The Hamilton Bulldogs were already in a playoff position ahead of this year’s trade deadline, but management felt the group needed a game-changer. There were many names across the board, but nobody stood out like Peterborough Petes center Mason McTavish, who returned to the team after a nine-game stint with the Anaheim Ducks.
On January 9th, 2020, Hamilton’s general manager, Steve Staios, made a huge deal, sending Alex Pharand, Jonathan Melee, and a series of draft selections in exchange for McTavish. They were tough players to trade away, as both have bright futures ahead of them, but current success was the main focus.
One month after being traded to Hamilton, McTavish represented Team Canada at the 2022 Beijing Olympics. He never got to stay in one place throughout the majority of the 2021-22 regular season, but it all was worth it to help lead Hamilton to a first-place finish in the entire Ontario Hockey League (OHL).
In this article, let’s take a look at his gameplay in the offensive zone and how advanced models and statistics rate the Zurich-born player. Yes, he was born in Switzerland, but represents Canada internationally.
A Dynamic Offensive Player With A Big Skillset
Looking back on every McTavish goal this season, and his nifty plays in transition, there are a few observations. First, he isn’t going to outskate an entire team with his straight-line speed, but he will create space for himself off the rush. Looking at his goal against the North Bay Battalion in a regular-season game, his four-way mobility is on display.
This was during four-on-four action, and after receiving a drop pass in the defensive zone, McTavish was tasked with creating the zone entry for the Bulldogs. He makes a deceptive move in the neutral zone, skating past North Bay’s Kyle Jackson, as he notices a lot of open area to his left. Once he enters the site with possession, he knows that he doesn’t have the speed to outskate Grayson Ladd. However, while defending this rush, Ladd fails to limit the gap control between him and McTavish, which allows the Bulldogs’ centerman to set up for a wrist shot. It squeaks under the glove of Joe Vrbetic, and although he probably should make that save, it’s a play that happens at high speed and is executed perfectly.
Now, let’s analyze another McTavish goal in a different situation, where he works the cycle with Patrick Thomas.
The Bulldogs were facing the Erie Otters, and their first line put a lot of pressure on the forecheck early. McTavish wins a one-on-one puck battle in the corner, with Thomas being able to retrieve it. As two Otters players are pressuring Thomas, he realizes that McTavish is alone in the corner and finds him. With Giordano Biondi setting the screen, he makes just four puck touches to drive to the net and scores with a perfect shot. Every player understood their assignment, and that’s been the main strength of this team in the playoffs.
Finally, let’s look at a playoff goal scored in recent weeks, during the Bulldogs series against the Mississauga Steelheads. This is a shorthand situation, and despite not converting on a 2-on-0 breakaway chance, McTavish does not let that missed opportunity take himself out of the play.
Avery Hayes strips the puck off Steelheads captain Ethan Del Mastro at the neutral zone. With nobody defending, McTavish follows him for a 2-on-0 breakaway chance, and despite making a last-second pass, Hayes cannot beat Roman Basran. He regains puck possession behind the red line and shoots the puck off Basran’s pad, and it finds its way onto McTavish’s stick, who is left wide open at the left faceoff dot. The problem with giving him space is that he’ll use every square inch to his advantage, as he doesn’t even take one stride to set himself up for a shooting position. With no defenders blocking his way, McTavish shoots it over Basran’s left shoulder to tie the game in the second period.
By The Numbers: A Dominant Play Driver
The access to analytics for junior hockey players has grown exponentially throughout the years, and it allows for the picture to be painted clearer on certain players. Not to anyone’s surprise, the eye test matches the advanced numbers for McTavish’s regular season, and within a few months, we’ll get a look into his underlying numbers in the OHL playoffs.
Specifically, he ranked first in the league for even-strength goals for percentage (GF%), with 79.31% throughout 29 games, per Pick224’s database. Next, he accumulated 0.965 even-strength primary points per game; he ranked second in the league, only behind Windors’ Wyatt Johnson in the category. That last stat is remarkable, as it suggests he was nearly scoring a goal or providing a primary assist in almost every game this season. These two players are now facing each other for a championship, which is great for the league.
Now, McTavish was a third-overall selection for a reason, and the fact that he is dominating junior hockey is to be expected. However, it’s been remarkable to watch him continue to thrive as a player and join a team that allows him to play with top OHL talent in Logan Morrison, Thomas, and Hayes.
The Bulldogs began their series against the Windsor Spitfires on Friday night, so let’s see if McTavish can continue his dominant run to lead Hamilton back to the Memorial Cup.