Zack MacEwen adjusting to the AHL life

Zack MacEwen

Zack MacEwen’s road to the pros has been atypical, yet is becoming more common.

The 21 year-old spent his draft year playing for the Amherst Ramblers of Maritime Junior A Hockey League. He didn’t get his first major junior chance until the end of the 2015 season as a call-up for the Moncton Wildcats. He stuck with the team through the playoffs, scoring twice and adding two assists in ten games. His impressive play was enough to earn him a regular spot with the Wildcats in 2015-2016, and he never looked back.

MacEwen posted 10 goals and 40 points in 66 games with the Wildcats that season. The team made it to the President’s Cup Semi-Finals, and just like the previous year MacEwen proved to be a playoff performer, with eight points in 17 games.

Following an offseason trade to the Gatineau Olympiques, MacEwen’s game flourished while playing on the top line alongside Vitalii Abramov, the #1 scorer in the QMJHL. MacEwen finished second on the team in scoring with 74 points, and earned himself an entry-level contract with the Vancouver Canucks.

MacEwen became part of a growing trend for NHL teams. More than ever, undrafted overage players are signing pro contracts as teams keep a closer eye on players who are developing at later stages in their junior career. Now at the beginning of his pro career with the Canucks AHL affiliate Utica Comets, MacEwen says he’s enjoying the adjustment to the pro life.

“It’s definitely a big jump,” said MacEwen, “You’re playing against guys that have a lot more experience and they’ve been doing it a lot longer. They’re men, and everyone’s there for a reason.”

“The team has a lot of things to offer for development and things to help you adjust, so it’s going good that way.”

The 6’3 centre says that watching the locker room veterans has definitely been a help in the transition. “Everyone is pros. Interacting around the room and seeing how these guys act really helps guys like me out.” Says MacEwen.

“There are other rookies here too that I’m sure feel the same way. Just seeing the professional side of things here and how they act is a big help.”

The Charlottetown native isn’t the only player on the Comets with ties to Prince Edward Island. Former Islanders captain Guillaume Brisebois is a fellow rookie, while former PEI Rocket Yan-Pavel LaPlante is entering his first full season with the Comets after signing an entry-level deal with the Canucks in 2016. Like MacEwen, LaPlante was an overage player playing with the Olympiques. MacEwen says having those connections with the former PEI residents has certainly been a benefit.

“Yeah we actually talk about [Prince Edward Island] all the time. PEI’s a great spot and they loved playing there so it definitely gets brought up.”

Ahead of this season, MacEwen received some valuable advice from fellow Islanders playing in the AHL.

“I’m pretty good friends with Ross Johnston and Alex Gallant, we skate together when I’m home for the summer so I got to talk to them a little bit and they were really great.” Said MacEwen. “They have a few season of pro under their belts so I kind of got the lowdown from them on what to expect.”

MacEwen spent the majority of his offseason training in Vancouver in advance of his first NHL training camp. That experience, couple with his time in Utica to this point, has been eye-opening. It’s all been part of a prolonged “welcome to the pros” feeling for the big power forward.

“Training and stuff really helped me ease in to [pro hockey]. Training camp felt really good because I knew a lot of guys from development camp, plus there are a lot of good guys in that room. I don’t think there’s one specific moment, but the past couple months have been a big eye-opener for me”

The Utica Comets staff is a high-quality group coaches with lots of experience. Head coach Trent Cull was an assistant with the Syracuse Crunch during their heyday, developing future Tampa Bay Lightning stars such as Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, and Vladislav Namestnikov. Assistant coach Jason King is a former Halifax Mooseheads star and one-time third wheel on the Sedin line in Vancouver, while other assistant Gary Agnew has coached at all levels of hockey, from the OHL, to the AHL, to the NHL, and back to the AHL, over a span of thirty years.

MacEwen credits his coaches with helping him fine-tune his game for the pro level.

“They’ve done a lot to help my development, like working on little things that a lot of junior guys need to work on when they’re making the jump to the pros. Things like quicker timing, little details that just round off your game as a whole”

The Comets started the year off with two losses to a strong Toronto Marlies team, however have since rebounded with two straight wins and sit at .500 for the season. MacEwen has been on the sideline nursing a small injury, but says he’s 100% healthy and ready to see some in-game action.

“It’s still early in the season so we’re trying to create an identity for ourselves.” says MacEwen. “Our coaching staff is great for leading us in the right direction, so we just gotta keep work and things will come”

MacEwen says he hopes to be in the line-up for their next game this Saturday in Rochester against the Americans, but that’s not a for-sure thing yet.

Zack MacEwen’s hard work and determination have been defining characteristics of his hockey career to-date. It’s what has contributed to his success at all levels, and will continue to do so as he works towards his ultimate goal of becoming an National Hockey League player.