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Bill Armstrong didn’t have an NHL arena to sell Jack McBain. The Coyotes are still working on that.
Armstrong didn’t have a playoff team to sell either — or even one on the cusp of playoff contention. The Coyotes are also working on that.
What Armstrong could sell McBain was the opportunity to play in the NHL right away, and that was something that the team that owned his rights, the Minnesota Wild, and numerous other teams could not offer.
“That’s the plan, to get a taste soon,” McBain said after his news conference at Gila River Arena on Wednesday. “It’s exciting to think about playing college hockey, Olympic hockey and NHL hockey all in one season.”
There were other opportunities for McBain to play NHL hockey quickly, however, and he did consider those. What closed the deal for McBain and his agent, Pat Morris, was the plan that the Coyotes delivered for everything from training and nutrition to McBain’s role and the goals of the franchise over the next three to five years.
“Jack could have signed with 15 different teams and not looked back and been satisfied with his decision,” Morris said. “It was that tough of a decision because there were so many attractive things about Team A, B or C.
“I just think Arizona’s presentation gave a very precise look into their internal workings and what they saw for Jack in the present and the future; how they were going to build through the draft with him being hopefully an instant impact player in their lineup.”
McBain signed his two-year, entry-level deal on Wednesday, but he’ll need some time before he can play.
He took a skate to the back of his leg in the final game of Boston College’s season against Northeastern on March 12. He said it was a “little cut up,” but he is fresh out of his walking boot and starting rehab and training.
The details of where McBain fits in the Coyotes’ lineup and future will be sorted out in the coming weeks and months. When he finally steps into the lineup, however, fans will see a player that fits Armstrong’s ideal profile of a team: a 6-feet-4, 218-pound forward who makes his presence felt.
“He’s got a lot of similarities to Crouser (Lawson Crouse),” said former Coyote Jason Demers, who was McBain’s teammate for Team Canada at the recent Beijing Olympics. “He’s got a really good shot, he bangs, he can get up and down the ice. He does a little bit of everything.
“He likes to get to the net front, he wants to go to the dirty areas, he wants to hit, create some havoc. He’s not scared to get to those areas. It’s something that’s needed within the Coyotes.”
Armstrong has been scouting McBain for the past six years. That time frame has afforded him a sense of McBain’s learning curve.
“One of the things you look for is when players get drafted and they go back to their clubs, do they continually improve?” Armstrong said. “Every time I went to see him and check his stats at Boston College, he got better and better.
“I felt he had put a lot of time into his skating. From the time he was 16, every year, he’s gotten better, but this year, he took a giant leap, and when you went to the games, he came out in his first shift, and he gave his team instant confidence. He set forth to have a good four or five hits in the first shift, let the other team know he was going to be there and it’s going to be a long night for them. The way that he plays is perfect for what we need as an organization. He’s a power forward that can play a skilled role and he can jump in and he can finish around the net.”
Coyotes executive Shane Doan didn’t know much about McBain when the NHL opted to hold its players out of the Olympics, forcing Canada’s GM to start his roster building from scratch.
“He had a pretty good start to the year but to be honest, he was probably a little bit late to the list of players we had,” Doan said. “A couple people mentioned him to me and our scouts started mentioning him to Hockey Canada so a bunch of us went and watched him.
“Within like 10 minutes, we’re like, ‘Hey, wait a minute?’ We started calling around to people, asking, ‘Have you watched McBain yet? He’s big and he moves really well.’ I talked to a couple of the kids on ASU, a couple of kids in Michigan, a couple kids in Minnesota that all played him in the NCAAs and everyone raved about him. I don’t think there’s any one person we talked to that tipped the scales for us. It just shows how good he was that everybody recommended him.”
McBain was not averse to playing in Minnesota. The Wild tried to sign him last year, but as he got closer and closer to the end of his college career, the lure of free agency and the chance to dictate his own future was enticing. While the Wild had a logjam at the center position, Arizona had a need. And when he stepped off the plane on Tuesday in the Valley, the sunshine didn’t hurt either.
“The weather’s pretty nice here,” he said, laughing. “Minnesota is a great organization and (Wild GM) Bill Guerin was always really great with me; all the guys were awesome. It was just a great opportunity for me here. Just going through the process of it all, it seemed like a great spot, a great fit for me, so it just made sense.”
Neither Morris nor McBain expressed concern with the fact that the Coyotes do not have a permanent arena yet.
“It was definitely something we talked about, but it was definitely never a concern of mine,” McBain said. “I just wanted to get here and start skating and try to get in the lineup. I’m just here to focus on hockey.”
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