The National Hockey League sent Mason McTavish ball caps from all 32 NHL teams, but this summer he will only be wearing his Anaheim Ducks hat. The former Pembroke Lumber King was selected third overall in the NHL entry draft on Friday night, setting off a celebration at his parents home in Stittsville where McTavish learned of his selection like the rest of Canada, on national television.
In pre-pandemic times, McTavish and his family would have been in an NHL arena sitting in the stands waiting on his name to be called, but because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the draft was held virtually with NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman, announcing each team’s selection in the first round. By being chosen third overall, McTavish made Lumber Kings history by being the highest selection of any player to wear a Lumber Kings uniform.
Other former Lumber Kings who were high NHL draft selections include Tim Young who was drafted 16th overall by the Los Angeles Kings in the 1975 draft, Larry Mick who was chosen 13th overall by the Minnesota North Stars in 1967 after the NHL expanded from six to twelve teams and Dainius Zubrus who was selected 15th overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1996 draft. Remarkably, Zubrus made it to the NHL without playing a single game in major junior, college or the minor hockey leagues.
25 years has elapsed since Zubrus was a top NHL draft pick, but there are some similarities between Zubrus and McTavish that earned them first round selections. Like Zubrus, McTavish is a big kid, he is a power forward who is strong on his skates and is highly competitive, all of the ingredients that are needed to succeed in professional hockey, but McTavish has something else going for him. He has a wicked shot that is deadly accurate.
That shot was on display in his one season in the Ontario Hockey League. In his rookie season with the Peterborough Petes, McTavish had 29 goals and 42 points in 57 games. The numbers weren’t surprising. From the time he was a youngster playing in Europe and Canada, McTavish has had impressive statistics. At only 15 years of age, McTavish was restricted to playing five games for the Pembroke Lumber Kings in the 2018-19 season, but in those games he had seven points while playing against much older players. That same season McTavish tore up the Central Canada Hockey League’s U-18 division with 79 points in 41 games, leading his team to a championship. That performance made him the fifth overall pick of the Petes in the OHL draft, giving him a chance to play on the same OHL team that his father, Dale McTavish, played for during his junior career.
When the pandemic shut down the 2020-21 OHL season, McTavish signed with EHC Olten, a tier two team in the Swiss Hockey League. He picked up 11 points in 13 games and used that experience to prepare for the Under-18 World Hockey Championship in Texas where he helped lead Canada to a gold medal. He had 11 points in seven games and captained the team for part of the tournament. His performance at the Worlds secured his place at the top of the draft board.
It’s been an exciting week for McTavish. A few days before the draft he was invited to Canada’s national junior team development camp from July 28 to August 4 in Alberta. He is among 30 forwards and 51 players invited to the camp, all vying for a chance to wear the Canadian jersey at the 2021 World Juniors Tournament which will be hosted by Edmonton and Red Deer over the Christmas holidays. In September he will be off to his first NHL training camp and will face all of the pressure that comes with being a top ten draft pick.
Dale McTavish played 9 games in the NHL with the Calgary Flames, but spent most of his professional hockey career playing overseas. He was never drafted into the NHL and after that short stint with the Flames he had a long playing career in Europe, primarily in Switzerland. Mason McTavish was born in Zurich and from a young age was on skates. When the family moved back to Canada, he excelled in the sport to the point where he has become one of the top junior hockey players in the country.
Dale McTavish believes his son has what it takes to play in the NHL, but on Friday night it was all about taking in the moment. “We are so excited and proud. It’s an unreal feeling for the whole family,” says the elder McTavish who admits at it has been quite a ride for the past few months. The pandemic has made Mason’s road to the NHL draft very different that what was planned, but despite the curveballs, he put himself in a position to capture the interest of several NHL teams. Going into the draft, the NHL pundits had him listed to go anywhere from the second to the tenth overall pick.
For the Pembroke Lumber Kings and the Central Canada Hockey League, having a former player taken in the first round of the NHL entry draft is a big deal. CCHL Commissioner, Kevin Abrams, says it speaks to the league’s ability to develop elite players. “I am so pleased for Mason and his family. He excelled in the U-18 program and with limited opportunity based on his age, he was dominant in the CCHL. He has continued to achieve at every step along the way and has a really bright future,” says Abrams.
The Anaheim Ducks missed the playoffs in the 2020-21 season and are in a rebuilding phase. By selecting McTavish they have identified him as a cornerstone for their future, but it will be a great challenge for McTavish to make the squad with only one year of major junior A under his belt. He only turned 18 years of age in January, but it’s his hockey intelligence and his obvious on ice talent that has earned him a top three draft selection in the best hockey league in the world.
He is still young, but Mason McTavish has already lived a hockey life, but it’s just getting started. Next stop is the National Hockey League.