Picked by Pens, Knight keeps it real

RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:23 PM ET

Reid McNeill tried to keep NHL draft day as normal as he could.

“(Saturday) I helped my dad build our deck and I washed both of our family cars,” the big London Knights defenceman said. “I hadn’t heard anything yet so I asked my mom if she wanted to go hit golf balls.

“We were on the Windermere driving range when my agent (Brian MacDonald of Siskinds) called and told me I was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the sixth round.”

Thirteen NHL teams contacted the six-foot-three, 193-pound McNeill during his first OHL season.

“The Penguins were the first and the last — they sent me a questionnaire after my 12th game and they were the last ones to interview me before the draft,” McNeill said.

Few draft stories are as compelling as McNeill’s. He had been playing high-school hockey at Lucas and just gained a spot with the London Nationals when Knights assistant GM Jim McKellar saw him and started trying to convince him to sign as a free agent.

“My mom showed me a picture of where I was exactly to the day a year ago,” the 18-year-old said. “I was at a junior B development camp. My first year (with the Knights), I used it as a learning experience. But this year, I’m going to try to take advantage of a few more of the opportunities that come my way and try to help out the team more.”

If McNeill looks good among Pittsburgh’s rookies, he has a chance to land an invitation to the Pens’ main camp this fall. That means being on the ice with guys like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

“It’s an honour just to be drafted,” he said, “and it’d be an honour just to be on the ice with those guys.”

McNeill was one of two Knights picked in Los Angeles. Forward Jared Knight, London’s leading goal-scorer last season, went 32nd overall to the Boston Bruins.

That’s the identical slot Stanley Cup champ David Bolland went to Chicago in 2004.

“It’s kind of funny because he used to live with my billets in London (Scott and Gail Tooke),” Knight said, “and they just told me they had Danny Richmond stay there, too (who went 31st overall to Carolina in 2003).”

Knight opted to follow the draft from home in Battle Creek, Mich. His sister Kayla had her driver’s test the same day and passed.

“It was an important day for her, too, and I wanted my whole family with me so that’s why we decided to stay,” Knight said. “She got her permit. We’re just at a restaurant right now and she drove us here.”

Like Boston first rounder Tyler Seguin, Knight was selected with a pick acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Phil Kessel trade.

The Leafs first picked at No. 62 and took St. Thomas native Greg McKegg of the Erie Otters. His former Elgin-Middlesex Chiefs teammate Steve Shipley of Ilderton went in the fourth round (98th overall) to the Buffalo Sabres. Stratford’s Joey Hishon, Shipley’s Attack mate, went 17th overall in the first round to Colorado.

Three former Knights were also selected. Christian Thomas, sent to Oshawa in the John Tavares deal, is now New York Rangers property after being picked 40th overall.

Tony DeHart, now with Oshawa, went to the Islanders (125th overall) in the fifth round. The Rangers grabbed Jason Wilson, traded to Owen Sound for Michael D’Orazio last fall, five picks later at 130.

Back in 1981, the Montreal Canadiens took Mark Hunter seventh overall in the draft. This time, they picked United States under-18 captain Jarred Tinordi with their first pick (22nd overall).

The Knights brass, who attended the draft, own the OHL rights to the six-foot-six, 205-pound defenceman son of former NHLer Mark Tinordi and would love the Habs to send him to London this season.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Hunter said. “We sat down (with Tinordi). We talked. We congratulated him. I don’t know (if going to Montreal) will help (London’s cause).”

Hunter has another busy week ahead of him.

He’s in the process of signing his top draft picks from this past spring. He also has the Canadian Hockey League import draft on Tuesday and starts with the 35th pick overall.

The Knights will invite Swedish defender and potential over-ager Kalle Ekelund, so effective in the second half last season, back to training camp again this fall.

“You don’t know if one of your picks isn’t going to show up,” Hunter said of the inherent import risks. “Last year, we had that happen to us (Russian defender Anton Klementyev ended up playing pro in the Islanders organization). It’s a problem to take Russians (right now). You don’t know what’s going to happen or if they’ll show up. You see in the NHL draft, they only had three Russians (in the first round) picked.”

London goalie Michael Houser didn’t get drafted but he is on track to attend a rookie camp with Vancouver. Colin Martin will show off his goal-scoring abilities to the New York Rangers. D’Orazio, Chris DeSousa and Michael MacDonald are also possible pro camp attendees as free agents this summer.

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/ryanpyette


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