together then they will find it difficult to play at a high-level on a consistent basis and if you don’t play at that high-level consistency then your career trajectory will begin to fall.
As we know, McTavish struggled to produce early in his stint with Olten, but as he played more games the points began to come, and he followed that up with an impressive showing at the 2021 IIHF World Under-18 Championship with Canada.
Production is only a small part of the story though, as we learn more and more about the game it is the tools a player possesses that are holding more weight in terms of valuing their impact. Players can produce a lot of points but still hold less value than a player on their team who doesn’t stack up production-wise.
McTavish is one of the players who has the combination of a wide set of skills and produce at every level he’s played at.
McTavish’s shot is one of his best tools, and the reasoning is two-fold. He has an accurate, powerful shot that he can release off his stick in a hurry. McTavish has proven to beat goalies at every level he’s played at.
As you can see in the goal above, McTavish gets open and quickly fires the one-time past the goalie. The shot was powerful and accurate leaving the goalie no chance of making the save.
When thinking of great shooters, most people think of Alex Ovechkin and Victor Olofsson simply overpowering goalies with their shots, but with McTavish there’s a much more nuanced approach. While having the ability to simply fire the puck past goalies with power, McTavish’s shot is so deadly because of where his shot attempts come from.
As you can see in the above diagram, a majority of his shot attempts this year came from in the high-danger slot areas. Something that my colleague Derek Neumeier observed in his viewings of McTavish.
“There aren’t many players in this draft class who are more dangerous from the opposing goalie’s doorstep than he is, as he just has that knack for squeaking pucks through when there isn’t a lot of room to work with,” Neumeier said.
On the above goal, McTavish grabs the puck at the side of the net and immediately takes it to the front of the net. With no Latvian skaters around, he has the goalie at his mercy and beats him with a low shot from the slot area.
His ability to generate shot attempts from the high-quality areas coupled with the power and accuracy he possesses in his shot makes McTavish one of the more dangerous goal scorers in the entire 2021 draft class.
Skating has become one of the most important tools a prospect can possess, with speed and agility becoming more prevalent every year the slower players can struggle to survive.
If a player doesn’t have that explosive speed they need to make up for it in other ways, McTavish uses his edgework and his agility to makeup for the lack of speed. My colleague Dylan Galloway pointed how he uses his edges and agility to help him carry the puck.
“Though his forward skating is average, McTavish makes up for it with his good edgework and agility with the puck,” Galloway said.
As you can see on this goal against Belarus, McTavish does not have the speed to simply fly past the defenders. Instead, he uses his edgework and his agility with the puck on his stick to gain the zone and beat the defender before firing a shot past the goalie.
Displays like the one above show how McTavish is able to have strong skating skills even without having the top-end speed that most people link to being a strong skater.
Strength/Compete in 50-50 battles
Compete can be thrown around as a generic term when a player works hard in every situation, but it can be difficult to measure. I find using a player’s success in 50-50 battles is generally a good way to measure their compete level, although it is by no means the only way.
Fifty-fifty battles happen a lot over the course of a hockey game and the result of the game can be heavily influenced by a team’s success in these occasions. McTavish thrives in these battles for a couple of reasons, one being his high work ethic and the other is his ability to use his body and strength to outmuscle his opponents.
This is a nice display of McTavish’s work ethic and how strong he is when battling one-on-one with his opponent.
In this instance, McTavish engages with his opponent before going into the corner, he drives the opposing player into the boards with a hit and follows the loose puck before grabbing puck possession for his team.
A team will feel much more comfortable dumping the puck into the opposing team’s end when they know they have a player who will go into the corner and find a way to retain possession and help set up their offensive zone attack.
Sometimes a 50-50 battle can take place away from the puck and in the above clip against Sierre, McTavish found himself in one of those instances.
I like this clip because McTavish show two of his tools at while gaining a position of strength against his opponent.
He uses his skating and edgework to gain outside positioning on his opponent and then while heading towards the loose puck he uses his strength and his advantageous position to pull away from the opponent and win the race to the corner.
McTavish has a big frame, he stands at 6-foot-2 and weighs 207 pounds, and he does not shy away from using his size to his advantage.
Some players can be considered physical without throwing the big hits, but McTavish is not one of those players.
Even playing in a men’s league as a teenager he loved throwing his weight around and punishing his opponents along the boards.
He is at his best when he is engaged physically and gets under the skin of his opponents.
McTavish loves to be a pest and it is easy for him to annoy the other team when he throws hits like the clips in this section.
Now that we have looked into some of the tools that make up McTavish’s game it is time to look at how the player is able to put everything together, making him one of the higher rated players in the 2021 NHL Draft class.
As stated before, having the tools is one thing but the great prospects can take their tools and put them together into the all-around game that will allow them to be effective at the next level in their careers. McTavish can fall into the ‘modern day power forward’ category, he brings that physical edge and impacts the game with his size and strength, but he also has the skillset to impact the game in more than just a physical way.
He is the type of player who can drive play on his own, creating offense by carrying the puck into the high-danger areas himself or he can be a complimentary piece that allows his teammates to drive play on their own.
Case in point.
A play like this shows how well McTavish understands his game and how to use all his tools to make an impact.
He grabs the puck in stride in the offensive zone and uses his skating and strength to cut towards the net while fighting off a check from the defending player before getting in close and getting a shot on the goalie. While the goaltender makes the stop, plays like this are always a positive for a team trying to generate offensive momentum.
Play drivers can sometimes forget the importance of deferring to others and becoming complimentary pieces when needed. McTavish does not appear to be one of those players, he has no issues with working off the puck and opening himself up to be a finisher rather than a creator.
The tools that McTavish regularly displays are often focused on the offensive side of the puck, but he is by no means a defensive liability when he is on the ice. Like many young players there’s always room for improvement, in McTavish’s case he has a mature 200-foot game for someone his age and with his defensive awareness and willingness to play within his team’s structure.
Watching McTavish, you see a player who understands their game extremely well.
He is by no means a perfect player, but he knows exactly what he does well, and he knows how to put himself in positions to impact the game with his tools. Young players sometimes get so focused on what they need to improve on that they forget about the areas of their game that has made them successful up until this point in their lives.
Using McTavish as an example: He could be so concerned with fixing his footspeed that he forgets to keep improving his strong edgework and agility that he simply trades off improved footspeed for declining edgework.
Examining him carefully, I do not believe that is the case. I see a player that uses their tools and continues to master them while trying to improve in those lacking areas.
Projecting his future
After watching McTavish play and going through the individual tools that he brings to the table I strongly believe that he is going to be an impact player at the next level. The NHL team that selects him at the upcoming draft will be getting the type of player that fans will love.
Watching him at the Under-18s, you get the sense that he is a player who does not shy away from being in the spotlight. He acted as captain when Shane Wright missed time and he seemed to a have a positive impact in every game during the event. These are traits that you want to see in a potential top-10, top-15 draft pick.
He has a wide array of skills featuring an elite shot, high level edgework, a willingness to bring a physical edge and a knack for winning one-one-one battles and is capable of wrapping all those skills in a nice bundle due to his high-level hockey IQ and ability to understand exactly what makes him effective on the ice.
I’ve had the pleasure of getting to see him play live in his rookie season with Peterborough, and could have seen him as a late first-round selection. Watching him now, I can see the improvements he has made in his game and now there should not be a scenario that sees him fall out of the top-15. I would not be surprised if he hears his name earlier than anticipated once the NHL Draft opens because there is so much to like about his game.
If developed properly, he could be a star in the league.