Aidan McDonough isn’t the first seventh-round pick from the 2019 NHL Entry Draft to make his NHL debut. Three other seventh-round picks from 2019 have appeared in an NHL game: Juuso Pärssinen, Rafaël Harvey-Pinard, and Valtteri Puustinen.
Still, it’s quite a feat for McDonough to make it to the NHL. Most seventh-round picks never do. The odds were especially low for McDonough, a late-blooming power forward in his second year of draft eligibility, who wasn’t even a point-per-game player in the USHL.
There was something about McDonough’s game, however, that gave the Vancouver Canucks’ scouts confidence that McDonough could buck the odds. It wasn’t just his size or his excellent shot; it was his hockey sense, combined with complete coachability: an eager willingness to take criticisms of his game and improve.
From there, McDonough took off in college hockey, eager to prove the Canucks were right to draft him. The Canucks kept in constant contact, helping him continue to improve his game, and he rewarded that effort with loyalty, signing with the Canucks despite having the option of going to free agency in the summer.
On Sunday night against the Chicago Blackhawks, McDonough played his first-ever game for the Canucks. Head coach Rick Tocchet even sent McDonough, a winger, out to take the opening faceoff, which he won.
“I haven’t taken a faceoff in, like, six years,” said McDonough with a laugh. “After that, it was just hockey after the first shift. The first shift, obviously a little nervous, a little scrambly in the D zone, but after that, you’re just thinking about the game and what’s going to happen next, so you’re not too focused on being nervous.”
As an added bonus, McDonough’s debut came alongside a childhood friend, Jack Rathbone, who was called up from the Abbotsford Canucks in the AHL prior to the Canucks’ last game on Saturday.
“His dad coached me from first grade to my senior year of high school, so for 12 years,” said McDonough after he was drafted. “Me and Jack have been really close our whole life and he was one of the first people to text me after I got drafted.”
“My dad says sometimes, if you want your daughter to marry someone, that's the guy you want,” he added.
Getting to live out his dream of making the NHL with Rathbone at his side was somewhat surreal for McDonough.
“Just to have so many friends and family here — they made the short flight — and to share it with my best friend since 1st Grade, Jack Rathbone, to be out there with me, and then obviously to get the two points, it was amazing,” said McDonough. “Everything you could dream of."
The only thing that made it less than perfect was that McDonough couldn’t quite hit the scoresheet. He had his chances — two very good ones — but he wasn’t able to bury the puck in the back of the net. But, knowing McDonough, he’ll just take that as an opportunity to learn and get better once again.
“Yeah, I had a few looks,” said McDonough ruefully. “Hopefully, as I settle in a little bit, those will start to go in.”
I also had a few good looks, primarily at my TV, while I watched this game.
- As well as McDonough, Jack Studnicka drew back into the lineup. Both Vasily Podkolzin and Vitaly Kravtsov sat, Podkolzin with a suspected wrist injury and Kravtsov as a healthy scratch. It wouldn't be surprising if Kravtsov sat out a couple more games.
- McDonough had a decent game in his limited minutes, keeping in mind they were playing the atrocious Blackhawks. Like Simone Anzani, McDonough was all around the net with four shot attempts, but he also had a strong backcheck on the speedy Lukas Reichel to prevent a scoring chance and shot attempts were 14-to-7 for the Canucks when he was on the ice at 5-on-5. That’s some quality ice-tilting for a player in his very first NHL game.
- The Canucks had some strong shifts in the first period, including a 2:07 shift for Quinn Hughes that the Canucks spent almost entirely in the offensive zone, pinning down the Blackhawks like a taxidermied scorpion. They just couldn’t solve Petr Mrazek.
- A terrible hit from behind by Reese Johnson on Kyle Burroughs gave the Canucks a good chance to open the scoring on the power play but instead they gave up a shorthanded goal despite having two defencemen on the ice. In fact, both defencemen hindered more than they helped: Filip Hronek went out to challenge Connor Murphy at the point but couldn’t block his shot, while Quinn Hughes cut in front of Collin Delia as Murphy shot, screening Delia and preventing him from seeing the puck with his accursed opacity.
- It took until the final minute of the second period for the Canucks to get the puck past Mrazek. When they finally did, it was, like Dennis Nedry stealing dinosaur embryos, an inside job. Quinn Hughes pinched down deep in the Blackhawks’ zone, then fed the puck to J.T. Miller covering for him at the point. Miller spotted an open Phil Di Giuseppe and he attempted to set up Brock Boeser for a tap-in goal. His pass never made it; like Josue Duverger, Seth Jones kicked it into his own net.
- With the second assist, Quinn Hughes got his 69th point of the season, breaking his own franchise record for the most points by a Canucks defenceman in a single season. So, even if it wasn’t the prettiest goal, it was still nice.
- Delia made one of the best saves of the season a minute into the third period. First, he stretched his right leg back to rob Tyler Johnson after a deflected pass had Delia going the other way. Then, recognizing that Johnson wanted to elevate the rebound, Delia likewise elevated his right pad and got his toe on the puck. Like Mac Gargan, he went full scorpion.
- Dakota Joshua didn’t get an assist on the go-ahead goal, but he did in spirit. He leveled Lukas Reichel — easily the Blackhawks’ best player in this game — with a clean, open-ice hit. As the incredibly-named MacKenzie Entwhistle challenged him to drop the gloves, Joshua instead watched as Andrei Kuzmenko and Ethan Bear set up a wide-open Pettersson, who sent the puck flying into the net as hard as Joshua sent Reichel flying in the neutral zone.
- “I put Dak up there on that line the second half,” said Tocchet. “He's not afraid to hit. I like those type of guys and that was a big hit. It kind of started our game a little bit after he made that hit.”
- A minute later, Pettersson extended the lead on the power play. Back to just one defenceman on the first unit, the power play quickly capitalized. Hughes sent a hard pass to Boeser in the bumper and he, appropriately, bumped it towards the net, where it took a second deflection off Kuzmenko and landed in the crease behind Mrazek. Like The Bride completing the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique, Pettersson provided the finishing touch.
- Hopefully, that will also be the death of the two-defencemen-on-the-powerplay experiment. Please, let it take five steps and collapse.
- The two goals extended Pettersson's point streak to 12 games. He is now seventh in the NHL in points. He is, in my expert opinion, very good at hockey.
- The Blackhawks pulled within one on a bizarre own goal by Delia. Seth Jones’ point shot was tipped by Andreas Athanasiou, then again by Reichel. As the puck bounced in front of Delia, he tried to poke it away, only to instead accidentally pull the puck back towards himself and through his own five-hole. It’s like if Mortal Kombat’s Scorpion did the “Get over here!” move but accidentally pulled his Kunai spear back into his own chest.
- Boeser ought to have had a goal early in the third period when he rocketed a shot off the underside of the crossbar, so it feels right that he got the empty-net goal to seal the victory instead. Bear got the clearance out of the defensive zone, then Boeser raced onto the puck down the left wing. Boeser patiently waited until Caleb Jones dove out to block an expected pass, giving him a free shot at the empty net.