Austin
Broad
October 5, 2021

The Analysis – A Deep Look at Rutger McGroarty’s Game

The 2022 NHL Draft has an impressive American crop, the United States National Team Development Program has another talented group of players available at the top of the class. 

Rutger McGroarty has put himself into contention for the top American available in this year’s draft class. He was one of the 2022 draft eligible we highlighted in our 2021 NHL Draft Guide and for good reason.

McGroarty has it all. He has the physical traits, the production, and when you watch him play you get the sense that he has the potential to be special.

Getting to know McGroarty

McGroarty, born in Lincoln, NE in March of 2004, has some hockey lineage at his disposal. His father, Jim McGroarty, played hockey for several years, including a long stay in the WCHL and a brief stint in Austria before becoming a mainstay in the United States Hockey League as both in coaching — with the River City/Omaha Lancers and Lincoln Stars — and as a general manager with the Stars and Muskegon Lumberjacks.

Before joining the NTDP last year, the draft-eligible McGroarty spent his 2019 season with the Oakland Jr. Grizzlies and did nothing but produce points. In his 63 total games with the 15U team McGroarty netted 160 points (82 goals, 78 assists). His 2019 season was good enough to have him ranked as one of the top prospects available for the OHL Priority Selection, but with his desire to play in the NCAA teams passed on him until the Soo Greyhounds took him in the fourth round. 

McGroarty stayed with the USNTDP and played for both the U18 and U17 rosters and dressed for Team USA at the 2021 IIHF World Under-18 Championship in the spring.

The Tools 

McGroarty has an impressive toolbox filled with individual tools that should allow him to develop into a strong offensive player as he matures. As with any player, McGroarty will have to learn to put all his tools together on a consistent basis in order to reach his full potential. 

He has a gold mine in terms of offensive weapons. McGroarty has the shot, the passing ability, the IQ and ability to get in close and can be effective on the power play. Add this to his impressive physical traits and there is a lot to like about McGroarty’s game.

Shot

In my opinion, this is McGroarty’s best individual tool. He has the most dangerous shot out of all of the 2022 draft eligible players I’ve seen thus far in this draft class. He has the triple threat in terms of his shot, his deftness to deceive goalies with his ability to release his shot from any angle, and his accuracy to pick his spot and generates the power that will beat goalies from anywhere.

Here’s his shot chart, courtesy InStat.

He generates shots from all over the offensive zone, but he has a tendency to get to both the low and high slot areas. For a player with his level of shooting ability and an ability to get to the slot, he has the potential to score a lot of goals in the future. 

McGroarty takes the puck to a high-danger area, freezes the goalie with eyes and then fires a perfectly placed shot that beats the goalie short-side.

McGroarty takes the puck to a high-danger area, freezes the goalie with eyes and then fires a perfectly placed shot that beats the goalie short-side.

This example shows how deadly his shot can be. He releases the puck off his stick quickly, blows it by the goalie with a ton of power and picks the short-side post with pinpoint accuracy. The goalie had no chance at stopping McGroarty on this chance. 

Even from farther out, McGroarty can beat goalies with ease. He can change his angle of release even with opponents close by and still generate a ton of power and accuracy behind his shot, leaving the goalie helpless and at his mercy. 

These are just a few examples, but when you see plays like these it’s easy to understand why he has been considered a natural goalscorer for most of his young hockey career. He already has a plus-level shot and as he matures and develops more, he will be able to challenge goalies at any level including the NHL. 

Playmaking/Passing to High-Danger Areas

Normally when you talk about a player being a ‘natural goalscorer’ they tend to be more one-dimensional, but with McGroarty that isn’t the case.

He is a multi-dimensional offensive threat who has great playmaking ability and a knack for completing passes into the high-danger areas so his teammates can generate scoring chances. McGroarty has the ability to hit open teammates, but he also understands how to put them in a position to get a quick shot opportunity or hit another teammate who can generate a chance.

With a Phantoms player all over him, McGroarty spots an open teammate in the slot and delivers a perfect pass to his stick that eventually leads to a goal. The ability to spot open teammates in the slot and deliver a pass under pressure is something that really stands out in his game. He isn’t a one-trick pony, and if you are able to takeaway his shot, or his lane to the net he can make you pay with his vision and passing. 

McGroarty has the ability to draw his opponents to him, because of his shot, and take advantage of the open ice by hitting his teammates in a prime scoring position. The assists above are perfect examples of this.

On the first assist, he draws the two defenders to him, then hits his teammates in the slot who quickly fires a shot by the opposing goalie.

On the second assist he draws the Dubuque player to him and when he lays out to break up the play, McGroarty drags the puck around him and hits his teammate backdoor for a tap-in goal.

Gifted passers have the ability to make any pass on the ice, but also understand which passes can effectively lead to a scoring chance. Using the above examples, you can see that McGroarty understands how to be an effective playmaker in the offensive zone.

Off the Puck Play

So far, we’ve examined how McGroarty impacts the game offensively when he has the puck on his stick. What makes him a truly special offensive player is his ability to create both with and without the puck. A lot of young players can find themselves more engaged when in control of the puck, allowing them to show their skill and create for themselves. McGroarty plays with the same effort level when he’s working off the puck.

This is a pattern that my colleague Mat Sheridan noticed in his viewing of McGroarty.

“He does a good job at finding open ice in the slot to present himself as a passing option and always battles hard for positioning in front of the net,” Sheridan said.

McGroarty battles through contact and works to the backdoor, opening himself up for a scoring chance and quickly fires the puck into the back of the net when the puck hits his stick. 

Plays like this go a long way and allow good players to turn into great players. The effort level is evident. Even though he doesn’t have the puck, you can see how hard he works to get open in a prime scoring area and open himself up to his teammate.

When a player understands where to be and how to put himself in the high-danger areas, he will be able to have an offensive impact on the game.

McGroarty stands at the front of the net, screening the goalie and even after the puck hits him up high he battles to find the loose puck and put it past the Green Bay goalie.

The offensive instincts he displays without the puck are just as important to his game as his ability to drive play when he has the puck on his stick. McGroarty is an all-around offensive threat and the tools he brings to the game show why he’s a highly regarded talent in the upcoming NHL Draft. 

Power play Efficiency

Up until this point, we’ve looked at the tools that make McGroarty an offensive threat. This last tool is important because it will allow him to make an impact on the scoresheet even while he adjusts to higher levels of competition.

With his vision, and ability to shoot the puck it shouldn’t come as a surprise that McGroarty can have a positive impact on his team’s power play. 

Last season, he understood his role on the power play and played it extremely well. Whether it be the net-front presence or positioning himself on the half-wall as a trigger/setup man, McGroarty was able to fill his role properly.

This goal is a good example of him putting his ability to get open in the slot to good use. It’s because of that skill that McGroarty is so effective on the power play. He already has a natural ability to find the soft spots in the opponent’s defensive setup, then when you add in the extra time and space that comes with being on the power play and you turn an already lethal player into an even more deadly threat. 

Here’s his power play shot chart, courtesy InStat.

Most of his chances on the power play come from in tight and when you look at his shot chart from last season you can see that when he gets the puck on the man advantage he’s efficient at making sure he gets his chances on net. 

Areas of Improvement

We’ve highlighted the areas of strength in McGroarty’s game, and there’s little question that he has the tools to be an offensive force at the next level. When you watch him play, there’s a ton to like but as with most prospects there are a few areas of improvement that he can work on in order to take his game to another level.

Acceleration

This is more of a nitpick then anything, because I do believe that McGroarty’s skating won’t hold him back from being a high-caliber prospect. 

If he does want to take his game to another level, he can work on his first few strides in order to help get him up to full speed quicker. 

As McGroarty picks up the puck in his own zone, you can see him start to turn up the ice and start the offensive transition.

Because it takes him a few strides to get up to full speed, he can’t attack the Swedish defender out wide and blow by him because the Swedish player has already closed the gap quickly once he enters the zone. 

If he works on his acceleration and can get up to full speed quicker he would have a better chance at attacking out wide and beating the defender to the punch, allowing him to become more deadly off the rush. 

Overall Consistency 

Like most teenaged players, there’s always room for McGroarty to improve on his game to game consistency. 

Whether the points are coming or not, if he can continue to strive for an all-around consistent game you will see him elevate his game. Any young player loves to show up to the rink when things are going their way. The truly great young players can respond and recover when they are going through slumps.

If McGroarty can improve on his consistency, then there will be virtually nothing holding him back from becoming an impact player at the NHL level.

Putting It All Together

When you take the tools that we have examined in this article and put them all into one toolbox, you have the makings of an all-around offensive force.

McGroarty has the tools to be a play-driving center who elevates his linemates on a regular basis and will fill the scoresheet. Based purely off his offensive upside, there are only a handful of players in this class who will be able to impact the game offensively the way McGroarty will be able to. 

Combining his offensive IQ, his playmaking ability and lethal shot gives you a multi-dimensional offensive player who can adapt his game and make an impact in a wide variety of ways. 

Taking into account that he’s already physically mature, at 17-years-old he’s 6-foot-1 and close to 200 pounds already. If he can continue to add strength to his frame and grow his offensive game further, he should have little trouble adjusting to higher levels of competition and becoming an impact player at the NCAA and eventually the NHL level. 

Projecting His Future

As stated earlier, the 2022 NHL Draft class is loaded with talent and is especially strong at the top. McGroarty is among the cream of the crop in terms of American players available this year and should make a strong push to be the first US-born player taken. It’s not every year that a player who is as offensively gifted as McGroarty would possibly slide out of the top-5 but given the strength of this year’s class I could see him fall somewhere between that 6-15 range.

Obviously, his performance during his draft year will go a long way in determining his final draft position but he has all the talent in the world to become a sure-fire top-10 selection. Whoever drafts McGroarty will be getting a surefire top-six scoring center with the potential to drive his own line for many years. He is an all-around offensive creator, who can elevate the play of his linemates on a nightly basis.

There’s always risk involved with prospects, but McGroarty’s offensive toolbox should have everyone bullish on what he can become. With the NCAA on his radar at some point in the future he will be able to develop his game and learn how to play against older competition.

The team that is lucky enough to draft him will be getting a legitimate NHL caliber prospect who can potentially pay dividends for a decade-plus.

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