McKegg living the dream

RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:38 AM ET

LONDON, Ont. -- Greg McKegg's mission at this week's NHL rookie tournament in London was a simple one.

Play well enough to force Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke to bring him back again to the John Labatt Centre next Thursday for a preseason game against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Londoner Nazem Kadri, Toronto's 2009 first rounder, scored his first goal as a Leaf in the same game on home ice last fall. McKegg, Toronto's second pick this past summer, would love the chance to repeat that feat.

"It would be sweet to play in that game," the 18-year-old from nearby St. Thomas said. "It's been a great experience here. They (the Leafs brass) don't tell you too much (about their plans for the days and weeks ahead), but I just wanted to learn as much as I could and I think I was able to do that.

"When you grow up in this neck of the woods, all you hear about is the Leafs and they've treated me so well."

McKegg has made a definite impact. The six-foot-one, 192-pounder -- a healthy scratch against Ottawa Tuesday night -- scored the most highlight reel-worthy goal of the tourney on a breakaway.

He also stood behind Burke's decision to bring in his former Erie Otters teammate Michael Liambas, who was kicked out of the OHL last year for a devastating hit on Kitchener rookie Ben Fanelli. After Liambas's suspension, the Otters took his jersey with them for every game and hung it in their dressing room.

"I definitely think he (Liambas) deserved to be here," McKegg said, adding he supports him.

"I really hope something good happens for him," McKegg said of Liambis. "He's an awesome teammate. He's such a hard worker, a solid player and he's a game changer. People don't always understand that you always need guys like that on a team.

"It really eased the nerves for me to have him here this week."

That wasn't the only thing that helped quiet the butterflies over his first big Leaf test.

This summer, McKegg prepared by training at a boot camp in Goderich run by Ryan O'Reilly's dad Brian. There, he learned what it takes to break into the big leagues at age 18 the way O'Reilly did with the Colorado Avalanche last fall.

"I played a year in Erie with him and his work ethic is so high," McKegg said. "He works so hard and you learn that's the effort it takes to get to that next level. I hope a little bit of that rubs off on me.

"He earned everything he got this year."

McKegg could earn an extended look from the Leafs because there aren't a lot of gimmes on their roster up front.

Whether or not he ends up lasting at main camp or is back in Erie earlier than he'd like, Burke should have all kinds of opportunities to follow his prospect closely.

McKegg is a prime candidate to play for the Canadian world junior team in Buffalo, N.Y., druing the Christmas holidays. He already has extensive international experience in the Hockey Canada program.

"For sure, that's a goal," he said. "You always grow up watching and you dream about being part of it."

Last year, Leafs coach Ron Wilson told Kadri to go back to the Knights and score 100 points. He fell just short.

Without half the fanfare, McKegg had 85 points last season and he'll be surrounded again by a good nucleus back with Sherry Bassin's Otters.

"We think we're going to be a pretty good team," McKegg said. "Right now, I'm focused on the Leafs. If I end up back in Erie, I'm going to focus on being the best I can there and having a good year."

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