Left wing Blake McLaughlin is lighting up scoreboards at a point-per-game pace (20 G, 22 A, 44 games) for the defending champion Chicago Steel, sitting just behind USHL vet and Vegas draftee Jack Dugan (22 G, 29 A) for top point producer on the squad. Ticketed as a potential second round pick this June McLaughlin, a Minnesota commit, ranks 11th in the league in points during his first full campaign out of high school and should continue with the Steel until he joins up with the Golden Gophers in 2019-20.
Tabbed 25th among North American skaters in Central Scouting’s January rankings, McLaughlin has grown to six feet in height but could add bulk as he weighs in at a speedy 162 pounds. Born in 2000, he just turned 18 in February and has plenty of time to grow over the next few years. He displays mature playmaking skills however, with a penchant for making deft passes that set up teammates well. He’s extremely elusive making him particularly dangerous on special teams, having nailed two shorthanded goals this year as well as five on the power play. And he’s shown some physical chops on defense, utilizing his quickness and somewhat surprising strength to effectively slow opponents.
McLaughlin’s solid showing with Team USA’s U-18 club in the Hlinka Memorial Tournament (2 G, 1 A in 4 games), and in the World Junior A Championships with the U-19 squad (4 A in 5 games) indicate he’s more than capable in international competition. He surprised some by forgoing his senior season with Grand Rapids High, Minnesota and announcing that he would instead return to the Steel on the first day of preps practice this November, but he’s clearly ready for more. McLaughlin was a huge factor in leading his HS team to the state AA trophy in 2016-17, registering 22 goals and 38 assists in 28 tilts. In all, he logged 33 goals and 114 points in high school play.
Featuring a decent measure of grit in his game, McLaughlin is considered a candidate for perhaps a bottom-six role at next year’s WJCs, obviously a great opportunity to shine in some of the brightest international tournament lights. Such a development could do wonders (or not) based upon his performance.
But that’s relatively far away on the horizon. For now we’ll see how he holds up as we approach the Clark Cup playoffs, which includes 12 teams starting this year as compared with the previous eight team format. In the new configuration, the top two seeds in each conference get a first-round bye. Each first round will involve a best-of-three series hosted by the #3 and #4 seeds in each conference versus the #5 and #6 seeds, respectively. Remaining postseason rounds will be best-of-five series with home-ice advantage going to the higher seed.
So, for McLaughlin’s Steel which sit in the Eastern Conference’s sixth and final spot at .500 with a 22-22-1-4 record and 11 games to go, it will be a battle to the end to get in. It will be interesting to see how McLaughlin holds up and if he can add some clutch production.
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