Finally healthy, Wings’ prospect Jared McIsaac looking toward getting stronger

Detroit News

Detroit — Jared McIsaac admits there were some difficult days.

How could there not have been for the young defenseman, who turns 21 Thursday, a Red Wings’ 2018 second-round draft pick, who had to endure back-to-back shoulder surgeries (one on each shoulder)? Then, just to accentuate the frustration, he sprained an AC joint in his shoulder to miss the final two games this season with the minor-league affiliate Grand Rapids Griffins.

That’s a lot of rehabilitation, and not a lot of playing.

Why is this happening to me? McIsaac thought that quite a bit over these last two seasons.

“Obviously, back to back, and then something like (the sprained AC joint), especially when my game was starting to come around,” McIsaac said. “But the resources were put in front of me (to get better) and I did as much as I could to stay positive.”

McIsaac did stay positive. He fought through the incredible string of bad luck and is re-emerging as one of the Wings’ potential future lineup pieces.

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In 10 games with the Griffins this season — McIsaac had two assists and a minus-1 rating — he showed flashes of the type of two-day defenseman the Wings were thrilled to see drop in their laps that 2018 Entry Draft weekend.

Most scouts and mocks drafts had McIsaac going late in the first round.

McIsaac’s 10-game look-see with the Griffins showed the reason he was so well regarded.

“We did see glimpses of what he is and could be,” said Ben Simon, the Griffins’ coach. “He’s got a bright future. He’s just got to find a way to stay healthy.”

McIsaac had right shoulder surgery just before the start of the 2019-20 season, his final year of junior hockey.

He was limited to 28 games that junior season, with four goals and 15 assists. But he was also part of Canada’s gold medal-winning world junior team with four points in seven games.

Things were looking promising and hopeful.

The pandemic ended any chances of making his pro debut in Grand Rapids, so McIsaac was pointing to this past autumn.

The delayed starts of the NHL and AHL season led the Wings to assign McIsaac to HPK in Finland’s pro league. That assignment lasted all of one shift, before McIsaac injured his left shoulder, and ultimately needed surgery.

“It’s tough,” McIsaac said of having the consecutive surgeries. “Mentally draining, like ‘here we go again’. Same ordeal.”

But he found positives immediately. Chief among them was being around his Griffins’ teammates once he returned to North America.

“It was a little easier going around knowing what was in front of me,” McIsaac said. “A little bit smoother, this time.”

Once he got in the Griffins’ lineup, McIsaac felt surprisingly sharp given all the playing time he’s missed over almost two seasons.

“I felt like my game was pretty solid for missing that amount of time, back to back years,” McIsaac said. “I stepped in and played pretty well physically, as much as possible. The mental side of it, I made a couple of errors here and there and that comes with time and playing more games.”

Simon agreed, feeling McIsaac’s best games were actually the first couple. There was a sense of relief in McIsaac’s demeanor that made those games stand out.

“His first couple games, he was fantastic,” Simon said. “(Maybe it was) a little bit running on adrenaline, the excitement, kind of you could see just the relief of, ‘I get to play games.’ You could see the relief of just going in and playing games instead of going in and getting bag skated, and treatment and lifting.

“(But) having not played that long, in quite a while, playing a ton of games in a short amount of time, it can catch up to you.”

Simon saw glimpses of what McIsaac can become.

“A two-way guy who can contribute offensively,” Simon said. “Things happen a little bit quicker at this level, so the more you’re put in those situations, the better served you’ll be in the future, and we tried to put him in those situations — power play, penalty kill.

“Hopefully he’ll take those experiences and be better for them next season.”

Simon sees definite areas where McIsaac can grow and improve, namely getting physically stronger (McIsaac is 6-foot-1, 195-pounds) and improving his skating.

“Just getting a little quicker, the acceleration and separation speed,” Simon said. “When you get stronger, just going into battles in the corner you’ll have a little more confidence.

“He showed great resolve in his commitment to get back and playing. It was a tough, long road, with just putting himself back in the situation and back healthy. Any time you’ve sat out that long, you start to get your feet underneath you and put in situations you haven’t been in before, so it was a little bit of a growing curve for him.”

McIsaac, done with rehabilitation, is excited heading into this summer.

“I haven’t had a full summer the past two summers to actually work on my upper body,” McIsaac said. “I’ve been rehabbing both summers, so it’s a big summer for that. It’s a big summer in general, preparing for next year.”

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan

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