Aidan McDonough has practiced with the Vancouver Canucks but he won’t be getting into the lineup just yet.
According to McDonough, some of his new Canucks teammates thought he might make his debut on Tuesday night against the Vegas Golden Knights but he was pretty sure he wouldn’t be in the lineup for one very good reason.
“Well, my parents aren’t coming,” said McDonough with a laugh. “Unless they’re on a flight right now!”
McDonough explained that his parents, and other family members, were at every one of his games at Northeastern University — “To get out here, it’s kind of nice because I don’t have to worry with all the tickets” — and he knows they wouldn’t miss his NHL debut.
Turns out, that was also on the mind of his head coach, Rick Tocchet.
“We want to fly his parents out, so I better give him 48 hours [notice],” said Tocchet. “He’s actually looked pretty good out there, so he’ll get in the lineup.”
Tocchet also said that he wants to get McDonough some actual practice time with the Canucks. Since the 23-year-old winger signed last week, four years after he was drafted in the seventh round, the Canucks haven’t been able to squeeze a full-fledged practice into their busy schedule. So far, he’s just been on the ice with the team for morning skates.
"Everyone’s bigger, faster, stronger, and they skate better."
Those morning skates have featured plenty of work for McDonough. On Tuesday morning, he had one-on-one time with Abbotsford Canucks skills coach Yogi Švejkovský, as well as a Hall-of-Famer: Daniel Sedin.
“Today, being able to work out there with the skills coach and Daniel Sedin, that’s amazing,” said McDonough.
The work on Tuesday morning was primarily focused on protecting the puck along the boards and using quick changes of direction to create space to come off the boards and to drive toward the middle of the ice. For a player like McDonough who isn’t particularly fleet of foot, that aspect of the game will be essential for him to get enough time and space to use his excellent shot.
“It’s just so much more valuable here,” said McDonough of the importance of that work along the boards compared to college hockey. “Everyone’s bigger, faster, stronger, and they skate better, so they close the gap. Maybe if I’m going in the corner with a guy [in college], I can outmuscle him a little bit because I’m just bigger or older but here everyone is so strong, so you have to use techniques to be able to create that time and space.”
The Sedins are a great example of that as neither were the most explosive skaters, but were exceptionally strong on their skates and knew how to create time and space for themselves in other ways. McDonough is learning from them but also seeing other members of the Canucks and learning from them.
“You see Garland, he’s not the biggest guy, but he’s so good at cutting back and protecting the puck,” said McDonough. “It’s all technique. So, working on it and getting used to feeling the pressure — it’s something I’ve been trying to work on and I think I’ve gotten a lot better at it this past year. It’s one of the biggest things I wanted to work on. But it takes real game reps.”
"They're the nicest guys."
The Sedins have actually been helping McDonough all season.
“[The Sedins] have been really good with me throughout my season at Northeastern,” said McDonough. “[They] would send me clips and break down my game. I know they watched me all the time, they would send me texts after games and break down the smallest, minute little details that are huge for me. [Daniel] is not talking to me too much about my shot, it’s more about puck protection and creating time and space for myself — cutbacks and things like that that I think I really need to work on.”
One has to wonder if that kind of specialized attention from two Hall-of-Fame forwards played a role in convincing McDonough to stick with the Canucks instead of waiting until the summer to sign anywhere he wanted as a free agent.
“They’re the nicest guys,” said McDonough, recalling one moment that really made a difference this past year. “I played the worst game of my season and they texted me after, like, ‘Hey, I liked this in the second period, you did this,’ and I was like, whoa, I didn’t even realize that. I thought I played terrible.”
McDonough raved about the entire transition from college hockey to the pros, complimenting not just the coaching but the support staff and the food. There’s one aspect of professional hockey, however, that he still has to get used to.
“I have two suits and three shirts and I spilled on one of my shirts,” said McDonough. “And you have to wear a suit every day. So, I’m like, ‘I have no clothes.’ All the guys chirped my shoes, so I had to get a new pair of shoes, at least.”