Andrew MacDonald has not spoken to Ted Nolan in a while, but when he gets the chance in the offseason, the young defenseman has a lot he wants to say to his old junior coach.
“I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for Ted,” MacDonald told Point Blank.
“Here” could have meant in the Islanders’ locker room, in the NHL, heck, even in professional hockey. It was Nolan who convinced MacDonald the best way for his skills to develop was to play in the Quebec Major Junior League. It was Nolan who gave MacDonald big minutes on the blue line with the Moncton Wildcats.
And if that wasn’t enough, it was Nolan – then the Islanders coach – who used his powers of persuasion to convince then-GM Neil Smith, the scouts and even team owner Charles Wang at the 2006 NHL draft to use a sixth-round pick on 19-year-old Andrew MacDonald. There’s a very real chance that, after first round pick Kyle Okposo, MacDonald will be the best Islander to come out of the 2006 draft.
“I’m well aware of everything Ted did to see that the Islanders gave me a chance,” said MacDonald, third on the team at plus-7 in 32 games this season.
Nolan believed in MacDonald when he recruited him to play for him with Moncton of the QMJHL. The defenseman, then 18, had been offered a college scholarship to play hockey at Bemidji State in northern Minnesota. Nolan told MacDonald he had the ability to someday play in the pros, but he would be best served by the long junior schedule. The Wildcats coach also pledged to provide the blueliner with the icetime and responsibility he probably would not get as a freshman and sophomore at Bemidji. As the host team, Moncton had an automatic invitation to the Memorial Cup.
Nolan also asked nicely. “Ted is a persuasive man,” said MacDonald.
The Wildcats lost in the Memorial Cup final, but MacDonald proved why Nolan had so much faith in him. He logged big minutes and racked up 46 points in the regular season and another 13 in the playoffs – impressive for a first-year junior player of any age.
After the Memorial Cup, Nolan was hired by the Islanders. Well before the scouts assembled at the draft, the new coach said that if the team had a late-round pick and no one the scouts were certain of, his support was completely behind MacDonald.
The Islanders had three sixth round picks in the 2006 draft, so they took Nolan up on his recommendation. The teenager from Nova Scotia thought he was so out of the picture when it came to NHL scouts that he didn’t even follow the draft. He did not learn of his selection by the Islanders until the morning after.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said MacDonald. “I honestly didn’t think I was on anyone’s radar – even Ted’s.”
Now MacDonald is the best Islanders prospect to emerge out of Bridgeport this season. Perhaps his steady arrival is because he has come through the system slowly and surely.
“The impressive thing about Andrew is that he has played at every level, and he has figured out with each step how to become a better defenseman,” said Islanders head coach Scott Gordon. “I’ve seen the improvement in his skating in just the year and a half I’ve been following him closely. I’ve seen improvement from game to game at the NHL level since he’s been here.”
“I think of a player I had in Providence – Mark Stuart, a first round pick with the Bruins. You could see that the more Mark practiced with the big club, he got better from the competition. Andrew is the same way. Since being with us, he has elevated his game in practices and in our games.”
MacDonald, who has averaged more than 24 minutes over the last six games, takes pride in his improvement throughout his journey in hockey. He played Tier II before joining Moncton. In his first year in the Islanders organization, he played 38 games with Utah of the East Coast Hockey League. That was just two seasons ago. He credits his progress at the AHL level to coaches Jack Capuano and Pat Bingham and development coach Eric Cairns. “They always have time to help me improve my game,” said MacDonald.
Now he’s in the big leagues, where he watched Tomas Kaberle, his favorite player growing up in Judique, Nova Scotia, and his idol – Hall of Fame defenseman Al MacInnis, who is from nearby Port Hood. “Mr. McInnis is still involved in our community,” said MacDonald. “He’s donated a lot of time and money to the rinks and our youth hockey programs. He’s someone to look up to.”
MacDonald knows he won’t be the big blueline scorer McInnis was in his heyday, but the next step in his NHL development is getting more involved on offense.
“I have to use my attributes, which I think are strong skating, good positional play and moving the puck,” he said. “Let’s face it: I’m not the biggest guy so I’m not going to be a punishing defenseman. As long as I take care of my own end, I want to start contributing to some goals for us. I think I’m a good fit in Scott’s style of play, so I’m determined to do what I can to stay with the Islanders.”
And whenever the season ends, MacDonald plans on reaching out to Ted Nolan – the man most responsible for him being in the NHL and as an Islander. “That’s definitely a call I’ll be making,” said MacDonald. “I owe him a big thank you.”
Nick Boynton was passed up by the Islanders and 28 other NHL teams. No biggie there. Next!*** In other news, Brendan Witt should be ready to go in one of the Islanders’ next 2-3 games. Dustin Kohn – who has played a combined 15 minutes over the last two games – is still with the team.
UPDATED at 1:50 pm - As tweeted by Katie Strang from Florida, Josh Bailey has an upper-body injury. He has left the team to travel to New York for a medical evaluation. Bailey missed a game morning skate last week, but has tried to play through a mysterious injury (shoulder?).
***In other words, we’re moving on.
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