By RYAN MCCRACKEN on August 16, 2019.
Dylan MacPherson keeps on turning heads.
Given the opportunity to take on a first-round NHL draft pick in a fastest skater competition at the South Alberta Hockey Academy’s high performance camp in Irvine this week, the 21-year-old Redcliff product and former Medicine Hat Tigers defenceman seized the opportunity to leave Emerson Etem in his dust.
“The only comeback I had is I’ve been out of the game a little bit,” said Etem, a SAHA skills coach, Tigers alumnus and first-round Anaheim Ducks draft pick. “I was pretty frustrated, but at the same time he’s a great player, he’s a great guy and it’s been a pleasure working with him this spring and summer.”
MacPherson is set to embark on his first season of professional hockey after signing a one-year contract with the American Hockey League’s Springfield Thunderbirds last month. Given what the future holds, MacPherson says it’s been great to work alongside someone who has been through the process before like Etem.
“He’s been through the system, he’s played pro,” MacPherson said of Etem, who played for the Ducks, Vancouver Canucks, and New York Rangers over his five-season NHL career. “He’s got (173) NHL games, which is a good milestone, so getting to learn from him and just watching what he brings to the table has been great.”
MacPherson added he isn’t taking the high performance camp for granted, as there hasn’t been anything of the sort available to local professionals in recent years.
“Usually it’s just us older guys like Curtis Valk and Darren Dietz putting something on like this, so it’s nice to get something like this close to home,” MacPherson said of the camp, which hosts groups ranging from 2010-born players to pros. “I’m just focusing on the little details right now that are so huge in leagues like the AHL and the (NHL).”
Etem says there are a number of things that stand out about MacPherson in regard to making the jump and forging a career at the professional level, but few caught his eye like the 6-foot-3, 190-pound blueliner’s ability to kick his skates into overdrive.
“It’s effortless,” said Etem. “With that he’s got great conditioning and he works hard, but the first thing I see is the size and speed combination. Usually you get the speed, or usually you get the size – but to have both of them, it’s pretty special.”
Etem added he’s been working with MacPherson in the corners at this week’s camp in Irvine, aiming to create more dominance on the strong side when jumping in on the rush.
“If he’s going wide, it’s just taking back that ice he’s used to create that,” said Etem. “When I work with my pro skaters I push guys to not go behind the net as much, but rather use that strong side of the ice because we’re going with so much speed â€¦ That’s the thing I’m working on with Dylan so far.”
MacPherson added it’s little things like that which will help separate him from the pack and earn him consistent minutes with the Thunderbirds – and with any luck, their NHL-affiliate Florida Panthers as well.
“It’s pro hockey – it’s your job, so everybody competes,” said MacPherson, who will fly south for Panthers camp in early September before making the trip to Springfield, Mass. to prepare for his first season with the Thunderbirds. “It’s a little bit of a different atmosphere coming from junior to pro hockey, but it’s nice. It’s fun.”
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