McIsaac hopes to skate his way into Red Wings' plans for revitalizing defensemen

By Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Defenseman Jared McIsaac, a second-round pick last week by the Wings, is already impressing coaches with his footwork during workouts this week at Little Caesars Arena.

Detroit — Jared McIsaac looked up ice at the obstacles arrayed in parallel rows, one to his left and one to his right.

McIssac, the Red Wings’ fourth selection in the 2018 draft — taken in the second round and 36th overall — is an 18-year-old from Nova Scotia that scouts consider a smart player and a good skater.

But the Power Edge Pro (PEP) system, which uses the obstacles to “engage multiple motor skills simultaneously” for improved performance in close quarters, can sow confusion and clumsiness.

“Some guys have trouble doing that,” said Ben Simon, the Wings new coach for their AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids. “And it’s tough. Not just physically, with their feet. But mentally, to remember the stuff.

“That was one thing I noticed with him: Phenomenal footwork.

“He did a great job, just with his mobility.”

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Someday, fans might remember McIsaac as the defenseman the Red Wings did select in the draft last weekend, after passing on some they had intended to take before unforeseen opportunities intercepted intentions.

He might amount to the top-four defenseman projected by some scouts, and desperately sought by an organization hard-pressed along the blue line in Detroit and Grand Rapids.

Like a lot of the Wings defense prospects, McIsaac is aware of the need.

“Yeah, definitely,” he said. “I want to try to make a name for myself early, whether its development camp or early in rookie camp.

“I’ll just try to gain as much experience and try to give the staff a look and make it hard for them to send me home.”

Home is Halifax of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, where Filip Zadina was a teammate and where McIsaac developed a reputation as a defenseman with a high IQ.

It is also Truro, and hour drive from the big city, where he grew up in a hockey home. His father, Jamie, is a well-known referee in the Canadian Maritimes and his uncle, Jon, is an NHL referee.

“Big influences? Obviously, my father,” McIsaac said.

“Being around the rink quite a bit with him as he was reffing, and also my uncle watching him pursue his dream and refereeing in the NHL now.”

Around hockey and, specifically, all the skating so much as a child, McIsaac developed quickly.

He played major midget hockey in Cole Harbour, where Sidney Crosby grew up, at age 14, against opponents who were two and three years older.

He more than held his own, and the Mooseheads of the QMJHL selected him.

“My coaches the last two years, with Halifax, Andre Tourigny and Jim Midgley were a big help,” McIsaac said. “And for the past four or five years under Jim with Hockey Nova, a little bit.

“And Cam Russell has been a big part, my GM (of the Mooseheads) back home, the last two years.”

Russell played 396 games on defense for the Blackhawks and Avalanche.

Playing as a forward in his second year of peewee hockey, McIsaac said he moved to defense when an opportunity opened on the roster, “and I offered to play.”

“I think my type of game complements the position quite well,” he said.

“I like to skate. I like to play with the puck. I like being physical defensively as well, and making it hard on the other team’s lines.”

McIsaac said he appreciates Drew Doughty’s game, for the Kings.

“Just his ability to command the game offensively, and defensively as well. He’s a great skater, and it allows him to get into spots offensively, and defensively.

“But, I think, right now, I play more like Ryan McDonagh (Lightning), more of a defense first guy and join the rush after that.”

McIsaac will likely return to Halifax this season, and perhaps the next.

“Obviously, try to stay up here and long as possible, to get some experience,” he said. “But, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

“So, take as much as I can from up here and go back to Halifax and enjoy the year, and hopefully win a Memorial Cup, there.”