Another Peterborough center, Mason McTavish could jump-start Red Wings rebuild

Detroit News

Editor’s note: This is the seventh in a series of profiles of the top prospects for the NHL Draft on July 23-24, 2021.

Peterborough center Mason McTavish knows first-hand about Steve Yzerman’s success with the Ontario Hockey League’s Petes.

Before leading the Detroit Red Wings to three Stanley Cups in 1997, 1998 and 2002 and a fourth championship in the front office in 2008, Yzerman had 155 points in two years in Peterborough and then was drafted fourth overall by Detroit in the 1983 NHL Draft.

Heading into the 2021 NHL Draft on Friday and Saturday, McTavish could be the first Petes center since Yzerman to be taken by Detroit in the first round.

The 6-foot-2, 207-pound McTavish is the fastest-rising prospect on Central Scouting’s final draft list, the No. 1-ranked forward among 140 eligible players in North America and a possible choice for Red Wings general manager Yzerman with the sixth overall pick.

“Detroit is an awesome franchise with a lot of history there,” the 18-year-old McTavish said. “Honestly though, I try not and pay attention to the rankings. It’s cool to be recognized and I’m honored to go high in the draft but we’ll have to see how it goes on July 23.”

McTavish can’t help but notice Yzerman’s name inside the Peterborough Memorial Gardens.

Yzerman’s No. 19 jersey is still one of the top-selling jerseys in the franchise’s 65-year history and although the Petes don’t retire jersey numbers, banners are still displayed inside the rink to honor Yzerman and other Peterborough stars like ex-Red Wings Mickey Redmond, Larry Murphy and Scotty Bowman.

“Peterborough is a great place to play junior hockey,” said McTavish, who scored 29 goals as a rookie in the 2019-2020 season, eight more goals than Yzerman scored in his first year in Peterborough. “Our fans are passionate and take a lot of pride in the way we play.”

McTavish’s connection to Peterborough’s defense-first, team-oriented winning ways goes back to his father Dale McTavish, who scored 103 goals in four years with the Petes from 1989-1993 and was a member of their ninth and last OHL-championship team in 1993 along with Hall of Famer Chris Pronger and two-time Stanley Cup champion Cory Stillman.

Dale McTavish played 16 seasons of pro hockey in Switzerland and Finland after scoring one goal in nine games with the Calgary Flames in 1996-97.

“My dad taught me to work hard and have fun, especially when I was younger,” McTavish said. “Now, if I’m going through a slump, I’ll ask him, ‘What did you do when you didn’t score in a couple of games?’ He has a lot of wisdom to pass along to me.”

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Petes GM Michael Oke, who went to high school with Dale McTavish at Thomas A. Stewart in Peterborough and drafted Mason with the fifth overall pick in the 2019 OHL draft, doesn’t think there’s “another player in the (NHL) draft who has Mason’s same kind of package.”

“He’s big and extremely strong on the puck, outmuscles players in all three zones and already has a pro shot,” Oke said. “He knows how to get his stick in the right spot to score goals. It may seem like a lucky goal but when it happens again and again, at what point is it no longer luck?”

McTavish rocketed up the NHL draft boards after the 2021 world under-18 championships in Texas. An assistant captain and roommate of captain and consensus No. 1 prospect for the 2022 draft Shane Wright, McTavish helped lead Canada to its first gold medal since 2013 with five goals, six assists and a plus-10 rating in seven games.

“Shane was a great team leader,” McTavish said. “His work ethic is off the charts and he’s going to be a stud in the NHL. Top to bottom, everyone bought in to our smart coaching staff (led by former Red Wings forward Dave Barr as head coach). They knew what they were talking about and we just followed the way they wanted us to play.”

McTavish said he patterns his two-way game after St. Louis Blues center Brayden Schenn, who won a gold medal with Canada at the world U18s in 2008 and helped lead the 2018 Blues to their first title in franchise history with a goal in Game 7 against the Boston Bruins.

Unlike Schenn, McTavish has recorded more goals than assists at every level with the Ottawa Valley Titans (49 goals, 34 assists), the Pembroke Lumber Kings (47 goals, 32 assists), the Petes (29 goals, 13 assists) and ECH Olten in Switzerland (11 goals, 7 assists).

The Zurich-born McTavish was on loan this year and joined the Swiss tier-two league in February after COVID-19 cancelled the 2020-21 OHL season.

“I like to score goals. Who doesn’t?” McTavish said. “I’ve always worked on my shot so it’s pretty rewarding when it goes in the net. When I get outside in the garage or obviously in a game, I try to pick the corners and be a little more precise than just shooting hard.”

“The year he scored 29 goals, I don’t think he shot enough,” Oke said. “He’s still learning the league and he’ll be even more impactful this year after playing so well overseas.”

McTavish said he’s looking forward to moving on from the NHL Draft and then attending training camp in Peterborough on Labor Day weekend as he attempts to win the Petes’ first OHL championship since his father’s team 28 years ago.

“My dad never put pressure on me,” McTavish said. “I fell in love with the game on my own and it was just a bonus and a perk that he played a couple of games in the NHL and has been able to pass along that experience. I’m super lucky to have him.”

mfalkner@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @falkner

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