Crunch time for Knight

RYAN PYETTE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:52 AM ET

By his own admission, Philip McRae didn't think he had a very good rookie OHL season.

The London Knights want him to stop worrying about it.

The 17-year-old forward, London's first pick in the 2006 OHL draft, scored just two goals and recorded 10 points in 63 games last year -- much lower than his own offensive expectations. Like a lot of players not named Sergei Kostitsyn and Pat Kane, the six-foot-two, 180-pounder from Chesterfield, Mo., saw reduced ice time as the season played out.

"It wasn't a wasted year -- the guys on the team were great and it was a close group so that was a lot of fun," McRae said. "I didn't feel like I played very well and didn't score as much as I expected, but I thought my defensive play improved as the year went on.

"The biggest thing I learned is that you have to take care of the defensive zone first. That's where it starts."

The Knights are patient only to a point with their first-rounders. Tommy Mannino, Steve Ferry and Corey Syvret were recent top picks by the Knights and all of them were traded.

If everyone was waiting to see how team part-owner Basil McRae's son performed in his first year, now they'll be watching to see how he bounces back from a rough start.

London assistant coach Dave Gagner knows what it means to persevere. As a young pro, the New York Rangers sent him to their American Hockey League affiliate year after year before he finally got his shot to stick in the NHL.

"There's enough adversity from the other team that you don't have to put any on yourself," Gagner said. "There were times last year when you could see Phil was down but this is a game where you have to be even keel and not worry about things. He's a big kid and when he develops, he's going to be over 200 pounds, so he'll have size to go with skill. When we do skill drills, he's among the best on the team.

"When he was drafted, the thinking was that one day he would be one of the top scorers in this league. Everyone still feels that way."

Last month, McRae represented the United States at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, the former under-18 Junior World Cup, held in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. It was his third tour of duty with the U.S. team and he is getting familiar with the pace of international competition.

He felt comfortable in the Czech Republic and he's feeling the same bit of familiarity in London. He's enrolled in Grade 12 at Saunders and his family has relocated to the same neighbourhood he lived during last year's season.

Basil McRae, who didn't miss many Knights games last year, will be at a lot more as a scout for the St. Louis Blues. He'll be rooting for his son, who should see some early power-play time and get the chance to earn more as the season continues.

"You want to have a good start," Philip said. "There are guys away at NHL training camps so this is a chance for younger players to prove themselves out there. As a second-year player, you have a bit more responsibility. You're a little higher up on the ladder."


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