First Posted: 9/29/2014
Patrick McGrath proved as a Wheeling Nailers rookie that he is tough enough to play professional hockey.
Now, McGrath is attempting to show that he has the overall game needed to move up through the ranks.
The Shavertown resident and 2011 Lake-Lehman graduate opened training camp with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins for the second straight year, trying to make the impression that he is or eventually will be ready for what would be a big step up to the American Hockey League, just a step away from the National Hockey League.
“I’m working on my overall game,” McGrath said Tuesday following a training camp practice at the Toyota Sportsplex at Coal Street in Wilkes-Barre, “all the skill work and battling down low, both defensively and offensively, so I can be a more complete player and not just a tough guy.”
McGrath is right at home in that pursuit. He is trying to become the first locally born and trained player to make the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins roster.
During each of the past two summers, the Sportsplex has been McGrath’s summer training base, working with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton strength and conditioning coach Joe Lorincz.
“It’s a huge help having this here,” McGrath said.
While putting in that time and working on trying to add speed and power as a skater, McGrath signed a contract with the Nailers this summer and earned an invite to play with other young Pittsburgh Penguins prospects in a rookie tournament in London, Ontario prior to the start of camp.
McGrath won a vote as Wheeling Fan’s Choice Player of the Year last season after getting 18 fighting majors, tied for second-most in the ECHL, and a total of 176 penalty minutes in 45 games with the Nailers. He had one assist and was minus 11 – meaning he was on the ice for 11 more opponents’ goals than Nailers’ goals with the teams at even strength. In the playoffs, McGrath was minus 1 and did not score while registering 21 penalty minutes and playing in six of the team’s 10 games.
“Patrick McGrath is a fierce competitor who brings enthusiasm and toughness to our lineup,” Nailers head coach Clark Donatelli said, according to a story announcing McGrath’s signing on the Nailers website. “The guys in the room like him because he works his tail off, he’s humble and he is a great teammate who will back everyone up.
“He is also a fan favorite because he’s tough and he works hard, which are qualities that our fans really appreciate.”
McGrath missed Monday’s practice with the Penguins because of a minor injury suffered at the rookie tournament. He skated on his own Tuesday and coach John Hynes hopes to get McGrath into exhibition game this weekend.
“I’d like to see those guys make an impact,” Wilkes-Barre/Scranton coach John Hynes said of rookies and others aspiring to move up who are getting a chance in the exhibition season. “Whether it’s with their compete level or their hockey sense, making a play, you want to see young guys come in and not be afraid to compete for a job and take a job.”
McGrath, 21, is ready for the challenge.
“I’ll just play my game, be physical, try to make an impact,” McGrath said. “I’ll try to do everything I’ve always done. And, try to work offensively and trying to be effective in all aspects of the game.”
The 5-foot-10, 200-pound forward developed a certain style as he moved up to the higher ranks of amateur hockey.
After beginning to play house league hockey when he was “5 or 6,” McGrath progressed through the various age group levels of the Pocono Pirates travel team. He spent two seasons in Canadian junior hockey where he had two goals, four assists and 415 penalty minutes in 93 games. He led the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in fights (29) and penalty minutes (171) with the Prince Edward Island Rocket in 2012-13.
How much McGrath is able to add to that toughness could help determine how far he can progress as a professional.